Working Around Water

Last updated on June 29, 2022

When you plan work in or around water, you must take care to minimize the potential risk to aquatic ecosystems and limit water pollution.


The Water Sustainability Act defines the terms used to talk about working around water to make the meaning and scope of those terms clear. Read the definitions in full (section 1 of WSA):

“Changes in and about a stream” is defined in the WSA as:

  • Any modification to the nature of a stream, including any modification to the land, vegetation and natural environment of a stream or the flow of water in a stream, or
  • Any activity or construction within a stream channel that has or may have an impact on a stream or a stream channel.

The changes made in and about a stream can include activities (e.g., removal of invasive vegetation) or “works.” Under the WSA, “works” is defined to mean anything that can be or is used to divert, store, measure and convey water; and produce measure, transmit or use energy.

"Stream" is defined in the WSA as: a natural watercourse, including a natural glacier course or natural body of water. Bodies of water described by the term “stream” can include a lake, pond, river, creek, spring, ravine, gulch, wetland, or glacier, whether or not usually containing water, including ice.

Guidance on Changes In and About a Stream

As of December 2021, the guidance documents for making changes in and about a stream in B.C. were updated to align with the Water Sustainability Act and incorporate up-to-date best practices. They were designed to help individuals understand the requirements for undertaking changes in and about a stream. The documents are applicable across B.C. for planning work near water.

Authority to Work Around Water

To make changes in and about a stream you must hold a licence, use approval or change approval; or be in compliance with an order, or in accordance with Part 3 of the Water Sustainability Regulation.

A water licence or a use approval may authorize the holder to:

  • Construct, maintain and operate the works authorized under the licence or use approval
  • Make changes in and about a stream necessary for the construction, maintenance or operation of the works authorized under the licence or use approval
  • Learn more about water licences and approvals

A change approval authorizes complex work (changes) in and about a stream beyond what is needed to divert or use water. For example, a change approval is required to construct works for flood or erosion protection, or for channel realignment.

Working around water may also require authorization under other applicable provincial or federal legislation, such as the federal Fisheries Act or the federal Navigation Protection Act.

Instream Work Windows and Best Practices

Instream work windows specify the best period(s) of time in the year to carry out work in order to minimize the impact on species and habitats in each region. The particular timing may be set by the habitat officer for a notification, or set as a condition of the change approval.

Apply best management practices to instream work to ensure that you fulfill the terms and conditions for protecting habitat and water quality.

Never Place Debris into a Stream or Well

It is an offence to put debris or other foreign matter into a stream or well. It is also an offence to allow debris or foreign matter to fall, spill, drain or otherwise get into a stream or well. You may be fined or ticketed if debris or foreign matter enters a stream or well while you are working in and around water.

Community Watersheds

A community watershed is the drainage area on a stream that is used to provide drinking water to a community under a water licence. Community watersheds are designated and defined to protect drinking water from the impacts of multiple resource use in the area.