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  • (2014) Community Watersheds: From Objectives to Results on the Ground

    This was a special investigation report by the BC Forest Practices Board.

    Executive Summary:

    Drinking water is of paramount concern to British Columbians. Government regulates the safe and reliable supply of drinking water primarily under the Drinking Water Protection Act. However, additional laws are in place to protect drinking water while carrying out activities like mining, forestry, range use and oil and gas development on Crown land. The law that regulates forest and range activities on Crown land is called the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA).

    In the FRPA legislation, government sets rules that apply to all forest and range activities on the ground. Most harvesting in the provincial forest is conducted by licensees with a government approved forest stewardship plan (FSP). In the FSP, licensees propose results or strategies consistent with government’s objectives.

    This special investigation is about how well forestry and range use provides for the protection of drinking water as required under FRPA. The investigation focuses on how the requirements for drinking water are being met in a sample of 466 designated areas, referred to as community watersheds. These areas are designated because government decided the watersheds require special forest management for the protection of drinking water.

    The investigation sampled 48 of the 131 community watersheds where some amount of forest harvesting has occurred under FRPA. Investigators examined how each forest licensee working in those watersheds and required to have an FSP, addressed government’s community watershed objective and followed through with the commitments in their plans. In 12 of the 48 watersheds in the sample, investigators field-assessed watershed condition and determined whether forest and range practices complied with rules on the ground. In this investigation, the Board also explored whether the legislation provides clear direction to forest and range users; whether government is monitoring forest and range practices on the ground; and how government decides which watersheds need special forest management.

    The Board’s investigation found several significant weaknesses and some positive aspects in how drinking water is protected in community watersheds.

    Clarity of FRPA’s requirements and approval of forest stewardship plans by government

    • Some legal requirements for the protection of drinking water in FRPA are too limited in scope or unclear.

    • When government approved the FSPs examined in the 48 sample watersheds, it did not always ensure the content of the plans related to community watersheds met the requirements of FRPA. For instance, 3 of the 471 approved FSPs examined did not address the community watershed objective. Also, not all commitments made in the plans were measurable or verifiable as required. This means it may be difficult for government to enforce adherence to these commitments.

    Commitments made in forest stewardship plans

    • Most forest licensees retained a professional to complete some type of watershed assessment prior to harvesting or road construction. However, deficiencies were identified in those professional assessments. Of the 31 assessments in the Board’s sample: 11 did not follow the content for the assessment as described in the FSP; 26 considered, to varying degrees, the hydrological effects of FRPA and pre-FRPA forest activities over the entire watershed; and only 6 considered the potential effects of planned forest development on water quality, quantity or timing of flow in relation to the licensed waterworks—key elements of the community watershed objective.

    • Investigators found most results and strategies provided meaningful content because they were intended to assess hydrological responses associated with planned forest harvesting. However, for 41 of 44 FSPs, 2 the results or strategies were not sufficiently detailed for investigators to conclude if they were consistent with the community watershed objective.

      Compliance with drinking water-related practice requirements on the ground (field sample of 12 community watersheds)

      • Investigators found that woodlot licence holders and range agreement holders met the requirements of the legislation.

      • Forest licensees4 met the requirements to retain buffers adjacent to streams, lakes and wetlands, and to provide water licensees with at least 48 hours notice of planned road construction or deactivation. However, on forest roads, investigators observed little evidence of measures to minimize erosion and control sediment deposition into streams. In 3 of 12 watersheds, investigators found those practices to be unsound. In 4 of 12 watersheds, licensees did not meet all of the requirements that provide for protection of drinking water quality, including prevention of landslides, road maintenance and maintenance of natural surface drainage patterns.

        Monitoring achievement of the community watershed objective

    • While, government has a program to monitor water quality, it does not specifically monitor the effectiveness of forest and range practices to protect drinking water quality generally or in community watersheds.

    Designation of community watersheds and use for drinking water

    • Government has draft guidelines for designating or delisting community watersheds. Since 2004, six community watersheds were designated and one was delisted.

    • In 16 of the 48 community watersheds, the source of drinking water has changed from a stream to a well or lake. Of the 16 community watersheds, 7 still maintain the stream intake as an emergency back-up supply.

    Full report: (2014) Forest Practices Board investigation—From-Objectives-to-Results-on-the-Ground.pdf

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