Water Supply in British Columbia

The hydrologic cycle is the term used to describe the overall movement of water on planet Earth. In simple terms: water is evaporated from the world's oceans and lakes; it moves through the air as vapour, and eventually falls as rain, hail or snow. In practice the hydrologic cycle is a complex process with wide variation from one location to another on the Earth's surface, and from one season to another. Long-term changes in climate and the patterns of water movement can lead to increasing droughts or floods, and in turn cause great disruption to the production of food, the condition of ecosystems and the habitability of large areas of the Earth.

In British Columbia there are wide variations in the patterns of rainfall and the availability of water resources. Some areas of the province have abundant water resources and some areas experience desert conditions.

The managers of water supply systems in British Columbia will find it useful to have a general knowledge of the hydrologic cycle and the way that changes in the availability of water may influence their water system. Specific questions and concerns can be addressed by experienced hydrologists and water resources engineers.

Water is typically available to water suppliers in BC from groundwater sources or surface water sources. In other, less fortunate places on Earth, water may be obtained through expensive processes such as desalination or complex recycling. Water is a vital resource, and its extraction and use in BC is regulated by provincial authorities. Various agencies at the federal and provincial level are charged with the protection of surface waters and of groundwater resources. Regional and local governments, typically in the form of regional districts and municipalities, also have responsibilities related to the protection and use of water.

Water is used for drinking and other domestic purposes, for industrial and agricultural use and for recreation. Water in the form of lakes and streams supports a wide range of animals and plants and is an essential element in all ecosystems. In British Columbia water is the major source of energy through hydro power. Water provides a wide range of recreational opportunities for people. The aesthetic and spiritual value of water has long been recognized by traditional cultures. A growing numbers of people today both appreciate its practical value, and recognize the intangible values associated with water.

Water is also used for the conveyance of liquid wastes. The wastewater from sources such as kitchen sinks, showers, and toilets from homes, as well as discharges from industrial, institutional and commercial facilities, is conveyed through the municipal sewerage network. Wastewater is treated and eventually returned to the natural environment. There is increasing interest in the reuse of wastewater for various purposes such as golf course irrigation. In certain circumstances wastewater may be treated and the resulting biosolids used as a soil conditioner. Wastewater is also a potential source of heat energy.

Access to safe drinking water is an essential requirement for maintaining public health. In British Columbia, the Ministry of Healthy Living & Sports is the lead provincial agency for the protection of drinking water. The province is divided into five health regions, and each health region has responsibilities for the enforcement of regulations designed to protect public health. These regulations include those which form part of the Drinking Water Protection Act.

In BC the water supplied for domestic purposes typically comes from a groundwater source or from a surface source. Provincial legislation requires that all water from surface sources that is provided for potable use must, with limited exceptions, be treated before it is delivered to the consumer. The treatment required depends on several factors, not least the condition of the water at the source. Water from a surface creek, for example, may require settling, filtration and disinfection and possibly further treatment for taste and odour, before being considered suitable for drinking.

There is a thriving water industry in British Columbia. BC is home to a diverse collection of manufacturers and suppliers, consultants and water organizations. And there are many groups in government whose mandate includes the management of water in one form or another. As people in BC have come to recognize the value of water there has been a growing interest in water conservation and recycling at the household level. Many communities have groups devoted to the efficient use of water for local food production.

On this WaterBC.ca web site you will find many links to other resources associated with water. And you will find programs and resources specifically designed to help water supply systems in British Columbia, whether large or small, to provide water supplies that are safe, secure and sustainable.