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 Domestic Water

Water is a precious resource.


Clean drinking water is essential for life.

Drinking Water

Where do residents of North Pender Harbour get their domestic water from?


In 2006 the SCRD amalgamated two small independent water systems, the Garden Bay Lake System and the Irvines Landing Water System forming the North Pender Harbour Water Service Area (NPHWSA).  In April 2008 the two previously independent systems were connected. Today, NPHWSA provides water to 1200 residents of Garden Bay, Irvine’s Landing, Daniel Point and Sakinaw Ridge by drawing water primarily from Garden Bay Lake and with Hotel Lake available for “emergency use only”.   The system has 25 km of pipeline, 3 storage reservoirs, 3 pump stations, 2 chlorination stations and approximately 550 water service connections. Operations include the maintenance of the Garden Bay and Hotel Lake water intakes, water pump stations, chlorination stations, pressure reducing stations, reservoirs, fire hydrants, distribution mains and service connections. Upgrades and Improvements to the system are continuing. 


All water supply systems in BC must supply treated water as specified by the Water Protection Act  and the Drinking Water Protection Regulation


Accordingly, the North Pender Harbour Water System treats water and monitors it with laboratory analysis to detect the presence of microbiological pathogens and organisms.  The public must be notified when there is potential or actual problem.


Drinking Water officers work in conjunction with environmental health officers, public Health engineers and medical health officers to ensure compliance.


Such water services are expensive. Costs are offset by the collection, by the SCRD, of a Utility Bill in April of each year. Other major cost items may be collected on annual property tax statements.


Concerns or questions about requirements for managing a drinking water system, or how it is being managed, may be directed to the water supplier or the drinking water officer/contact at the local health authority.

To request an investigation under section 29 of the Drinking Water Protection Act, simply click on the link below:

For emergencies related to water leaks or ruptures within a water system or emergencies related to loss of flow, sudden significant drop in water pressure, or discoloration of water or any other emergency related to your water service, go to:


What about residents who are not served by the North Pender Harbour Water System?


The present North Pender Harbour Water System Area is relatively small with a distribution system that serves residents and developments that are generally located south and west of Hotel Lake and Garden Bay Lake. 


Residents in the rest of North Pender Harbour who are not served by an organized water system are also not served with fire hydrants.  Such residents are not protected under the Water Protection Act and must access water and treat it themselves.

Under the Water Act of 1909, all water in British Columbia was and is owned by the Crown on behalf of the residents of the province. If you own land that has access to surface water or groundwater, you can apply to the province for a water licence and pay an annual rental fee for that licence. However if the use of the water is for “domestic use” a licence is not required under existing legislation.  Regardless, in past years, many residents either applied for or acquired such water licences and kept them active by paying an annual fee. Each licence is dated which determines its priority  on a first-in-time, first-in-right (FITFIR) priority system.  These dates can be important in determining who can access water in a time of shortage. Each licence also states the approved use and amount of the water that may be drawn.


The many residents living on property not served by the North Pender Harbour Water System, but with a water source available on or near their property, might access water from the following general sources:

Lake water,

Stream water,

Ground water  (an underground aquifer, usually accessed by a well),

Rain water collection is another option, but it can be difficult to bridge the dry summer months.  To clarify: the B.C. Government does not have ownership of surface water, such as artificially collected precipitation or surface runoff, that has not yet reached a stream.


A resident who accesses water from lakes, streams, ground or rain  must install, at their own expense, suitable equipment for pumping the water and usually a pressure tank is needed. The resident or home owner is solely responsible for the quality of their drinking water and may, depending on the need, install various types of filtration, UV light treatment and or chemical treatments. The resulting domestic water should be laboratory- tested to ensure it is safe but testing is expensive. Despite all these efforts, many residents may still have water quality concerns and some may elect as an additional protection to import bulk or bottled water to be used for their drinking water.


In British Columbia water rights, or licenses, are administered under the Water Act of 1909 which has not been substantially revised until recently.  As an example, in 2000, B.C.’s Water Act was the only water legislation in Canada that did not include provisions for ground water which an estimated one million people in BC relied on. 


In 2010, the provincial government proposed the Water Sustainability Act which was intended to introduce major changes to include ground water and tradable water permits ( a so called water market) in BC.


During the consultation phase, the public expressed strong opposition to a water market. As a result the government retreated from tradable permits but moved forward with ground water legislation in the newly renamed Water Sustainability Act which came into effect in February of 2016.

Prior to the WSA, the department responsible for licences under the Water Act of 1909 was Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Operations - Water Management Branch. Today it is the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) - Water Management Branch.

Despite the fact that neither the Water Act of 1906 nor the Water Sustainability Act of 2016  specifically accommodates the trading of water licences, there was and still is a work-around process called “transfer of appurtenancy” which permits licences, (that are attached to real property), to be transferred to a different property.


This is a very complex government-controlled process which has established procedures; decisions are ultimately made by government officials.  The most troublesome ongoing issue with the “transfer of appurtenancy” process is the lack of transparency. The authority to decide and approve such transfers lies with the Comptroller, Deputy Comptrollers and Water Managers, and because there has been generally no requirement for public disclosure prior to or following these transfers, the water licence transfers in BC are largely invisible to public scrutiny during the process. This lack of transparency can lead to situations where water licence holders on a particular body of water, are completely unaware of unpublished transfers that take place on the same body of water despite the possibility that such transfers may have substantial future impacts on other licence holders and their riparian rights, on water levels and water flow, on aquatic wildlife and habitat and other unanticipated consequences.


Additionally, such transfers of appurtenancy include the authorized amount of water that can be withdrawn as well as the associated level of seniority that was originally issued to the first licence holder under the first-in-time, first-in-right (FITFIR priority system).  Unfortunately, this might mean that, after the transfer is complete, the new licence holder may hold superior seniority over others, an apparent contradiction of the FITFIR priority system. More-over, the new licence holder can subsequently apply for a change of use ie. from irrigation to waterworks etc.

It can be argued that, in our open democratic society, the FITFIR priority system, dating back to 1909 is fundamentally flawed and yet it is mentioned, in government literature, as a desirable feature, that protects licences. FITFIR also appears to have considerable value for many landowners particularly in the agricultural, ranching and other sectors where drought conditions may occur and priority access to water becomes very important.

The main change that the 2016 WSA introduced was to add the management of ground water. To manage this transition, the first 5 (later extended to 6) years of the WSA are touted as a transition period during which approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users in B.C. it is hoped will join into the ground water licensing scheme which includes the first-in-time, first-in-right (FITFIR) priority system. All existing non-domestic groundwater users must apply before March 1, 2022 to maintain their date of precedence and to have the one-time application fees waived.

A video about groundwater licensing, click here:


A current map of parts of North Pender Harbour shows green dots where surface water licences are active.  The blue dots show where ground water licences are active.  Of course this is only a partial depiction of current water use because there are many more residents who draw water from streams, lakes and underground wells for domestic use and thus are not required to apply for or maintain a water licence.  

water lic.jpg

The above table is a partial (edited to fit) list of water licences on Hotel Lake. The current official list of water licences on Hotel Lake is maintained online and can be accessed at any time by clicking here.


To further explain, If you are a well owner that uses groundwater for domestic purposes, you are deemed to have rights to the water you use and you are exempt from licensing and paying provincial water fees and rentals.  Nevertheless, you are encouraged to register your well.  Registering your well creates a record of your water use and helps to ensure that your use is considered by the decision makers dealing with other licence applications.  Contact FrontCounter BC to determine if your well record already exists in the provincial database.  If no record exists, complete a Well Registration Form and email it to or mail it to the address provided.  Registration is just for domestic use. Do not complete a registration form if you are a non-domestic user.

Because the licensing or registration of ground water wells is now included in WSA legislation, we might expect, in the future, to learn more about how much water is being drawn and be able to develop better mapping of our underground aquifers.  The simplistic map below shows Aquifer # 559, as a shaded area that roughly conforms to the coastline. In reality there may be many aquifers and they may lie at different depths. As an example, when one local well was drilled, it passed through moderate aquifer flow at 75 feet below ground level; then drilling deeper found a more fulsome aquifer flow at 210 feet below local ground level, demonstrating the three-dimensional nature of aquifers.  In another example, the presence of thousands of registered wells in the Fraser Valley has contributed to a more sophisticated mapping of aquifers which aids government as well as the public in understanding the need for sound practices that protect these essential water reservoirs. It is a common sight in the Fraser Valley to see roadsigns on which a map of the underlying aquifer is shown,  a much needed reminder to all of the need to be vigilant against ground pollution.

If you wish to explore the subject of aquifers, please visit our "Aquifers" page.

And because, some residents in North Pender Harbour might choose to organize their own community water delivery systems, here are a few words about the Water Users' Communities Act  (WUC). The following is quoted from a provincial source:  “Part 3 of the former Water Act is now the Water Users' Communities Act. This act governs groups of six or more water licensees who join together to construct and maintain a water diversion and storage or delivery system.”   Also important:  “Any WUC supplying drinking water is required by the Ministry of Health to meet the requirements of the Drinking Water Protection Act and the Drinking Water Protection Regulation.”  Click here:     Learn more about water users' communities


Yet another scenario is the Private Water Utility Act which governs small private waterworks that are also required to meet Ministry requirements.  Click here:    Learn more about Private Water Utility Act

It may seem encouraging to read that “the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy works together with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), Ministry of Health and other provincial agencies to manage and protect water in B.C.”.  However the quality of water being drawn by individual residents from streams, lakes and aquifers for domestic purposes is not guaranteed to be safe for use as drinking water.

In BC, our Provincial Health Officer holds oversight and accountability under the Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA) for drinking water protection. In her report to the Minister of Health (signed in June 2019), PHO Dr. Bonnie Henry MD, MPH, FRCPC, explains, as clearly as it is possible to do, just one of the limits of government:

 “A single-family residence on its own water supply system is considered a private water system and exempt from most of the requirements of the Drinking Water Protection Act (e.g., construction and operating permits). Property owners on a private water supply are responsible for the safety of their own water supply and are not monitored or inspected by drinking water officers under the Act. Private water supplies do, however, benefit from the parts of the act related to threats to drinking water and source water protection.”  To read Dr. Henry’s full report, click here


Click here to access the BC Government's "Small Water System Guidebook" issued by Health and Protection Branch of the Ministry of Health.

In the intertwined-maze of ministerial webpages and the millions of words written by federal, provincial, and local governments, it is difficult to be reassured exactly how governments intend to protect our lakes, streams and aquifers from threats.   Amidst it all we found this taken from a federal policy introduction on water policy, (underlining added). 

“Water governance: federal policy and legislation,  Water Policy

To manage Canada's water resources, the federal government has defined two main goals:

  • to protect and enhance the quality of the water resource; and,

  • to promote the wise and efficient management and use of water.

The policy stresses that government action is not enough. Canadians at large must become aware of the true value of water in their daily lives and use it wisely. We cannot afford to continue undervaluing and therefore wasting our water resources.”

So there you have it.  Government action is not enough…. Its up to us!  Let’s take good care of Hotel Lake, Garden Bay Lake and all the lakes that we depend on for our domestic water.

When each of us turns on the tap for a drink of water, we should be aware of where it comes from and how that water has been treated and tested for human consumption.  The SCRD does a very good job in delivering clean water.  However residents not on the SCRD water system must to do this for themselves.  Although access to clean domestic water is complex and not without pitfalls, there is a common goal on which we can all focus; clean drinking water! Who amongst us does not want to protect our water quality?

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