The watershed encompasses an area of about 23,000 hectares and is largely within the Regional District of Nanaimo, with the watershed boundary straddling into the Cowichan Valley Regional District. While the water is a public resource, the land is all privately held forest land dating from the original E&N Land Grant. TimberWest owns about 12% of the watershed, at the easterly edge. Island Timberlands recently (2005) purchased the remainder of the watershed. The City of Nanaimo owns the footprint of its two dams, out to the outline of the high water mark of the two reservoirs, plus a small buffer. As well, the City has rights-of-way over private lands for its pipelines into the City.
The land owned by the forest companies is designated as Private Managed Forest. Practicing forestry on land with Managed Forest status requires adherence to the Private Managed Forest Land Act and over 30 other provincial and federal regulations, of which several are related directly to water quality. Both landowners also have an Environmental Management System certified to the ISO 14001 Standard and their forest management practices are certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative standard. The Ministry of Agriculture and Lands has primary regulatory responsibility for the Managed Forest program and operations are monitored by the Private Managed Forest Land Council. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as the Ministry of Environment also play a large regulatory role.
A watershed assessment was completed (by Island Timberlands) in 2001 to understand the physical condition of the watershed. Resulting from that process, a Watershed Management Plan was developed that identified improvements to existing infrastructure and determined specialized practises to mitigate negative impacts on water quality.
The City and landowners manage the watershed on a cooperative basis. Joint meetings are held annually to discuss upcoming plans within the watershed. The landowners are extremely sensitive to the fact that their activities can impact the quality of drinking water, and are most concerned to avoid negative impacts.
The Province of BC issues water licences under the Water Act. The City's dams and the use of the water for public consumption and fisheries augmentation are clearly spelled out by the licences it holds. Water quality is driven by the Drinking Water Protection Act and Regulation. The City's annual water quality sampling program exceeds the requirements of the legislation. The City samples over 2,000 times annually to monitor water quality. To date, all tests have shown that our water generally meets the legislation and the Canadian Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. This success is attributed to the cooperative management between the City and the land owners.
Watershed protection consists of several factors: restricted access to the lands; training and education about quality issues; monitoring and review of operations; stream channel protection and drainage improvements; constant stream, culvert and ditch monitoring; frequent water quality testing; slide monitoring; daily inspections; and replanting cleared areas. To ensure quality within the water supply system, the City flushes the entire system annually, cleans and disinfects storage reservoirs regularly, and has operators certified under the BC Environmental Operators Certification Program operating and maintaining the system. The forestry companies manage harvesting, tree planting, road building and deactivation, stream crossings (culverts/bridges), access by contractors or individuals, fire control, environmental mitigation and security within the watershed.
In addition, the City has partnered with University of Victoria's Environmental Management of Drinking Water research group (the Industrial Research Chair under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) since 2004. The intent of the partnership is to bring scientific research into industrial practices within the watershed to determine the long-term effect of this activity on water quality.