To ensure drinking water is clean, safe and reliable, there is legislation put in place by the government of British Columbia. This legislation outlines the duties and responsibilities of owners who supply drinking water to their water users. There are penalties that could result from not following these regulations, and non-compliance could result in providing unsafe water to your customers.
Two key elements of BC drinking water legislation are 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. The DWPA and DWPR apply to all water systems in BC, except single-family dwellings and special exemptions (such as when the water supplied is not used for human consumption or food preparation, as in irrigation).
When researching your responsibilities as a water provider, it’s important to begin with your regional health authority to establish what you will need to set up a small water system in your region. In addition to the DWPA and DWPR, each region of the province has specific geographical and consumer requirements which can be found through their regional health authority. There is other provincial legislation, such as the Public Health Act, Water Sustainability Act, and Groundwater Protection Regulation that are also relevant to small water systems. In some cases, such as Indigenous 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).
The Drinking Water Protection Act contains the provincial 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 conditions on the permit, if any), as set by the regional health authority’s Drinking Water Officer (DWO).
The Act specifies the following requirements and responsibilities:
- A water supplier must not operate a water supply system unless they hold a valid operating permit that is issued in accordance with the DWPA and DWPR.
- A Construction Permit is required prior to the construction or alteration of the waterworks system. These are issued by a Public Health Engineer (PHE) or a DWO working under the direction of a PHE.
- Minimum treatment and water quality standards must be met.
- Minimum sampling and monitoring standards must be met.
- Public Notification must be made when a drinking water threat or water quality problem is identified.
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 regional health authority’s Drinking Water Officer (DWO) to determine the operator training certification requirements for each system. The DWO also must consider the option for ‘point-of-entry’ treatment.
The Regulation sets out the specific requirements from construction to the operation of a water supply system. These specific DWPR requirements relate to:
- operating permits (terms, conditions, and fees)
- Emergency Response and Contingency Planning
- well floodproofing
- treatment for surface water and groundwater at risk of containing pathogens
- the immediate reporting standard
- immediate reporting if fecal coliform bacteria or Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria are detected.
The Regulation also sets out water quality standards (see Schedule A), and water monitoring frequencies (see Schedule B).
The federal government holds jurisdiction over federal land and Indigenous lands with respect to drinking water. Provincial laws may be applied differently on Indigenous lands in relation to other federal lands. More information is available on our Indigenous Resources page, as well as the Indigenous Services Canada web page.
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 the Health Hazards Regulation that contains setback requirements for wells from potential sources of contamination 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 but allows adequate water for basic human needs during times of scarcity.
Groundwater Protection Regulation - Protects groundwater quality and quantity. Regulates water supply wells and the 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.
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. Some examples of legislation governing land use and public health that may be relevant to your situation can be found below:
Water Utility Act – For those that deliver domestic water service to five or more persons or to a corporation for compensation
Strata Property Act - legislation for those water systems that are owned by a strata corporation that delivers water, for compensation, to water users who own property within their strata
Forest and Range Practices Act - this includes legislation pertaining to the designation of a community watershed
Local Government Act - the primary legislation for regional districts and improvement districts, setting out the framework for structure and operations, as well as the main powers and responsibilities (many BC water systems are owned and operated by local governments)
Determining which pieces of legislation relate to your situation can be complicated. If you have any questions, speak to your local DWO.
If you supply or you intend to supply drinking water, take note of the definitions available in Section 1 of the DWPA, particularly those of: "domestic water system", “owner”, “potable”, "prescribed water supply system", “water supplier” and “water supply system”. Section 1 of the DWPR also has definitions; we recommend finding the definitions for “connection” and "small system". Reviewing these key definitions will give you a better understanding of your role and responsibility in providing safe drinking water to your consumers.
Drinking Water Protection Act, Province of BC.
Drinking Water Protection Act: Drinking Water Protection Regulation, Province of BC, Reg. 200/2003, including amendments up to B.C. Reg. 122/2013.
Water Sustainability Act, Province of BC.
Groundwater Protection Regulation under the Water Sustainability Act, Province of BC.
Public Health Act, Province of BC.
Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines, Health Canada, developed by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water.
Regional Health Authorities - List of Regional Health Authorities, with links to local offices and Drinking Water Officers.
Indigenous Resources - Links to the Indigenous Resource listing on this website.