Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
Please see below for a list of frequently asked questions. If you do not see your question and answer below, please send it to watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca and we will do our best to respond in a timely manner.
To limit scrolling time, select the topic that pertains to your question.
- Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Program
- Watering Restrictions & Outdoor Water Conservation
- Water Stewardship Rebates
This series of questions and answers provides background information about the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection (DWWP) program. After ten years of program implementation, the DWWP Action Plan has recently been updated for 2020-2030. For more details on the update process, please visit getinvolved.rdn.ca/dwwp-action-plan-update-2019.
- Why do we need this Drinking Water & Watershed Protection program, isn't our water supply just fine?
Water supplies in the region are not in crisis, but there are signs that they are under stress in some areas of our region: declining water levels in wells; saltwater intrusion to groundwater; higher temperatures and lower summer flows in major streams and rivers; and, declines in winter snowpack. We have experienced worsening seasonal droughts in much of the region. Some rivers and aquifers are more vulnerable to drought conditions than others. Drought impacts can be exacerbated by excessive water use and changes in land cover that affect groundwater recharge (infiltration of water to the aquifer). Protecting water quality is a concern in both surface and groundwater sources in areas of the region.
It's important to remember that water is a finite and shared resource, and we need to be proactive in protecting it for community needs and ecosystem requirements, now and for the future.
Activity on the land - from home building to farming, road building to recreation – can impact watershed function. The Drinking Water & Watershed Protection Program is intended to provide the resources to identify and work collaboratively to address these issues at the regional level.
Increasing our understanding of how to best conserve and protect our water resources involves collecting local data and monitoring regional conditions. It involves engaging with the community and promoting stewardship.
- How much does the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection program cost?
The Drinking Water & Watershed Protection Program is funded by a regional parcel tax that applies to the Electoral Areas and municipalities alike. When it was first established after the 2008 referendum, the tax was at $12 per parcel annually. When the municipalities joined, the parcel tax was reduced to $8 per parcel annually. After 10-years of implementation, with a renewed Action Plan (pending Board endorsement Dec. 2019) the parcel tax has increased again to $12, in order to resource an expanded mandate and increase in effort for the next operational period of the Program.
- What do I get for my tax dollars?
The Program funding is used to hire the staff to coordinate the data gathering and planning programs under Drinking Water & Watershed Protection, as well as engage consulting professionals to assist with scientific studies and analysis. It is also used to develop education programs and provide incentive programs to promote more efficient water use; and to support non-government organizations that assist in stewardship.
The key benefits of the Drinking Water & Watershed Protection program include:
- Assistance for residents to conserve and protect water resources through rebate and education programs.
- Improved data collection, analysis and mapping of the Region's aquifers and waterways, and ongoing monitoring on how human activities and changing climate conditions affect them.<
- More informed decisions on how to use land and water resources, so we can maintain healthy watersheds and clean drinking water.
- Who is participating in the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection program?
The 7 electoral areas and the municipalities of Nanaimo, Parksville, Lantzville and Qualicum Beach all participate in the DWWP service, to advance mutual goals for water resource protection.
- Isn't water management the role of the provincial and federal governments? Why should I pay more tax for water management?
Water licensing, regulation of community drinking water systems, fisheries protection and other water management activities are the jurisdiction of the Provincial and Federal governments. However, there are many important water issues at the local level that are not addressed by senior governments.
For instance, Provincial water monitoring networks operate at a scale which overlooks many smaller creeks and streams, and often lacks sufficient spatial distribution of monitoring locations across complex aquifer systems to truly have “eyes on the resource” at the local level. Understanding water limitations and risks is necessary for local government, as the land use planning authority outside of resource lands, to inform evidence-based decisions.
Also, while various senior government agencies manage specific activities in watersheds - e.g., forestry, fisheries or mining - no one agency has the clear responsibility to look at a watershed as a whole and manage land use according to the values of that watershed. This is a key opportunity for inter-jurisdictional coordination, facilitated by the DWWP Program.
Of all levels of government, the RDN operates at an appropriate scale to identify water issues in our region. Yet, the RDN can't do this alone. Senior government agencies are advisors to the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Program, and we rely on their support to implement it, especially with respect to watershed management responsibilities that are shared among many agencies. The participation of member municipalities, industry and community groups also enables this cross-sector collaboration for water sustainability in the region.
In the absence of regulatory authority, the role of the RDN DWWP service is to be an advocate, convener and facilitator across jurisdictions of authority.
With better information about the Region's water resources, the RDN is in better position to influence provincial decisions regarding water licensing, forestry, agriculture and mining activities. The RDN can work with targeted sectors on educational programs and through direct contact on specific watershed or aquifer issues.
- Will the DWWP program stop development?
The purpose of the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Program is to understand our watersheds and water resources better, to help inform decisions about future development and infrastructure. That better understanding may lead to directing future development to some parts of the Region over others or discouraging some types of development in some places over others. Its purpose is not to outright stop development - but if and where development must occur, to know whether and how it can be sustained from a water perspective.
- Does this service impose rules on how I use my well?
No. There is no regulatory authority associated with the service. Groundwater regulations are the mandate of the Provincial Government. The RDN does offer rebates and initiatives to support testing and monitoring of private wells on a voluntary basis. The information generated through these programs is valuable in helping understand changes and possible threats to groundwater sources.
As of April 1, seasonal outdoor watering restrictions take effect within the region.
During the spring and summer, practical watering restrictions help us manage our water supply over the dry season. Not all water providers will initiate watering restrictions, but if they do, each 'Stage' has a consistent definition across the region as part of a new standardized framework to improve clarity.
Watering restriction times are set in an attempt to balance the needs of the several major water suppliers in the region, some large systems on surface water sources, other smaller systems on groundwater sources. Outdoor water conservation helps our water systems be resilient to drought and supply water for essential needs, fire protection, and environmental flows.
- Why do we need to conserve water on the 'wet coast' of British Columbia?
We think of coastal BC as having an abundant, if not overabundant supply of water. However, increasing population and changing climate means that demand is also increasing and changing. The quantity and quality of our water resources are directly impacted by human activity, including the amount we use on a daily basis. Moreover, conserving water postpones the development of costly new infrastructure, such as reservoirs, pump stations, and pipelines.
- What are the best ways to conserve water around the home?
Toilets account for 26.7% of total indoor water use. Combined with showers and baths, the bathroom accounts for 61% of all indoor water use. If your home doesn't already have one, consider installing a low-flush toilet or retrofitting your toilet. You can also install aerators on your faucets and shower heads to reduce the flow of water.
- What are the best ways to conserve water around the garden?
Up to 40% of summertime water use is for lawns and landscaping. Here are some quick water saving tips:
- Water only when your lawn or garden needs it and only when permitted. Your lawn only needs 1" of water per week to be healthy.
- Know your irrigation system and ensure it's set to water only during the appropriate times.
- Native shrubs and plants have already adapted to our climate and soils. Once established, these plants do well on the moisture that they get from annual rainfall and require less maintenance.
- Mulch reduces evaporation, retains moisture, and reduces weed growth.
- How do I read my water meter?
Water meters are located in the ground usually in a black plastic or concrete box with a steel lid, just beyond the front property line and close to the front corners of the property. To access the water meter, pry the lid off with your fingers or a screwdriver, and place it carefully nearby. The water meter will be located within plain view once the lid is removed.
The dials on the water meter show cumulative water usage similar to the odometer in a car. The digits represent tens, hundreds, and thousands of cubic metres (1 cubic meter = 220 imperial gallons). To determine your water usage, write down all the digits shown on the meter face. Then compare this reading to the last meter reading shown on your water bill. When you subtract the old reading from the new reading, the result is the volume of water used since the last meter reading (in cubic meters). If you note the number of calendar days since the last meter reading, you can calculate the average volume of water used per day by dividing the volume of water used, by the number of days since the last meter reading.
A typical household uses 0.7 to 1.0 cubic meters per day, or roughly 30 cubic meters per month.
- How can I check for a leak?
Discontinue all water uses on your property for a few minutes while you go outside to check your water meter. If a leak is present, the panel of numbers on the water meter face will be advancing like the odometer in a car. A small leak may only cause the black triangle or red dial to spin. If the meter indicates water usage, close the main shut-off valve inside the house. Look at your water meter again and if the triangle or red dial have stopped spinning, there there is likely a leak inside the house (i.e. a dripping tap or running toilet). If the triangle or red dial are still spinning, there is a leak somewhere in the yard.
- Why were the watering restrictions changed in 2016?
The watering restriction bylaws and policies were reviewed in detail after an unprecedented hot, dry summer in 2015. Feedback from property owners and neighbouring municipal leaders indicated there was confusion over the levels and inconsistencies between municipalities. All major water purveyors in the region worked together to develop this new unified framework for 2016. The intent is that with common definitions of watering restriction stages across the region, there will be more clarity for residents.
- Whose watering restrictions do I have to follow?
Check the interactive map to confirm where you live and what the current restrictions are. If you are still unsure, then consider who sends you a water bill.
- Where does my water come from?
We're glad you asked! Your drinking water comes from either a licensed surface water supply, or from groundwater wells, or a combination of both. On the interactive map you will find your water service area and the water source will be described in the roll-over info bubble.
- Why does Watering Restriction Stage 1 consist of night time watering only?
The aim is to avoid periods of excessive demand around breakfast time and dinner time by directing sprinkling to the hours between 7pm and 7am in Stage 1, thereby giving our wells, pumps, reservoirs and aquifers a chance to rest and recover.
Please note that in Stage 1 & Stage 2 hand-watering, micro irrigation and drip irrigation are permitted anytime; the restricted times only apply to pop-up, rotor and other sprinklers.
- Are vegetable gardens restricted?
No. The value of growing local food is recognized and commendable. You can water vegetable gardens and fruit trees by any method you like, any time, any day, even in Watering Restriction Stage 4.
- Why is Watering Restriction Stage 3 so open-ended?
When stress on our water supply is heightened, Stage 3 Voluntary Reductions give the opportunity back to the homeowner to decide how best to reduce their own water use, above and beyond Stage 2 restrictions. At this Stage, if a measureable reduction in water use is not achieved by the community as a whole, the Manager of Water Services has the discretion to move to Stage 4 - a sprinkling and outdoor washing ban.
It's about flexibility. Did you work hard to cultivate your perennial beds? Keep them watered, and let the side and back lawns go golden. Love your Saturday morning car wash? Make it a monthly chore rather than a weekly one! Ask yourself where your household's water priorities and use reduction opportunities are. Remember, every drop counts!
- Is my pressure-washing business exempt?
Please check with your specific municipality or water purveyor (link) for details about commercial exemptions.
- What is micro irrigation and drip irrigation?
Micro and drip irrigation systems consist of water delivered to the root zone of a plant and use less than 20 gallons per hour at less than 25 PSI. Soaker hoses and weeper hoses are NOT considered to be micro or drip systems.
- Can I run a sprinkler for the kids, or fill a wading pool?
Please check with your specific municipality or water purveyor for details about sprinklers and pool exemptions.
- Can I water my brand new lawn (sod/seed)?
You can apply for a permit to be exempt from the watering restrictions in Stage 1 and Stage 2. A new lawn exemption permit may not be issued or be valid if the restrictions move to Stage 3 or Stage 4. Please check with your specific municipality or water purveyor. It is recommended that lawn seeding or installing sod be done in the spring or fall shoulder seasons. For more information on healthy lawn care, check out this resource (brochure).
- Where can I report violations to the watering restrictions?
We love your dedication to protecting water resources! Please feel free to leave a note on the person's door as a reminder of the watering restrictions. Failing that, please contact your local water provider. If you are in and RDN Water Service Area please send us an email at rcu [at] rdn.bc.ca and we'll check it out.
- How are the watering restrictions enforced?
Each municipality and water purveyor has bylaws and/or policies that pertain to the enforcement of watering restrictions. It's good practice to give a friendly reminder to members of the community of the current watering restriction level. Further action may be taken at the discretion of the municipality or water purveyor. Many municipalities have ticketing bylaws that could be utilized if there are infractions.
- I already stopped watering my lawn. How else can I conserve water?
We have an extensive list of tips at teamwatersmart.ca. Get creative! For example, give the kids a squirt bottle to play with instead of running the sprinkler!
- Watering Restrictions Chart
The RDN offers various rebates and incentives and you may be eligible for funding to help make your property more environmentally friendly. Please find answers to all your rebate related questions below.
- Do I need to be pre-approved before I commence my upgrades?
Yes. All applicants must fill out a Pre-Approval form for the specific rebate they are applying for. Once pre-approved by a DWWP staff member, the work can commence. The pre-approval process allows our admins to determine eligibility.
- How long does the pre-approval process take?
Due to the high number of applicants for each rebate, please allow up to 10 business days to be pre-approved.
- I am a renter, can I apply for rebates?
Rebates applications are only accepted if signed off by the owner of the property. If you are a renter and would like to take advantage of our water stewardship rebates, please contact your landlord and have them approve of the proposed work and submit an application.
- What is groundwater?
- What is a private domestic well?
A private domestic water well provides water for household and garden use at an individual dwelling. This does not include wells that provide water for more than one dwelling. Domestic water uses include:
- household drinking water, food preparation and sanitation;
- fire prevention; water for animals or poultry kept for household use, or as pets; and/or
- irrigation of a garden (including a lawn) not exceeding 1,000 m2 on the same parcel or a parcel immediately adjacent to the dwelling.
Any other uses are considered non-domestic and require a Groundwater License from the Province.
- Why is it important to regularly check water quality and wellhead structure?
In the region, 42% of residents depend on groundwater; a large proportion of these residents have their own private well that they manage for their drinking water.
Improperly constructed or poorly maintained wells can act as a direct pathway for surface contaminants such as manure, petroleum products, and fertilizers to enter the groundwater.
Stewarding our shared groundwater resource helps communities maintain healthy water supplies for families, fish, and our future.
- Why does the RDN offer cost-sharing initiatives for groundwater protection?
In order to assist residents in maintaining and improving groundwater quality in rural areas, the RDN is offering rebates for well water quality tests and well protection upgrades.
This cost-sharing initiative will:
Decrease financial barriers to rural residents in improving their well construction. Increase access to water quality testing for rural residents. Prompt well owners to inspect the integrity of their wells and learn more about water quality protection.
- What is a well cap?
A secure well cap is to prevent direct and unintended entry into the well of any water or undesirable substances or vermin. It is bolted or screwed down and provides a complete coverage to the top of the well casing. For dug wells, the well cap is usually concrete or metal sheeting.
If your well does not have a secure, vermin-proof cap or cover, you may be able to replace the well cap yourself. However, some types of caps require a well driller or pump installer to install correctly as it is more easily dropped into the well and sometimes involves working with the pump's wiring. It is not recommended that well owners try to install this type of well cap on their own.
- What is the well casing stick-up?
The well casing stick-up is to help flood-proof the well and prevent water at the ground surface from entering the top of the well. The stick-up should be at least 30 cm (12 inches) above ground surface or from the floor of the pump house to the top of the casing. The ground around outdoor wellheads should be graded, mounded or sloped to drain surface water away from the well.
Upgrades / retrofits done to the well casing must be performed by a qualified well professional. Grading / mounding of the ground around the well can be done by the homeowner.
See this BC Ministry of Environment brochure: Upgrading Wells in Pits
- What is a surface seal?
Usually comprised of bentonite clay, the surface seal is to prevent contaminants from the surface or shallow subsurface zone from entering the well. Seal must be at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick.
Please Note: With respect to surface seal retrofits (upgrades), this work is not done solely as a matter of course (i.e. just because it is an older well and not likely to have a seal). In many cases the cuttings or rock flour surrounding well casing acts as an adequate seal, and trying to install a seal later can damage the well or effectiveness of whatever seal exists.
The surface seal can be retrofit in cases where a Qualified Well Driller recommends it, because of physical evidence such as a visible unfilled annular space, visible seepage on the inside of the casing from shallow fractures or from where the casing intersects bedrock, or if one is able to physically move the casing around (loose casing), or geochemical evidence that suggests entry into the well of shallow surface water such as high total coliforms. The methods to retrofit a surface seal vary depending on the nature of the problem, and can be technical (e.g. installing an internal liner, or over-drilling the existing casing), and not just a case of pouring a few bentonite pellets down the outside of the well head.
- Why should a well be closed?
Wells that have not been used for ten years must be closed under the BC Groundwater Protection Regulation. Closing a well means backfilling and sealing the well. If a well has been found to be an irreconcilable point of groundwater contamination, closure may be recommended sooner. This must be performed by a Qualified Well Driller. Please see the Best Practices for Well Closure. Otherwise, a well can be deactivated rather than permanently closed so it is available for future use, but protected properly from surface contamination in the meantime. See the BC Groundwater Protection Regulation for more details.
- Which Irrigation Upgrades & Soil Improvements are eligible and how much money can I get for each?
Irrigation Upgrades - Up to $475 for upgrades to existing irrigation systems through the installation and proper use of high-efficiency irrigation system components. For example: Installation of a smart control automatic irrigation controller, a rain sensor, a soil moisture sensor, and/or a weather-based evapotranspiration sensor Conversion of conventional spray/rotor irrigation zones to drip irrigation Replacement of conventional spray/rotor emitters with matched precipitation (MP) rotators Soil Amendments - Up to $100 for improving the health and water retention of existing on-site soils through the addition of high quality compost, topsoil and bark mulch. For example: Enrichment of on-site soils through the application of nutrient-rich soil amendment products (e.g Sea Soil, compost, nutrient-dense top soil) Top-dressing lawn areas to improve drought tolerance of turf Adding organic mulch to protect amended soils and reduce evaporative losses Dual-project Rebate - Up to $100: Applicants who are pre-approved for both Irrigation Upgrades AND Soil Amendments under the rebate program may be eligible for an efficiency bonus of up to $100 upon completion of their project.
- What should my photos include?
To be pre-approved, photos showing existing areas that require upgrades described on the Pre-approval Application Plan Description(s) must be submitted. To receive your rebate for works completed, photos showing the eligible upgrades must be submitted with your Claim Form.
All photos should have an indication of scale (i.e. a person, landscape tie, meter stick, ruler, etc.). Pictures must include all upgrades completed as part of this rebate, clearly showing the same yard area depicted in the photos associated with the pre-approval application, including:
"Before" and "after" photos of the site can be sent digitally through email to watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca. Photos can also be mailed or dropped off to the RDN Administration office at 6300 Hammond Bay Road, Nanaimo, B.C. V9T 6N2. Photo(s) of all completed irrigation upgrades, such as new components installed to replace conventional components (i.e. smart controller, rain/weather/soil sensor, drip irrigation, MP rotator emitters). Photo(s) of lawn/garden areas that received soil amendments. Please see the questions "How do I know if I need to amend my soil? How much topsoil and/or mulch should I be adding to my garden?" below for more information about required amendment depths.
- Why is the RDN offering a rebate program for improving the water efficiency of established landscapes?
During the summer months, water use in the RDN doubles and sometimes triples! Most of this increase in use is due to our outdoor water demand, primarily to keep landscapes green and fragrant during the dry season. Meanwhile, longer, drier summers and lighter snow packs mean longer watering seasons and less precipitation and snow melt to recharge aquifers and reservoirs during the summer months. In addition to outreach through the RDN's Team WaterSmart and watering restrictions, the RDN's 2013 Water Conservation Plan identifies the development of "a rebate program aimed at improving household water efficiency related to outdoor water use" as a priority measure for 2014 - 2016 (2013 Water Conservation Plan, p. 26).
Team WaterSmart has conducted hundreds of Irrigation Check-Ups throughout the RDN. On the majority of sites visited, the three highest priority actions for increased landscape water efficiency were:
See Team WaterSmart's "Top 10 Irrigation Tips" brochure for more information. Repairing leaks and retrofitting the irrigation system with newer, more efficient components to increase watering efficiency and scheduling efficiency; Amending the soil to improve the soil structure and water retention capabilities; and Adding organic mulch to the top of garden beds to regulate temperature and reduce evaporation.
- What are the benefits of improving the efficiency of my irrigation system?
Improving the efficiency of your irrigation system will help you to reduce your landscape's water consumption, while allowing you to deliver water only where you want it to go. This results in water savings and a healthier landscape. Not only will you save on your water bill, but you are working to conserve and protect our community's water resources to ensure a sustainable future in our region.
- What are the benefits of amending my soil with quality compost, soil and organic mulch?
It starts with the soil; there is nothing more important to the success of a garden than healthy soil. The combination of minerals, soil organisms, and organic matter (compost) - or 'growing medium', as the combination is called in the landscape trade - will determine almost entirely the performance of plants in terms of survival, health, growth rate, and water needs. Nurturing healthy soil can double the rate of plant survival and growth, and cut landscape water needs by 50%. In part, this is because healthy soil acts like a sponge, holding water and nutrients in the root zone of plants. Furthermore, healthy, absorbent soil is a key part of property storm water management, as it increases your landscape's ability to retain water from large rainfall events. And yet, good quality soil is often one of the first things to be sacrificed to save money in landscape design and maintenance - that's NOT WaterSmart!
The addition of mulch can reduce water lost from soil through evaporation. It protects your investment in cultivating quality soil, by reducing evaporation, leeching, and erosion. Mulch also reduces weed growth and adds a finished look to a garden while providing nutrients to plants.
Together, healthy soil and organic mulch maximize the water-retaining potential of our landscapes, allowing us to maintain a healthy garden with less water.
- Do I need a Building Permit to perform retrofits to my irrigation system?
No, a building permit is not required for the Irrigation Upgrades eligible under this program. However, if you are conducting the irrigation retrofits as part of a larger home improvement project and are unsure whether you will require a permit, please contact your local building department. If you are in the RDN, contact RDN Building & Bylaw Department at 250-390-6530.
- Why do I need to work with an irrigation professional certified by the Irrigation Industry Association of BC?
To qualify for the Irrigation Upgrades & Soil Amendments Rebate, irrigation system upgrades must be completed by an irrigation professional certified by the Irrigation Industry Association of BC (IIABC). The IIABC's standards and guidelines promote water, soil, and energy conservation practices through efficient irrigation system design, installation, and management. IIABC Certified Irrigation Professionals have taken training courses on these topics and have passed industry-standard certification exams, making them knowledgeable about industry best practices and current efficiency technologies. Certified Irrigation Schedulers and Certified Irrigation Technicians - Level 2 have a higher level of training than Certified Irrigation Technicians - Level 1.
- How do I find an IIABC certified irrigation professional?
There are many IIABC Certified Irrigation Professionals with different levels of training working in our region, please see the list below and/or visit IIABC's Membership Directory; to locate IIABC certified irrigation professionals in the RDN, refer to www.irrigationbc.com - click on "Find a Certified Professional Here" and search by Classification ("Technician") and Area ("Vancouver Island/Coast").
The following businesses have IIABC certified professionals on staff. For a full, updated list visit the IIABC's Membership Directory:
IIABC Certified Company* Location Phone Number Website All Weather Landscaping Nanaimo 250-619-0872 NA Aslan Ventures Inc. Parksville 250-954-5367 www.aslanventures.ca Easy Living Landscaping Ltd. Nanaimo 250-753-7161 www.sustainablelandscapes.ca Island EcoScapes Nanaimo 250-668-3655 www.islandecoscapes.com Island Smart Irrigation Systems Nanaimo 250-667-4424 www.islandsmart.ca MacDonald Gray Consultants Parksville 250-248-3089 www.macdonald-gray.ca Pacific Ridge Landscaping Lantzville 250-816-8989 www.pacificridgelandscaping.com Pax Landscaping Contracting Parksville 250-937-0293 NA Precision Irrigation Parksville/Nanoose 250-586-7224 www.precision-irrigation.ca Pro-West Services, Inc. Parksville 250-248-4448 www.prowestservices.com Ridgeview Irrigation Nanaimo 250-756-7544 or 250-754-2220 www.ridgeviewlandscaping.ca Rock City Irrigation Nanaimo 250-729-0688 or 250-713-5639 NA Strain Landscapes Ltd. Nanaimo 250-756-0483 www.strain-landscapes.com
If you know of a business that should be on this list, please email watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca.
- For the Irrigation Upgrades, what are the required features of upgraded system components?
For a checklist of which features your automated irrigation system must contain to be eligible for the Irrigation Upgrades Rebate review page 2 of the Irrigation Upgrades & Soil Amendments Claim Form.
- What is the difference between compost, soil, and mulch?
Compost is decomposed organic matter; it is effective in improving soil quality by providing nutrients, reducing erosion, and retaining moisture.
Topsoil is the upper layer of soil, usually the top couple of inches, where there is a high concentration of organic matter. Topsoil is often where we see earthworms living, and there is high biological activity in healthy topsoil.
Mulch is a layer of material that is applied to soil surface to reduce weed growth, regulate soil temperature and conserve soil moisture. Examples include woody mulches like bark mulch, and organic mulched like grass clippings, leaves, or straw.
Peat Moss is a partially decayed form of sphagnum moss from bogs; it is excellent for aerating and creating pore space but lacks nutrients and biological diversity that compost provides.
Sand is an inorganic granular material, made of fine particles of rock and minerals. Sand provides no nutrients and has no ability to hold moisture; rather it is very fast draining.
- Where do I purchase quality top soil, compost, and mulch?
Soil marts, nurseries, garden centers, and home improvement stores offer a wide selection of topsoil, compost, and mulch products by the bag or in bulk. Many companies also offer delivery options. Sustainably harvested amendments that are free of weed seeds and do not leach toxins are good for your landscape and the environment. Ensure that all products you use on your landscape are watershed friendly!
There are several local retailers of soil, compost, and mulches including but not limited to:
Soil Retailers - Bulk Supply Shop Location Phone Number Website Alpine Soil Mart Nanaimo 250-751-1089 www.alpinesoilmart.ca Bob's Top Soil and Landscape Cassidy, South Nanaimo 250-713-3111 www.m-star.ca/topsoil.html Cinnabar Valley Farms Nanaimo 250-758-7888 www.cinnabarfarms.com Earthman Contracting Parksville & surrounding areas 250-248-2525 www.earthmancontracting.com Kleijn Nursuries Nanaimo 250-754-4482 www.kleijnnurseries.com Lussier Soil and Bark Nanoose Bay 250-758-1877 www.lussiersoilandbark.com MacNutt Enterprises Nanaimo 250-714-1112 www.macnuttenterprises.ca Milner Group Ventures Ltd. Nanaimo 250-756-0773 www.milnergroup.ca/compost Sharecoast Rentals and Sales Nanaimo 250-758-2401 www.sharecost.ca Soil Retailers - Bag Supply Shop Location Phone Number Website Buckerfields Nanaimo & Parksville 250-753-4221 www.buckerfields.org Community Composting (RDN wide) 250-884-7645 www.communitycomposting.ca Cultivate Garden & Gifts Parksville 250-248-0093 www.cultivategarden.com Dolly's Home Hardware Qualicum Beach 250-752-9833 NA Greenthumb Garden Centre Nanaimo 250-758-0944 www.greenthumbgardencentre.com Station Farm and Feed Parksville 250-248-8631 NA
If you know of a business that should be on this list, please email watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca.
- How do I ensure I'm choosing quality top soil, compost, and mulch?
It's important to be a savvy consumer when purchasing soil, compost, and mulch. The following tips will help you to choose a quality topsoil, compost, or mulch product.
Soil & Compost:
Optimum amounts of organic matter in a living growing medium produce garden soil or compost blend that:Mulch:
- feels soft and crumbles easily
- drains well and warms up quickly in spring
- does not crust after planting
- soaks up heavy rains with little runoff
- produces healthy, high quality plants
- stores moisture for drought periods
- has few clods and no hardpan
- resists erosion and nutrient loss
- supports high populations of soil organisms
- has a rich, earthy smell
- does not require fertilization
Common problems to avoid when purchasing soil and compost include:
- Topsoil that is too coarse (no silt or clay) or too dense (no sand).
- A sandy loam is the optimum texture - this is a combination of about 40% inorganics (sand, silt, clay) and about 60% organics (nutrient-rich compost, soil, peat).
- Topsoil that is weed infested. Seeds can lay dormant in topsoil for years.
- Look for a topsoil source that is weed free.
- Compost that is not yet decomposed - livestock manure often has both of these problems. This robs the soil of nitrogen.
- Decomposition (and weed) problems can be avoided with a proper composting process.
Quality soil and compost purchasing tips are taken from Team WaterSmart's Landscape Guide to Water Efficiency.
Once you've amended your gardens with good quality compost and soil, protect your investment by adding mulch on top of the soil. Mulch is simply something that protects the earth. It shades and insulates the soil, preventing against evaporation, regulating temperature, and protecting soil structure. Many plants and trees create their own beneficial mulch in the form of leaf litter and natural shedding which we often remove when we're "tidying up" our gardens. There are many types of mulch available for purchase, of which bark mulch is one type. Some tips for purchasing and applying mulch:
- Look for mulch made up of a mix of fine particles as well as larger, more obvious pieces. Medium coarse mulches are a good option as they allow water through from the surface more readily and prevent soil crusting. In addition, the larger pieces break down more slowly, meaning you need to re-mulch less often (every 3-5 years, instead of every 2 years with fine mulches).
- Bark mulch ranges in texture from fine to medium coarseness, and in color from light (wood chips) to dark (composted bark mulch). Keep in mind many mulches change colour with exposure.
- Wood chips can be a good, inexpensive option, but be sure to inspect the product's quality before purchase. Take a look at the mulch pile, and if the supplier processes it on site, look at the raw product. If you see pieces of metal or nails and screws in and around the pile of mulch, or if there is no bark pieces at all, only a fine brown "mulch", those can be signs that the product is made from a treated waste wood product, rather than leftovers from raw wood processing. Please note, small rocks are not a sign of poor mulch, but commonly found due to the process of loading the material.
- When applying mulch on top of soils, make sure each layer is watered before adding the next. So, if you were applying a layer of fine mulch, followed by a layer of coarser bark mulch around the roots of a shrub, you would:
- Water the soil around the shrub's root zone thoroughly.
- Apply the fine mulch and water it thoroughly.
- Add the coarse mulch on top and water it thoroughly.
- Other mulches include leaf litter, grass clippings, or straw.
- If you are choosing straw mulch for veggie gardens or strawberries, be sure that you are getting straw and not hay. Hay contains a higher concentration of seeds and could cause unwanted weed growth in your garden.
- How do I know if I need to amend my soil? How much topsoil and/or mulch should I be adding to my garden?
Dig a test hole in typical areas of your yard. If the depth of good black crumbly soil is less than 150 mm (6") under lawn and 300 mm to 450 mm (12" to 18") for shrubs, you are likely using more water than you should. Rather than starting over with new plantings, it is possible to gradually add to your soil depth by topdressing with thin layers of growing medium and well-composted organic matter.
For grass areas: Topdressing should not exceed 6 mm (1/4") depth at a time. Once grass is established, stop removing the grass clippings from the surface. Mow regularly, and allow the clippings to decay into the soil, where they will recycle the organic matter and nutrients back into the soil organisms and the grass.
For shrub and groundcover areas: The minimum recommended depth per top dress application of topsoil or compost is 50 mm (2"). The maximum depth could be as much as 75 mm (3'').
For on-going maintenance once adequate soil depth is in place, use organic mulches like bark mulch to protect your recent investment in the soil by reducing soil moisture evaporation, minimizing weed germination, and providing a long-term supply of organic matter. Allow leaf drop to remain - this builds up a 'natural duff' like in the forest, building the soil, soil life, and recycling nutrients. Apply mulches at a minimum thickness of 50 mm to 75 mm (2" to 3"). Inspect depth seasonally and add as required to maintain minimum depth.
Approximately 6 mm (1/4") for lawn areas, and 75 mm (3") for garden beds is the required depth of soil amendment to be eligible for the rebate program. 50 mm (2") is the required depth of mulch in garden beds for eligibility to the rebate program. In addition, applicants must be top dressing at least 37 m2 (400 ft2) of landscape area.
- How do I figure out how much top soil or mulch to buy for my yard/garden area?
Search online for a topsoil or mulch calculator like this one to help you calculate the amount of soil or mulch needed to cover your target landscape area to the desired depth. A helpful guide is that one yard of soil will cover approximately 320 ft2 to a depth of one inch. Here is a brief summary table that outlines approximate volumes of soil required for different sized garden areas.
Note: Garden area is calculated by multiplying garden length by width (e.g. 50 sq metres: 10 m x 5 m = 50 m2)
Soil Amendment Reference Table -
Purchasing Guide to Soil, Mulch, or Compost Amount Required by Application Area & Depth
Application area (size of lawn or garden) Recommended Depth of Soil* 2 inches or ~50 mm
(for garden beds)
1/4 inch or ~6 mm
(for topdressing lawn)
amount of soil/compost required 400 sq ft
(37 sq metres)
2.4 cubic yards
67 x 28L bag
0.32 cubic yards
10 x 28L bags
500 sq ft
(46 sq metres)
3 cubic yards
84 x 28L bags
0.4 cubic yards
12 x 28L bags
750 sq ft
(70 sq metres)
4.5 cubic yards
126 x 28L bags
0.6 cubic yards
18 x 28L bags
1000 sq ft
(92 sq metres)
6 cubic yards
168 x 28L bags
0.8 cubic yards
24 x 28L bags
*Recommended depth refers to the minimum amount of organic material (soil, compost, mulch) added to qualify for this rebate.
- Can I apply to the rebate to help with the installation of a new landscape (i.e. as part of a new build)?
No, this program provides support for homeowners to improve the efficiency of existing residential landscapes only. Garden beds and lawns must already be in place to be eligible for the soil rebate. Applicants must be retrofitting or upgrading a pre-existing automated irrigation system that possesses a control timer, irrigation lines, and conventional sprinklers, such as pop-ups and rotors, to be eligible for the irrigation rebate program. However, it is recommended that new landscapes be designed and installed with water efficiency in mind, by utilizing efficient irrigation options, ensuring an adequate base of quality soil and mulch, and choosing low-water use or drought tolerant plant species. See Team WaterSmart's Landscape Guide to Water Efficiency for more information on water smart landscapes.
- Am I eligible for a rebate if I add a rain, weather, or moisture sensor to my irrigation system that does not currently have one?
Yes, if you currently possess or are upgrading to a ‘smart’ irrigation control timer that supports sensor hook-up, you are eligible for a rebate. Rain, weather, or moisture sensors are able to temporarily shut-off irrigation controllers when it is raining or when soil moisture levels are sufficient, resulting in up to 15-20% water savings and perfectly watered vegetation!
- What is Rainwater Harvesting?
Rainwater harvesting (RWH) is the collection and storage of rainwater directed off roofs and buildings to be used at a later time. A rain cistern or tank is much like a rain barrel only it is larger, can be above or below ground, and water from a cistern may be used outdoors for irrigating as well as for indoor use if it is properly constructed with the appropriate treatment and plumbing. Most cistern owners use the water for non-potable applications like irrigation and toilet flushing, as there are additional treatment costs to ensure the water meets drinking water standards. Cisterns for rainwater collection are in use in many areas in BC including Gabriola Island and in the Yellow Point area.
- How can I submit my application?
All documentation, forms, photos, and invoices, can be sent electronically to watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca or by mail/in person to Drinking Water & Watershed Protection, Regional District of Nanaimo, 6300 Hammond Bay Road, Nanaimo, BC, V9T 6N2.
- Will the rebate be available all year?
The rebate is available on a first come, first served basis until funds are exhausted. To ensure you don't miss out, apply early.
- Why does the RDN have a Rainwater Harvesting Rebate Program?
As the population of the Regional District of Nanaimo continues to grow, reducing demand on water resources and water systems will become increasingly important.
Rainwater harvesting reduces stress on local aquifers and rivers, leaving more water available for communities, and environmental needs. By reducing extraction from aquifers and rivers in dry summer months, we help ensure that there is sufficient water left to maintain critical base flow in streams in order to protect fish and aquatic health. Reducing groundwater extractions can also help reduce salt water intrusion in coastal areas, as excessive pumping of wells along the coast can pull salt water from the ocean into groundwater.
The Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Action Plan identifies the need to promote rainwater harvesting under Program 5C. The RDN Innovative Options and Opportunities for Sustainable Water Use study, evaluates different options for incentive programs and prioritizes them based on their ranking on fifteen criteria. Four of the top five recommended incentives support the use of cisterns for the collection of rainwater.
- neighbourhood cisterns/stormwater (rainwater) detention and centralized reuse
- water-saving toilets, showers, laundry, dishwasher
- cisterns for toilets and laundry
- neighbourhood cisterns and centralized irrigation reuse
- cisterns for outdoor watering
- Are other governments doing this?
Many local governments across Canada have implemented incentive programs offering rebates on rainwater collection devices. Several local governments provide incentives for the use of rain barrels. There is a great interest by Canadian municipalities in the area of rain harvesting and several other local governments including Comox Valley Regional District and the City of Guelph provide rebates of $150 to $2,000 for purchase and installation of cisterns or full RWH systems.
- Why is the incentive program available region wide?
All RDN residents - in the electoral areas and municipalities - pay into the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection service and have equal access to the rebate funds available under this program. Once an area/municipality reaches 10% of the total program budget we will suspend approvals for all additional applications from that location, in an effort to ensure funds can be most evenly distributed. We will review the program fund allocation in May and if funds are still not spoken for we will re-open the program to any areas that reached their 10% quota.
- Do I need a Building Permit to install a Rainwater Harvesting System?
You are required to obtain a Building Permit only if the installation will involve the installation of a new potable water line, the alteration of an existing potable water line, or the alteration of indoor plumbing. If you are unsure whether your project will require a permit, contact the RDN Building and Bylaw Department at 250-390-6530.
- What about the Yellow Point Aquifer Development Permit Area requirements for rainwater collection?
In 2011 the Yellow Point Aquifer Protection Development Permit Area was included in the Electoral Area 'A' OCP to help protect and conserve water in the vulnerable Yellow Point aquifer. See section 12.9 of the Official Community Plan here . The development permit area establishes conditions to assess the impact development will have on groundwater and ensure water conservation through rainwater collection. Contact the RDN Planning Department for more information at 250-390-6510.
- Why aren't you incentivizing rain barrels?
Rain barrels are relatively inexpensive and are not large enough to collect a sufficient supply of water for the long dry periods that generally exist between summer rain events in the Regional District of Nanaimo.
However, the City of Parksville has a rebate program for rain barrels purchased after January 1, 2016 to assist small property owners in collecting rainwater. If you live in the City of Parksville, please see their Rain Barrel Rebate Program.
- What can 4,546 litres (1,000 imperial gallons) of storage do for me?
Please contact your local rainwater harvesting consultant or contractor to determine which size of system will best suit your needs. An online calculator can give you an estimate how much rainwater you can collect with a 1,000 imperial gallon tank off of your roof area. Calculations are also available in a table within the RDN Rainwater Harvesting Best Practices Guidebook .
- Do I have to purchase and install a single 4,546 litre (1,000 imperial gallon) cistern to be eligible for the rebate?
Rainwater harvesting systems range in design and can be customized to suit your needs. As long as the total added storage capacity of your system is at least 4,546 litres (1,000 imperial gallons), you may be eligible for the rebate. For example, installing two 500 imperial gallon cisterns would qualify. Rainwater collection systems of this size or greater reduce the stress on our valuable water resources and meet the scale and intention of the rebate
- Where do I purchase rainwater harvesting system components?
There are several local consultants, suppliers and installers, including:
ConsultantsRainwater Connection (Thetis, Gabriola) RainDropHarvesting (Nanaimo, Lantzville, Mid-Van Isle) KDA Consultants (Vancouver Island) Earth and Sky Water Supply (Mid-Van Isle) OwnerPro (Gulf Islands)
If you know of, or own a business that should be on this list, please email watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca.
The Canadian Association for Rainwater Management (CANARM) is a resource for education and training on Rainwater Harvesting. If interested, please see their website at www.canarm.org.
SuppliersForWard Plumbing & Gas (Mid Island) RainDropHarvesting (Nanaimo, Lantzville, Mid Island) Giesbrecht Contracting 250-713-9707 (Gulf Islands) Living Springs Water Company 250-247-0203 (Gabriola) Peter Jordison Rainwater Collection Systems and Plumbing 250-668-5833 / peterjordison [at] gmail.com (Vancouver Island and Gabriola) Summer Rain Water Delivery 250-247-9136 (Gabriola) Aquarian Systems Inc. 250-335-2037 (Mid Island) Coastal Water Systems (Mid Island) Environmental Cistern Cleaning (Gabriola & Vancouver Island) ABC Water Systems (Nanaimo & Mid Island)
- Arbutus Building Supplies (Gabriola)
- Vancouver Island Precast (Mid Island)
- Water Tiger (Victoria & Courtenay)
- Andrew Sheret (across Vancouver Island)
- Barr Plastics Inc (order online)
- Jay R. Smith Manufacturing (purchase at Con-Cur West in Coquitlam, 604-504-5088)
- Clean-Flo Rainwater Management (order online)
- Van Isle Water (Victoria & Courtenay)
- Industrial Plastics & Paints (Mid Island)
- I bought my cistern and/or installed my system last year; can I apply for a rebate retroactively?
No, to be eligible for the Rainwater Harvesting Incentive Program, receipts must be dated on or after January 1st of the year you apply to the program. So for example, if you're applying for the 2019 program, your receipts must be from 2019. It is highly recommended that interested property owners submit a Pre-approval Application form to confirm their eligibility and the availability of incentive funds prior to purchasing components or starting their installation.
If you have any additional questions, please call 250-390-6560 or email watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca
Further Information and Comments
If you would like more information on the Drinking Water & Watershed Protection service please email us at waterprotection [at] rdn.bc.ca or call the Regional District of Nanaimo Water Services Department at 250-390-6560 or 250-954-3792 (toll free 1-877-607-4111)
Can I follow the RDN on social media?
Yes. Please like and follow us on social media for updates on watering restrictions stages and current conditions throughout the summer season.