Watercourse Setbacks

Development applicants have two methods for determining Streamside Protection and Enhancement Area (SPEA) setbacks from watercourses for fish habitat through the City’s Zoning Bylaw  and the provincial Riparian Areas Protection Regulation (RAPR):

  • Simple Assessment method: Consult the City’s online mapping system, QtheMap, and use the default (and most conservative) SPEA setback shown as applied by the City of Coquitlam. Instructions on how to use QtheMap can be found here. Hire a BC Land Surveyor to accurately survey the top of bank or top of the ravine bank as well as the SPEA setback distance from those locations.
  • Detailed Assessment method: Hire a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP), a type of environmental consultant, to conduct a site visit and determine the SPEA setback using specific methodology per the provincial Riparian Areas Protection Regulation (RAPR). Compared to the “Simple Assessment,” this method is likely to result in a smaller SPEA setback and therefore more area for development.  The QEP will flag the stream boundary location, and a BC Land Surveyor must be retained to survey this location as well as the SPEA setback from this location.

If both above methods result in SPEA setbacks that will still not allow for proposed development to proceed, development applicants have the option of applying for, and obtaining, federal authorization from Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO). While applicants can complete this application on their own, it is strongly recommended that a QEP is retained to submit the application to DFO on the applicant’s behalf. 

Please review this Riparian Areas Protection Regulation RAPR Summary Guide (PDF) for more detailed information.

Additional Potential Setbacks

Please be advised that additional environmental setbacks may apply, including:

  1. Setbacks from the determined SPEA boundary measuring 6 m (rear-yard) and 3 m (side-yard) to allow for sufficient usable outdoor space. *These setbacks from the SPEA boundary may be reduced at the discretion of the Environment Division.
  2. Setbacks as defined by registered covenant agreements with the City of Coquitlam or Province of BC.
  3. Setbacks per the Zoning Bylaw, Section 519 - Flood Protection and Slope Control Measures. *Contact the Planning Department for more information.
  4. Setbacks relating to geotechnical or windfirm assessments, which may be conducted as part of a RAPR Detailed Assessment.

Other Considerations when Developing near Watercourses

Under the provincial Water Sustainability Act (WSA), “changes in or about a stream” include:

  • “Any modification to the nature of a stream, including any modification to the land, vegetation and natural environment of a stream or the flow of water in a stream”, or
  • “Any activity or construction within a stream channel that has or may have an impact on a stream or a stream channel.”

If proposed development includes changes in or about a stream, such as stream crossings or culvert/headwall installations and removals, an application may be required under the WSA and submitted for provincial review. 

There are two (2) types of WSA applications: 

  1. Notifications (used for straight-forward activities with low riparian habitat risks, such as culvert installations/removals or stream crossings), and 
  2. Approvals (used for complex projects with higher riparian habitat risks, such as stream relocation).

Areas near watercourses may provide critical habitat for plants or animals protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Environment Map Layers

Please review the User Notes and Disclaimer (see tabs below) before using the Environment map layers on QtheMap. The following information is available to the public:

  • DPA: The Fish Presence & Streamside Protection – Development Permit Area (DPA) layer specifically refers to a 50m-wide Watercourse Protection Development Permit Area. It is not associated with the RAPR, but was developed along with the RAPR SPEA mapping project. 
  • Coquitlam RAAThe Riparian Assessment Area (RAA) is a 30-m wide area on either side of a watercourse (or around a waterbody), measured from the top of the bank or top of the ravine bank.
  • Ravines: These are steep-sided valleys on either side of a watercourse, with slope grade greater than 3:1, that form part of the SPEA setback.
  • SPEA: The Streamside Protection & Enhancement Area (SPEA) setback, automatically applied by the City at the watershed level, is a 30m-wide zone on either side of a watercourse (or around a waterbody) measured from the top of the ravine bank.  Note that a select few watercourses may have a 15m-SPEA applied. The SPEA map layers are updated on an ongoing basis, as new watercourse survey information and aerial photography becomes available.
  • Watercourse Fish Presence & Waterbody Fish Presence: These layers show watercourses (streams, creeks, rivers, ditches) or waterbodies (ponds, lakes, wetlands) that are colour-coded based on fish presence and permanence (colour coding explained in legend). Note that blue-coded watercourses are assumed to be classified as fish habitat until they have been assessed by the City or Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP). Note that green-coded watercourses are not classified as fish habitat.

  1. Top 10 Terms to Know
  2. Notes to User
  3. Disclaimer

Riparian Areas Protection Regulation (RAPR)

  • A 2019 provincial regulation to protect fish habitat and riparian areas during development.
  • Replaces the former Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR), which was in effect from 2004-2019. 
  • Applied in the City of Coquitlam through Section 523 of the Zoning Bylaw. 
  • Applies to new residential, commercial and industrial development, and accompanying activities, within the Riparian Assessment Area (RAA).

Riparian Assessment Area (RAA)

  • A 30m wide strip on each side of a stream, or a 30m wide radius around a lake, pond or wetland.
  • For ravines > 60m wide, a 10m wide strip along the top of bank.

Streamside Protection & Enhancement Area (SPEA)

  • The protected portion of the RAA that restricts activities such as development and removal of trees or vegetation.
  • Determined through either the RAPR Simple Assessment or Detailed Assessment methodology.
  • Acknowledges and accounts for historical areas of human disturbance, such as homes that were constructed within the SPEA prior to the RAR/RAPR.


  • A watercourse or body of water that is connected by surface flow to fish habitat (whether or not usually containing water).
  • Includes ditches, streams, creeks, wetlands, springs, ponds, rivers and lakes. *Does not include rivers under tidal influence, such as the Fraser River.

Top of Bank (TOB)

  • The break in slope or edge of flood plain along the sides of a stream channel, as determined by a QEP and/or a BC Land Surveyor. May also be referred to as ‘top of ravine bank’ when a ravine is present.

Stream Boundary (formerly ‘High Water Mark’)

  • The visible high water mark of a stream, as identified by a QEP.

Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP)

  • An individual meeting the QEP criteria as set out in Section 21 of the RAPR, who has completed the technical RAPR training and is registered under the Professional Governance Act (e.g., registered professional biologist/R.P.Bio, applied science technologist/AScT, professional engineer/P.Eng, etc.)

RAPR Simple Assessment

  • A methodology under the RAPR for determining the SPEA. The resulting SPEA is often the widest and measured from the top of bank.
  • In Coquitlam, the City has applied the Simple Assessment SPEA by default in QtheMap to all known streams using topographic survey data.

RAPR Detailed Assessment

  • A methodology under the RAPR for determining the SPEA. The resulting SPEA often smaller than the SPEA determined under the Simple Assessment method and is measured from the stream boundary.