Water quality

The Port of Vancouver operates in an environment rich with natural resources, including water, meaning the protection of local water quality is an important component of our environmental programs.

Project reviews

Fraser River scenic During our Project and Environmental Review process, proposals for projects and activities that could potentially impact water quality are assessed by qualified professionals, with input from regulatory agencies where appropriate.

Review of potential project impacts to water quality considers compliance with environmental legislation, such as the Fisheries Act, which prohibits the release of harmful substances.

If an activity or project has the potential to adversely affect water quality, applicants are required to demonstrate how they will eliminate, reduce and/or mitigate for the impact. If approved, measures to protect and preserve water quality are implemented as conditions of approval.


We work to minimize pollution caused by rainfall events, where stormwater runoff flows over paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops, and collects debris, soil, and pollutants that could adversely affect the water quality of the receiving environment.

Many of the substances that can be found in stormwater are considered potentially harmful to fish and other organisms, including oil and grease, suspended solids, metals and pathogens.

Through effective stormwater pollution prevention, pollution can be prevented, reduced, or managed appropriately. We are working with tenants and on port land to improve stormwater pollution prevention practices.


Spirit Trail, North ShoreOur Green Marine certification also evaluates our corporate performance on water and land pollution, and spill prevention.

Through site remediation, we are also reducing the impact of contamination on surface water and groundwater.

The port authority’s marine operations team targets 100 per cent of ocean-going vessel arrivals for boarding, overboard discharge and engine room log inspections.

They inform ships’ officers of the port’s environmental policies and other rules and procedures, and monitor compliance with the Port Information Guide.

The Port Information Guide contains a set of localized practices and procedures designed to promote safe and efficient navigation within port waters and support efforts to protect the marine environment. For example, it contains requirements for vessel garbage, liquid discharge, black and grey water discharge, bilge and sludge discharge, and hold washing discharge. It also has requirements for spills and accidental discharges.

The Port of Vancouver was the first port in North America to prohibit in-port ballast water exchange without prior mid-ocean exchange, a practice that became the basis of government requirements now enforced by Transport Canada. This practice prevents marine invasive species and contaminants from entering local waters.

We also participate on committees and in programs with external organizations, allowing for collaborative work on water quality initiatives of shared interest.

Green Marine environmental certification program

Pollution and spill response

Fraser River tugThe Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for spill response as per the National Spill Preparedness and Response Protocol.

We are not the lead agency when it comes to emergencies, but we do provide assistance as we can. Usually this takes the form of working with first responders and other agencies, providing information on a situation through our 24/7 operations centre, our security cameras, our patrol boats and even our drone.

Emergencies and spill response

Aquatic habitat

Local waterways and shorelines not only serve a fundamental role in port operations, they are also critical to nearby communities, and play an integral role in maintaining connections within the ecosystem that support a rich diversity of life.

Which is why the Port of Vancouver was the first port in North America to assign a dedicated team of specialists to address and monitor environmental issues, and have introduced a number of innovative programs to protect local water quality and marine habitats throughout the Lower Mainland.

Fraser River Improvement Initiative

The Fraser River Improvement Initiative is a five-year program that began in 2013 to address derelict vessels, structures and the impact of trespassing on the Fraser River. Derelict structures, vessels and trespassers are a risk to the environment in that they can harm surrounding wildlife and habitat. Derelict vessels and structures can release toxic chemicals from fuel, oil and paint as well as smother and destroy environmentally sensitive habitats. Learn more about Fraser River maintenance.

Marine refuge areas

Caissons are hollow concrete structures used to build marine terminals and docks. By adding strategically placed holes in the caissons, we can create refuge areas and habitat for marine life. We call these “caisson refugia” and they allow fish, crabs, shrimp, amphipods, sea stars and other marine organisms to seek refuge from predators and occasional rough waters. Caisson refugia was used to offset for development of the Deltaport Third Berth.

Habitat benches

Fraser River habitat benchHabitat benches are areas underwater – like wide benches – that are built at different elevations, creating the necessary conditions for a variety of vegetation to grow. These benches are placed underwater and then colonize naturally. The resulting vegetation has numerous benefits, including supporting shelter and food for fish. Habitat benches are currently located at Roberts Bank and in the inner harbour of Burrard Inlet, along with an artificial reef near Cates Park. Learn more about habitat enhancement.