Legislation and Regulation for Small Water Systems


To ensure potable tap water is safe and reliable, the government of British Columbia has developed legislation and regulations to set out the requirements for owners and suppliers. This section will assist small water system owners and operators understand their legal duties and responsibilities within that structure and the penalties that could result from non-compliance.

Glossary of Terms

A group of bacteria found in humans, plants, soil, air, and water. Fecal coliforms are a specific class of bacteria that only inhabit the intestines of warm-blooded animals. The presence of coliform bacteria is an indication that the water is polluted and may contain pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms.

potable water

Water that does not contain objectionable pollution, contamination, minerals, or infective agents and is considered satisfactory for drinking.

surface water

All water naturally open to the atmosphere (rivers, lakes, reservoirs, streams, impoundments, seas, estuaries, etc.); also refers to springs, wells, or other collectors that are directly influenced by surface water.


A watershed is an area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater. Homes, farms, cottages, forests, small towns, big cities and more can make up watersheds. Some cross municipal, provincial and even international boarders. They come in all shapes and sizes and can vary from millions of acres, like the land that drains into the Great lakes, to a few acres that drain into a pond.

Ref.: www.watersheds101.ca

Central to BC drinking water legislation is the Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA) and Drinking Water Protection Regulation (DWPR), both of which were developed to be consistent with federal guidelines for drinking water quality in Canada. They apply to all water systems in BC, except single family dwellings and special exemptions (such as when the water supplied is not to be used for human consumption or food preparation, such as for irrigation).

While the Act and Regulation apply to all provincial drinking water systems, each region of the province has specific geographical and consumer requirements that they address through their regional Health Authority.

Begin with your local Health Authority to establish what you will need to set up a small water system in your region, but also be sure to be familiar with all of the relevant legislation.

There is other provincial legislation, such as the Public Health Act, Water Sustainability Act, and Ground Water Protection Regulation, that are also relevant to small water systems. In some cases, such as First Nation’s lands, federal jurisdiction holds.

Combined, the drinking water legislation is designed to protect water supply systems from threats and regulate their operation and delivery of potable water through a multi-barrier approach (MBA) .

Roles and Responsibilities of Small Water System Operators

While there are many departments and people with roles to protect B.C. drinking water, small water system owners and operators work most closely with the Drinking Water Officers (DWO) of regional Health Authorities and with the public. It is the operator’s responsibility to

  1. Provide safe drinking water, and
  2. Notify the public and drinking water officers about water quality problems.

Both the operators and drinking water officers are guided by provincial, and sometimes federal, legislation.

An overview of the provincial Drinking Water Protection Act and Drinking Water Protection Regulation can be found at the government’s information page.

While not all sections are relevant to small water systems, it is highly recommended that you read the full Act and regulations.

Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA)

The Drinking Water Protection Act dictates requirements and responsibilities for domestic water suppliers to ensure that water is safe to drink. Water suppliers must also meet any additional requirements set under the Drinking Water Protection Regulation and the water supply system's operating permit (and/or conditions on the permit), as set by the Health Authority Drinking Water Officer of your region.

The Act specifies the following requirements and responsibilities, amongst others:

  • Construction proposals must be approved by a Public Health Engineer
  • Water system operators must operate their systems in compliance with the requirements of the Act through operating permits
  • Minimum treatment and water quality standards
  • Minimum sampling and monitoring standards
  • Public Notification must be made when a risk or water quality problems are identified.
Drinking Water Protection Regulation (DWPR)

The Drinking Water Protection Regulation (DWPR) sets out specific requirements for British Columbia’s small water systems (systems serving fewer than 500 people in a 24-hour period). The regulation also allows the Health Authority Drinking Water Officer to determine the certification requirements for each system and for ‘point-of-entry’ treatment to be considered as a treatment option.

The Regulation sets out the specific requirements through the complete process of constructing and operating a water supply system, including for:

  • Operating permits and fees
  • Providing an updated Emergency Response and Contingency Plan
  • Flood proofing of wells
  • Treating surface water and ground water at risk of containing pathogens
  • Immediate reporting standard
  • Immediate reporting if fecal coliform is detected

The Regulation sets out

  • Water quality standards in Schedule A
  • Water monitoring frequencies in Schedule B
Other Relevant Acts

Public Health Act:

  • Works in concert with the Drinking Water Protection Act and Food Safety Act to deal with current and emerging public health issues. 
  • Includes Health Hazards Regulations that contains setback requirements for wells from potential sources of contaminations and the requirement of landlords to provide tenants with potable water.

Water Sustainability Act:

  • Replaced the Water Act in 2016.
  • Protects stream health and the aquatic environment
  • Regulates and protects groundwater
  • Enforces water conservation and allowance of adequate water for basic human needs during times of scarcity.

Ground Water Protection Regulation:

  • Protects ground water quality and quantity
  • Regulates water supply wells and activities performed by qualified well drillers or well pump installers, or professional engineers and geoscientists.
  • Sets out standards for constructing, disinfecting and decommissioning a well.

Application of Legislation to First Nations’ Lands:

  • The federal government holds jurisdiction over federal land and First Nations’ lands with respect to drinking water. Provincial laws may be applied differently on First Nations’ lands in relation to other federal lands. More information available on the First Nations Resources page.

More Related Legislation

Depending on your specific situation, there may be other laws related to drinking water for you to consider. They can be found at www.bclaws.ca.

Here are some examples of legislation governing land use and public health that may be relevant to your situation:

  • Water Utility Act – For those that deliver domestic water service to five or more persons or to a corporation for compensation
  • Strata Property Act
  • Forest and Range Practices Act – Including for community watershed designations
  • Local Government Act

Determining which pieces of legislation relate to your situation can be complicated. If you have any questions,  speak to your local DWO.