Beyond the Guidebook 2010: ‘Urban Watershed’ Explained


Beyond the guidebook 2010 - photo for urban watershed explained

Regulation of Land Use

In Beyond the Guidebook 2010, the term ‘urban watershed’ is a metaphor for those watersheds, or parts of watersheds, over which local governments exert control through regulation of land use. The distinction is important because:

  • In Metro Vancouver and in the Capital Regional District, for example, the majority of municipalities completely encompass their watershed areas (or else share them with adjoining municipalities).
  • Outside the major metropolitan regions, on the other hand, municipalities tend to be located at the bottom end of wilderness watersheds that are subject to provincial regulation.

In British Columbia, the term ‘local government’ encompasses municipalities and regional districts. The distinction is noteworthy because municipalities and regional districts are governed by the Community Charter and Local Government Act, respectively.

Enabling Powers for Local Government

The Community Charter empowers municipalities with extensive and very specific tools to proactively manage the complete spectrum of rainfall events. These tools enable them to achieve watershed goals and objectives.

Although the Local Government Act provides regional districts with similar enabling powers to establish a drainage function within a service area boundary, regional districts that do not have such a service do not have the same regulatory powers as municipalities. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has historically regulated drainage in electoral areas.

Drainage Responsibility

British Columbia case law makes clear the responsibility of municipalities to manage runoff volume to prevent downstream impacts.  An increasingly important corollary to that responsibility is the need to work from the regional down to the site scale, to maintain and advance watershed health to ensure that both water quantity and quality will be sustained to meet both ecosystem and human health needs.

While a municipality has control over HOW rainwater runoff is generated and managed within its residential, commercial and industrial land uses, it does not have the same ability to regulate watershed activities that are taking place outside its municipal boundaries.

Working Definition

In summary, in Beyond the Guidebook 2010, ‘urban watershed’ refers to drainage tributary areas within which zoning and land use are under the jurisdiction of municipalities or areas for which a regional district has established a drainage service.