Jul 01, 2001

Streamside Protection Regulation – Law on January 19, 2001 (BC Reg. 10/2001) #337


By Gerry Neely
B.A. LL.B.

Streamside Protection Regulation
The Regulation establishes streamside setbacks that are designed to prevent the deterioration or destruction of the water flow and habitat upon which a healthy fish population depends, or where possible, to restore them.

Local governments affected by this Regulation must enact standards before January 2006, in their zoning and land-use bylaws, for streamside protection and enhancement that are equal to or exceed the Regulation.

The Regulation anticipates that local governments will enter into cooperative agreements with the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management which will support, both financially and technically, the implementation and land use planning needed to protect fish habitat.

Is it necessary?
Urbanization in the last century contributed to the loss of fish habitat and fish stocks. According to background information provided in support of the Regulation, the number of productive streams, in the Greater Vancouver area, has dropped from 60 to six.

In the area bordering Georgia Strait, a number of species, in the over 140 streams identified as critical for fish stock survival, face the loss of habitat through continued development.

In 1996, the seafood industry generated exports valued in excess of $858,000,000, making it the largest food exporter in the province. The jobs of approximately 20,000 full- and part-time workers depend upon bountiful fish stocks.

Is it new?
The contents of this Regulation update standards first published in 1992 by the federal and provincial governments and are, therefore, familiar to many local governments.

They are intended to form the basis for a reduction in red tape, speed up the development process and provide more certainty to land development applications.

Land development guidelines for protection of aquatic wildlife have been around since the 1960s. These regulations attempt to harmonize the standards established by both the federal Department of Fisheries and the relevant provincial ministries.

Who is affected?
The Streamside Protection Regulation affects:

  • the following regional districts: Capital, Central Okanagan, Columbia-Shuswap, Comox-Strathcona, Cowichan Valley, Fraser Valley, Greater Vancouver, Nanaimo, North Okanagan, Okanagan-Similkameen, Powell River, Squamish-Lillooet, Sunshine Coast, Thompson-Nicola, and the trust area under the Islands Trust Act;
  • the municipalities within them; and
  • the owner of property containing a stream, which may be subject to residentialcommercial or industrial development.

The Streamside Protection Regulation does not apply to agricultural and forestry lands which other laws cover.

How are the setbacks selected?
The setback width is based upon the presence or absence of fish in a stream, whether the stream is permanent or non-permanent, and the status of existing or potential vegetation adjacent to the stream.

I have restated the definitions in the Streamside Protection Regulation because they help to understand the basis upon which the differing widths are set.

  1. Stream is broadly defined to mean any watercourse or source of water supply, including a ditch, spring or wetland that is essential to a stream and provides fish habitat.
  2. A fish-bearing stream is one in which fish are present or could be present if obstructions are removed or made passable for fish.
  3. A permanent stream is a stream that typically contains surface waters or flood for a period of more than six months in duration (non-permanent - less than six months).
  4. Potential vegetation means that there is a reasonable ability for plants to grow.
  5. Riparian is the area adjacent to the stream, which supports plants found in water or upon saturated soil.
  6. The streamside protection area is between the stream and the place where the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems meet (where the bulrush meets the dandelion?). It includes both the riparian area and the "upland vegetation that exerts an influence on the stream."

The width of the setback is measured from the top of the bank of the stream, and the setback is at least:

  • 30 metres, if the stream is fish-bearing or permanent, and the existing or potential streamside vegetation condition exceeds 30 metres;
  • 15 metres, if the vegetation is adjacent to a non-permanent stream and exceeds 30 metres;
  • 15 metres, if the vegetation is between 15 and 30 metres, for permanent and non-permanent, non-fish bearing areas;
  • the greater of 15 metres or existing or potential vegetation width, for fish-bearing streams, where the vegetation is less than 30 metres; or
  • between five and 15 metres for both permanent and non-permanent fish-bearing streams, where the vegetation is less than 15 metres.

The most technical part of this subject is behind us. The next column will discuss matters such as compensation to owners (unlikely) and potential problems with the regulation.

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