Government of Nova Scotia Government of Nova Scotia Nova Scotia, Canada


Surface Water

Surface Water

Surface water is water that is found in lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and other natural watercourses. It is also found in marine bays, estuaries, and oceans. This valuable resource provides drinking water, supplies Nova Scotian businesses with their water supply, and supports important industries such as fishing, farming and electric power generation. Surface water supports various recreational activities such as swimming and boating, and provides habitat for aquatic life. Overall, a clean, abundant supply of surface water supports the health of humans and aquatic ecosystems, a strong economy, and provides a high quality of life for Nova Scotians.

The department’s role in managing and protecting surface water in Nova Scotia includes:

Surface Water in Nova Scotia

Approximately half of Nova Scotia’s residential water supply comes from a surface water source.  Surface water in Nova Scotia is generally of good quality and suitable for expected uses such as wildlife habitat and recreation. However, there are several types of naturally occurring and human-made water quality problems that can occur and therefore, it is important to test water quality to ensure its safety. The surface water in Nova Scotia page has more information about surface water use, and the quantity and quality of surface water in the province.

Surface Water Withdrawal Approvals

Surface water withdrawal approvals are one of the key management tools used by the department to ensure that surface water use in the province is sustainable. In Nova Scotia, a water withdrawal approval is required if a surface water withdrawal exceeds 23,000 litres per day (5,000 gallons per day). Most households do not require withdrawal approvals because they typically use between 700 and 1,400 litres per day (150 to 300 gallons per day). Commercial and industrial operations typically use more than 23,000 litres per day and, therefore, would require withdrawal approvals. More information on how to apply for a surface water withdrawal approval can be found at the following links;

The department regulates certain activities which have the potential to impact water resources. For more information on the necessary approvals see, Required Approvals to Protect Surface Water.

The department has produced a number of guidelines, standards, policies, and strategies for the protection and overall management of surface water. These are intended to ensure sustainable use of water and to maintain the beneficial water uses that Nova Scotians have come to enjoy.

Our surface water guidelines page provides more information on departmental documents which guide our programs and processes to better protect surface water.

Using a Surface Water Source for Drinking Water

Surface water is not recommended as a drinking water source unless properly filtered and disinfected and monitored for water quality.

Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about using surface water sources for drinking are now availablePDF Download Link (PDF:63k).