An investigation of how well the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) protects drinking water in community watersheds has identified a number of improvements necessary to help ensure government objectives for drinking water quality and quantity are achieved. “The status and management of community watersheds needs to be reviewed by government to ensure this resource is being properly managed in those places where it needs to be managed, in consideration of all types of development activity,” said Forest Practices Board chair Tim Ryan.
While most forestry licensees were following the legal requirements, the investigation identified several weaknesses in managing community watersheds under FRPA. Among the findings: The requirements to protect drinking water are not clear or well understood; commitments made in forestry plans to protect drinking water are not always enforceable; and greater emphasis needs to be placed on erosion and sediment control on forestry roads.
In many community watersheds, forestry activities from decades ago, and other land uses like mining, recreation and power projects, are affecting water quality. However, the legacy issues and other activities are not subject to the same requirements as current forestry activities. Government does not monitor current forest practices to see if drinking water objectives are achieved in community watersheds. “We also found a disconnect where a number of watersheds are designated, but no longer provide drinking water to a community,” added Ryan. The board has examined forest stewardship plans in 48 of the 131 designated community watersheds with forestry activity in recent years. Forest practices and watershed condition were examined in 12 of the 48 watersheds.
The board made six recommendations to help improve the legislative framework and ensure government’s objectives for community watersheds are achieved: 1. Clarify FRPA’s requirements for the protection of water; 2. Define the concept of cumulative hydrological effects; 3. Strengthen the content and approval of forest stewardship plans; 4. Ensure the content of professional assessments is meaningful; 5. Monitor achievement of the community watershed objective; and 6. Update the status of community watersheds.
The Forest Practices Board is BC’s independent watchdog for sound forest and range practices, reporting its findings and recommendations directly to the public and government. The board can investigate and report on current forestry and range issues and make recommendations for improvement to practices and legislation.