Laws & Rules

Last updated on September 3, 2020

Water is used for diverse purposes, and a variety of laws and rules govern water use, protection, conservation and sustainability. Provincial authorities, local governments and federal agencies work to ensure that water is managed and the supply is protected for use by people and the environment.

Provincial Acts and Regulations

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy works together with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), Ministry of Health and other provincial agencies to manage and protect water in B.C.

Water Sustainability Act

The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) was brought into force on February 29, 2016 to ensure a sustainable supply of fresh, clean water that meets the needs of B.C. residents today and in the future.

The WSA is the principal law for managing the diversion and use of water resources. The first phase of regulation development included the following regulations that were a priority for maintaining core water management functions, including groundwater licensing:

The Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation, authorized under the Offence Act, was updated to align with the WSA, including changing fines for some offences, and adding new offences.

Water Protection Act

The Water Protection Act (WPA) protects B.C.'s water by reconfirming the Province's ownership of surface and groundwater, clearly defining limits for bulk water removal, and prohibiting the large-scale diversion of water between major provincial watersheds and/or to locations outside of the province.

Environmental Management Act

The Environmental Management Act (EMA) regulates industrial and municipal waste discharge, pollution, hazardous waste and contaminated site remediation. EMA provides the authority for introducing wastes into the environment, while protecting public health and the environment. The Act enables the use of permits, regulations and codes of practice to authorize discharges to the environment and enforcement options, such as administrative penalties, orders and fines to encourage compliance. Guidelines and objectives for water quality are developed under EMA.

Other Provincial Legislation

Other important pieces of legislation affect how waterbodies are used and protected, and set rules for activities on land that have an impact on water quality and quantity.

Learn more about the Environmental Assessment Act and how it applies to reviewable groundwater projects.

Compliance and Enforcement

Compliance and Enforcement is the law enforcement arm of FLNRORD. Natural resource officers at Compliance and Enforcement make sure that resource management laws are being followed on and in B.C.'s public land and water, and investigate and take action against non-compliance.

Learn about environmental violations and enforcement, and search the environmental violations database.

Local Governments

Local and regional governments in B.C. work with the province to keep water sources clean and secure.

The Community Charter provides municipalities with the authority to establish bylaws pertaining to the protection of the natural environment and public health.

The Local Government Act conveys authority and responsibility to various types of local government related to land use, growth, infrastructure and works.

Federal Agencies

Federal regulations and legislation have an impact on water use and planning, aquatic ecosystems and fish habitat in B.C.