What You Need to Know About Watercourses

I believe most anyone would agree that one of the main reasons British Columbia is such a wonderful place to call home is its vast collection of natural beauty. From the lowland forests to the highest hills and mountains, the entire province is a seemingly endless collection of natural wonders just waiting to be explored.

This of course includes all the wonderful bodies of water that dot the landscape. Our pristine streams, lakes, and rivers only add to the amazing beauty that surrounds us. But it’s important to remember that these bodies of water are not just there to look at. Many also perform incredibly important functions in our ecosystem, serving as a home to various plants and animals, and well as acting as a watershed.

For those living on an acreage, it’s especially important to be aware of any water sources on your property, as they are more than likely protected by local regulations to ensure that the ecosystem here in British Columbia stays healthy.

Thankfully, as an acreage expert for over 10 years here in Langley and Surrey, I have plenty of experience working with homeowners to help them understand all they need to know about the water on their property. And today I am going to share this knowledge with you!

What Is A Watershed?

One of the very first terms you’ll hear about when it comes to natural water on your acreage is “watershed”. Put simply, a watershed is a giant natural funnel, channeling all the water in a given area towards a larger body of water. Here in British Columbia, this means both rain and snow working its way down from the highlands, into local creeks, streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes, and eventually towards the ocean.

Even if you have no visible natural water sources on your property, you still live in a watershed. As such, cities like Surrey and Langley are very protective of any types of building or modifications that could potentially disrupt the flow of natural water, as well as contaminate water sources for plants, animals, and humans alike.

What Is A Watercourse?

Watercourses, on the other hand, are visible sources of natural water. Basically, these are the later stages of the watershed process. Once snow has melted or rain has dropped, and that precipitation makes its way through the groundwater and into the nearest stream or river, it’s now part of a watercourse.

Langley and Surrey alone are home to 1,600 and 1,400 km of watercourses, respectively. This means that if you’re living out on an acreage, there is a good chance you may have a watercourse snaking through your property.

Watercourse Classification

While it’s all water, watercourses can actually be quite different from one another. For any water on your property, you’ll want to be aware of its specific classification, as that will ultimately affect your ability to do certain types of updates, modifications, and construction on your property.

Classification mostly relates to the fish population within that particular body of water. Both Langley and Surrey follow similar classifications for watercourses in their townships. The different types are as follows:

Class “A”

This is a watercourse that is inhabited year-round by fish, or one that has the means to support a population of fish with minimal enhancements.

Class “A(O)”

These watercourses can or already do support populations of fish, however they are ones that can potentially dry up in summer months with low precipitation.

Class “B”

These watercourses do not have any documented fish populations, but they provide food and nutrients to populations further downstream.

Class “C”

These watercourses have no documented fish presence, nor do they provide any valuable food or nutrients to populations downstream. They are likely to dry up quickly with low precipitation.

Both Langley and Surrey have detailed watercourse classification maps that outline all the various classifications of water currently in their townships. You can view those maps here:

Langley Watercourse Classification Map

Surrey Watercourse Classification Map

Why This Matters

As mentioned, the main reason Langley and Surrey go to great lengths to classify the watercourses within their boundaries is because of how impactful these are on the entire ecosystem. With that in mind, they have a robust set of guidelines and restrictions when it comes to any activities that could potentially affect a watercourse. This includes activities such as:

Soil Deposits
Soil Extraction
Vegetation Disturbance
& More

The City of Surrey has developed a robust program called the Sensitive Ecosystem Development Permit Area (SEDPA), which is a set of rules governing activity near sensitive natural areas, including watercourses. The plan is robust, and can be read in full here, but as a basic rule of thumb, most projects near watercourses need to be setback a minimum of 50 meters from the edge of that watercourse to avoid any potential disruption.

Langley has a similar program titled the Streamside Protection and Enhancement Development Permit Areas (SPEA). Restrictions here on setbacks from watercourses are more varied based upon the classification of waterway, and can be anywhere from 6 meters all the way up to 30 meters. You can view the full table of classifications here.

PLEASE NOTE: It’s very important that you check with local authorities before you do any work on your property that may disrupt a watercourse, as each situation is unique and the rules and regulations are always being updated.

Final Note on Water

The natural wonders of B.C. will only stay wonderful for as long as we protect them. It’s important for all of us to do our part to ensure we follow the carefully researched and developed guidelines put in place to keep our ecosystem safe.

As an acreage owner, knowing the specifics about any water running through your property is an important duty. Hopefully this guide will make it easier than ever for you to understand all your need to know about watersheds and watercourses.

If you ever have any questions about the water on your property, please do not hesitate to reach out. I am always here to lend a hand, and help you better understand acreage living!