Watershed Protection Plan Safeguards Chilliwack

Developments and other disturbances in watersheds can have a profound effect on the quality and/or quantity of available water. For this reason, it is crucial to protect these areas, regardless of whether a community uses surface or groundwater as its water supply source. According to a recent survey, 45 percent of the B.C. communities who responded have a watershed protection plan in place. The City of Chilliwack is one of the communities working to protect its watershed.

To safeguard its groundwater, the City of Chilliwack set up a number of programs and initiatives. The initiatives were put in place to meet several objectives. To define the area that needed to be protected, it was first necessary to identify the capture zone (the area where water infiltration recharges the aquifer). It was also determined that potential sources of pollution should be listed and identified, and protection strategies developed and implemented. Contingency plans needed to be put in place to deal with assessed risks. And the public needed to be educated about the importance and methods of watershed protection. The overall objective was to ensure sustainability of the water production system both in terms of water quality and quantity.

The City initiated numerous studies that assessed and evaluated potential risks to the aquifer including contaminant inventories, and also developed groundwater protection plans. Other reports studied the characteristics of the aquifer such as capture zone analyses, and flow models. Additionally, groundwater monitoring programs were set up and aquifer development strategies examined.

Public education is an important component in the City’s watershed protection program, and its Groundwater Protection Education Campaign was developed to address this need. The program involves the installation of road signs to identify groundwater protection zones, and open houses, media ads, home show booths, household hazardous waste days, and printed materials to educate the public about groundwater protection. The City also participates in international drinking water contests to promote the importance of water quality.

Guidelines were imposed to govern how developments within the capture zone should proceed. Best Management Practices were also developed to educate those living or working in the groundwater protection zone. Booklets were prepared for each different group such as drycleaners, gas stations, schools, and private well owners. The booklets contain information about the aquifer, and list contamination sources and protection methods. Additionally, the City distributes a series of pamphlets entitled “Protecting Our Drinking Water,” which help encourage residents and businesses to actively take part in the protection programs.

To prevent possible aquifer contamination, a number of programs were put in place. Policies state that municipal workers should not use pesticides and herbicides in the protection zone. The City is planning to remove soak-away pits from storm drains and replace them with triple-chambered infiltration systems or storm sewers. And guidelines for well abandonment within the protection zone have been or are currently being implemented.

The City of Chilliwack faced several challenges with the implementation of its protection programs. As can be expected, there was resistance from residents, businesses, and the agricultural sector to accept the regulations necessary to protect groundwater. It is often difficult to balance development and standard business practices versus environmental protection. However, it is of vital importance to protect our valuable sources of water to ensure sustainability.