Adapting to changing groundwater policies

January 25, 2019 Andre Laforest

Helping to preserve and sustain the supply of BC’s clean water for future generations

One of the things British Columbia (BC) is most known for is its fresh and pristine water. It’s an important commodity—essential for promoting public health, nourishing local communities, and creating sustainable environments. To preserve and sustain the supply of BC’s clean water for future generations, the Water Sustainable Act (WSA) was brought forward in 2016.

The Water Sustainable Act

The WSA paved the way for changes to the management of water in BC. It also called for the addition of two specific groundwater requirements. The first of which is licensing groundwater use. The second applies fees and rentals for groundwater use. As such, existing groundwater users—someone that uses groundwater for almost any purpose except for household use—are required to obtain their license by February 2019.

Although the WSA is a relatively straightforward policy, it has faced a great deal of opposition towards these applications—an estimated 85% of groundwater users are operating without a license despite regulatory requirements. Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) and the British Columbia Ground Water Association (BCGWA) have determined that the widespread push-back could be a result of two challenges.

Firstly, there may be a gap in information communicating why groundwater licenses are important to BC communities. But there also appeared to be a clear resistance to a sudden change in the process for those that have been utilizing groundwater for decades. Not everyone likes change!

Overcoming obstacles and public perception

To combat these challenges, the BCGWA has requested FLNRORD to further extend the grace period for submitting applications. Why? Because they hope that a longer adjustment period will encourage more applicants to take part in the new process. In the meantime, FLNRORD is pulling their resources to continue educating impacted stakeholders on the importance of groundwater licenses.

When the March 2019 deadline hits, the government will begin to take necessary steps to enforce license renewals and applications of groundwater through inspections and fines. In addition, other consequences that could befall a groundwater user without a license are as follows:

  • One may lose the right to use groundwater: All unlicensed existing groundwater users will lose their right to access groundwater, regardless of the purpose.
  • One may lose priority to water: Access to groundwater in BC is based on first come first serve basis. It means, that a long-time, existing groundwater user is granted with a priority level on groundwater access if water become a scarce resource. Users who have not applied or renewed their license by March 1st, 2019 will face the risk of being deprioritized on the water-access list, regardless if you have been a past license holder for decades.
  • One might be fined for using unlicensed water: Like a driver who’s fined for driving with an expired license, the same applies for groundwater users operating without or with an expired license after March 1st, 2019.
  • One may lose the opportunity waive application fees: The grace period came along with waived application fees for existing groundwater users. However, come March, fee waivers will be non-existent for all users—new and old.

Looking ahead

The long-term challenges an unlicensed groundwater user will face are frustrating. Coupled with significant direct and indirect costs, not obtaining a new license doesn’t seem worth the headache.

With the need to preserve one of British Columbia’s most important commodity, the new regulation to support the Water Sustainable Act is more crucial than ever.

About the Author

Andre Laforest

Andre Laforest is a hydrogeologist and engineer with over 30 years of experience. In his role, he helps with business development, coaching and mentoring, and assisting with technical support and quality review on projects.

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