Watercourses are wetted channels that provide habitat and connectivity for Salmonids and freshwater fish. Riparian areas (watercourse setbacks) are made up of the land and vegetation adjacent to watercourses that provide food and habitat values for fish. Riparian areas need to remain in a largely undisturbed state in order to maintain a healthy watercourse ecosystem. Riparian areas also help protect property from flooding and potential loss of land from channel erosion and instability.
For these reasons, it is in the public interest to regulate activities in watercourses and their riparian areas for the purpose of habitat protection, flood prevention and erosion control.
Watercourse Development Permit Area and Zone
Since 1997, land use activities adjacent to watercourses and riparian areas in the City have been regulated under the City Watercourse Development Permit Area (DPA) and the City’s Zoning Bylaw.
The Zoning Bylaw sets requirements for subdividing land and siting buildings. It specifies that, as a general rule, no new structures, buildings, additions, driveways, parking lots, fences, etc., can be built within a watercourse setback area.
Watercourse setback areas vary in distance, depending on a number of factors, including the size of the watercourse, condition of the existing riparian area, and its connectivity to other watercourses. Rivers and streams with significant riparian areas have 30m setbacks; however, most streams and creeks have 15m setbacks, and minor streams that are isolated or indirectly flow into fish bearing watercourses have 7.5m setbacks. Lakes, wetlands and marine foreshore areas all have 15m setbacks.
Setback areas are measured from the Wetland Boundary for lakes and ponds, from the Natural Boundary of the ocean for marine shorelines, and from the ‘Top of Bank’ for rivers, creeks and streams (see diagram below).
The City’s Official Community Plan (OCP) modifies this rule by designating all watercourses, lakes, ponds and their setbacks as Watercourse Development Permit Areas (DPAs). This allows structures to be built within a setback area, provided a Development Permit (DP) is obtained. The Permit allows for the management of activities that can take place in a watercourse setback and the compensation needed within the setback area to maintain a ‘no net loss’ of habitat.