Why are Vancouver’s Watersheds closed to hiking?

Ok, this is my first “rant”.  I can’t see any reason why hikers are not allowed into the watersheds in BC.  What does the government actually hope to accomplish by this?  It’s a long-standing policy that to my way of seeing, really doesn’t accomplish what it proclaims to do, namely protect the water from mischief and contamination.

Let’s say they wanted to protect it from contamination.  Sounds good, I don’t want to drink contaminated water.  But can a group of hikers really contaminate something like a watershed?  Let’s consider all the other animals likely to reside there: racoons, snakes, mice, voles, bears, cougars, deer, moose, coyotes, squirrels, birds, reptiles, etc.  Guess what, they all poop in the watershed! And they pee in there, too.  OMG!  No wonder so many people buy bottled water.  Of course, that’s another rant I’ll get to in the future – bottled water!!

Ok, so I go into the watershed with a group of hikers, say 15 (I never hike with that many people but just for argument), and we all poop in the woods and pee there, too.  If we’re like most hikers, we’re looking for places where we won’t be seen when we do our business- which usually means hidden behind some tree.  We dig a hole or scrape aside the ground cover, do what we have to, and then scrape the ground cover back into place to hide what we just did and nature takes care of the rest.  The chances of contaminating the reservoir/watershed is very remote.

But in Vancouver, BC, for instance, you might say that we’re a big city and the pressure would be too heavy.  Ok, how about a really BIG city like New York City.  Ashokan Reservoir is one of the main supplies of drinking water for the residents of New York City.  Here’s what they do to protect their watershed:

Ashokan Reservoir:
Its two long walkways provide a panorama of the Catskill Mtns and the pristine Reservoir that serves as the drinking water for NYC.  Great for bicycles, walkers and wheelchairs, the two paths are beautiful stretches of wide paved paths that curve for 3 miles along the Ashokan Reservoir.


HUH!!! They actually let people bike and walk along their reservoir.  And the people still drink the water?!  How……?  Well, there are signs restricting direct access as you can see in the photo above.

Ok, must be a fluke.  How about London, England?

Most of London’s water still comes from the River Thames and River Lea, with the remainder being abstracted from underground sources.


Hmmm, doesn’t seem to be any limit to access the Thames River either!  They filter their water so recreational and industrial use doesn’t seem to be a problem.  Their tap water has been declared safe and quite drinkable.

I could come up with many other examples, globally and in our own country.

Ok, what about logging in our watersheds?  That might certainly contaminate our water!  It took a bit of time – almost 80 years since the establishment of the Greater Vancouver Water District in 1924 – until logging in the watershed was finally banned in 2002.

On Friday, February 8, 2002, members of the GVRD’s Water Committee unanimously passed a recommendation for the GVRD Board to cancel the Amending Indenture, the 1967 logging license agreement with the provincial government.

Well, that’s a relief!  People have been denied access since 1926 but logging companies were allowed to put in 100s of kilometres of roads and cut down old-growth forest which destabilized the slopes above our reservoirs but you couldn’t hike in there!!

Why?  Hikers and other recreation activities were denied because the Water District Committee felt their no trespassing policy “wisely prevented the public from creating mischief and contaminating the water supply”.  I think the general public would have been much more responsible towards their drinking water than the logging companies were.  And our continued presence might have been a force for preventing the abuses those companies committed!

What it boils down to for me is that our local government just doesn’t trust it’s own citizens to do the right thing.  Very few other places in the world have this kind of complete “no access” restriction to their watershed and for good reason; they trust their people to behave properly.  What a concept, trust of citizens to behave in a socially responsible way.

I think British Columbians deserve no less.  There are heritage trails in the watershed which should be reopened and trusting people by giving them access is the best way I know of to create a more socially responsible citizenry than putting in policies that promote ill will and mistrust.

Curious to hear what you have to say,


3 thoughts on “Why are Vancouver’s Watersheds closed to hiking?

  1. I agree it doesn’t make sense when compared to other places, and it’s not “BC WIde” (for instance, Squamish watershed is open to skiing, logging, and 4×4 / dirt bikes). Allowing logging in the watershed is/was especially stupid.
    However, I am in fact happy that the Vancouver watershed is closed. We don’t have to compare ourselves to other places. We have the luxury of being able to close the watershed. This creates a protected area, ensures good water sources, protects valuable low elevation forests, and leaves a nice big chunk of the environment free of humans.
    We have so much crown land to explore, I’m not worried about a little bit set aside for water.


    1. Michael, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, the watershed isn’t free of humans, just “ordinary” citizens like you and me. Lots of people have access to the watershed – to operate the dam, etc – and we have to trust that they are, in fact, doing the right thing by it. Frankly, that worries me. Their history doesn’t beget trust. And especially given their recent track record on protecting various parts of our environment, where it seems that short-term monetary gains almost always win out over responsible, long-term stewardship. And I want access. Citizens had access previously and I think they should again. Anytime you tell me I can’t somewhere in the greater environment, I get suspicious.

      Also, I don’t think there would be a lot of people trying to get in there. Only a few folks who are really dedicated to exploring the back country. So I think overall, it is a minor issue re their published concerns about “mischief” and would be a good thing as people would know what’s going on back there. Right now we know nothing. That’s not how I envision our country and government acting.


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