Ensuring Safe and Sustainable Groundwater for the Community
Article by Antigone Dixon-Warren, MSc, PGeo, and Brad Badelt, PEng, Township of Langley, published in Watermark Magazine
The Township of Langley, in cooperation with the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture and Lands, is developing a water management plan to protect local groundwater and promote its sustainable use. This is the first plan to be developed in British Columbia under the Water Act, and it is expected to protect local groundwater quality and quantity. The Township has implemented a local water resource strategy, including groundwater studies and initiatives, but the lack of groundwater policy tools has been recognized as an obstacle to achieving its water sustainability goals. The water management plan has the scope and authority to provide those tools.
As shown in Figure 1, the Township is located about 50 kilometres east of the City of Vancouver. It is a rapidly growing community with a population of about 100,000, and is characterized by a mix of urban and rural land use. Approximately 75% of he land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, a provincial zone in which agriculture is the priority land use.
The Township is heavily dependent on groundwater supplies. Approximately 80% of the Township’s residents obtain water from municipal supplies. Half of that supply is derived from municipal wells which draw from local aquifers. The remaining residents obtain their water from more than 5,000 private wells. In addition, groundwater is an important source of stream flow which, during summer, is critical for sustaining fish habitat and other aquatic life. Over 1,400 kilometres of watercourses in Langley host important fish species including salmonids and the endangered Salish sucker and Nooksack dace.
Recent mapping completed by Golder Associates (2005) indicates there are 18 key aquifers underlying the Township (Figure 2). Water level measurements of groundwater in observation and municipal wells indicate that groundwater levels in
certain aquifers are declining. Studies show that the decline is primarily due to over-extraction of groundwater rather than climatic changes. Research also indicates dropping aquifer levels have likely caused changes to the base flows in watercourses fed by these aquifers. Research conducted within the Township indicates contamination of aquifers is also a risk, due to poor land management practices related to septic systems and agriculture.
In 2002, the Township implemented a Water Resource Management Strategy that included developing approaches to managing groundwater quality and quantity (Golder, 1999 and 2002). A 20-year action plan was developed through community consultation and was adopted by Council. Key initiatives included completing a series of groundwater studies, implementing public education programs, and developing new policies. Although the Township has explored different avenues within its authority to address water quality and quantity issues, these have not been sufficient. As a result, the Township is concerned it will not be able to meet the future water supply needs of the community.
What is a Water Management Plan?
In British Columbia, the statute that regulates the allocation of water is the Water Act. Currently, there are provisions to manage surface water use; however, groundwater withdrawals are not regulated. On November 1, 2004, water management plans were brought into force under Part 4 of the Act. Water management plans have broad powers and allow the implementation of tools to better protect the quantity and quality of water resources, including limitations on groundwater use. The plans are community-based and they aim to address or prevent conflicts between users, risks to water quality, or conflicts between water users and in-stream requirements. The Minister of Environment, who initiates the planning process through a Ministerial Order, can approve all, some or none of the plan. If approved, the plan is then brought into force through implementation regulation, with certain aspects legally enforceable.
The Township’s plan
In collaboration with the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture and Lands, the ownship of Langley is completing the first water management plan in the province. In 2006, the Minister of Environment approved a Ministerial Order initiating the planning process. Consultation with the public and experts has occurred through a series of meetings and open houses. A stakeholder advisory committee was formed and consists of local representatives from the residential, agricultural, industrial, environmental, development and health sectors. To date, five stakeholder workshops, a one-day workshop with groundwater experts, and two public open houses have been held. The draft plan has also been communicated through the web, media releases, information bulletins and presentations to interested groups.
On November 25, 2007, the Draft Water Management Plan – Version 1 was presented to Township Council. The plan contained 44 recommendations, including 24 core recommendations that were considered integral to meeting the overarching goal of ensuring safe and sustainable groundwater for the community. Two of the core recommendations were related to the phasing in of water meters on private wells and establishing a fee system to charge penalties for groundwater overuse and waste. Water meters and an overuse penalty were considered the most effective way to manage groundwater resources and to ensure a sustainable supply for the future. During the first round of public consultation, there was disagreement in the community on the water meter recommendations, with many residents of the opinion that meters were not warranted. On February 4, 2008, Council passed a motion indicating that it did not intend to proceed with the water metering recommendations. A recommendation regarding a proposed governance structure was also removed at that time.
Based on the feedback provided by Council, stakeholders and the public, staff has subsequently produced a second draft plan. The revised plan was presented to Township Council on May 26, 2008 and contains 33 recommendations that place a greater emphasis on voluntary measures, learning, and conditions for drilling new wells. Key recommendations include:
- drilling authorizations for new water supply wells, which could set new requirements for drilling and altering a well;
- municipal planning initiatives to ensure that new land developments do not adversely impact groundwater availability;
- enhanced water conservation measures to curb demand and overuse of water;
- locally enforceable agricultural practices to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination;
- a pilot project in the Hopington area to minimize threats of contamination;
- local protection officer to monitor and enforce aspects of the plan;
- comprehensive monitoring and research program to better inform future decisions; and,
- establishment of a community advisory committee to help guide the
implementation of the plan.
The Township will be consulting with the public throughout the summer and fall on the revised plan. Additional planned communications include a series of focus group sessions, open houses and an attitude survey. Staff will also meet and seek input from local committees, organizations and commissions. Based on the feedback compiled, the plan will be revised and then presented to Langley’s Council. As the province recently announced its Living Water Smart water plan, staff will also work closely with provincial staff to ensure that a revised water management plan aligns with provincial actions and targets. The Township aims to submit the plan to the Minister of Environment in the spring of 2009.
The Township of Langley’s Water Management Plan aims to promote the sustainable use and protection of groundwater. New management tools will enhance water conservation; protect groundwater quality; and preserve base flows in fish-bearing streams recharged by groundwater.
- Golder Associates Ltd., 1999. Phase I Water Resources Management Strategy, Township of Langley. Report 982-1814.
- Golder Associates Ltd., 2002. Township of Langley Water Resources Management Strategy Phases II-III Action Plan. Report number 002-1831A.
- Golder Associates Ltd., 2005. FinalReport on Comprehensive Groundwater
Modelling Assignment. Report 022-1826/5000.
Originally published in the Fall 2008 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).
Posted October 2008