The majority of British Columbians get their drinking water from surface water. These sources range from small streams to large reservoirs. Community watersheds play an important part in protecting water quality for communities and private water users that rely on surface water sources.
A community watershed is defined under the Forest & Range Practices Act (FRPA) as all or part of the drainage area that is upslope of the lowest point from which water is diverted for human consumption by a licensed waterworks. Community watersheds must also be designated under the Government Actions Regulation.
To protect the water that is diverted for human consumption, such areas require special management to:
- Conserve the quality, quantity and timing of water flow
- Prevent cumulative hydrological effects having a material adverse effect on water
There are currently 466 designated community watersheds in B.C. with most established in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Forest & Range Practices Act (FRPA) addresses forest companies and rancher operations on the Crown land portion of community watersheds to protect water used for drinking. The Act sets out requirements for various activities, such as road-building or harvesting, within community watersheds.
The B.C. Government reviews and approves Forest Stewardship Plans for companies operating in community watersheds. Under the FRPA, community watersheds restrict only the activities of forest and range tenure holders.
Community watersheds were first defined by the Guidelines for Watershed Management of Crown Lands Used as Community Water Supplies in 1980. In the 1990s, the guidelines were expanded and updated to protect drinking water in community watersheds from the impacts of multiple resource use such as logging, road building, recreation and agriculture.
The community watershed guidelines, along with 429 community watersheds that met the original 1980 criteria, were grandparented into the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act in 1995, which was later replaced by FRPA in 2004.
In 2014, the independent B.C. Forest Practices Board released results and recommendations (PDF) of a special investigation into the community watershed program.