Note to Reader:
Passed by the British Columbia Legislature in Spring 2014, the Water Sustainability Act and new regulations were brought into effect on February 29, 2016. The Act is a game-changer because it recognizes the connection between land use actions and the implications for the both the water cycle and watershed sustainability.
This means the Act will have widespread impacts on how water and land practitioners conduct their work. New groundwater licensing requirements are now in effect and apply to all existing and future non-domestic wells. The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC is assisting the Province with implementation and developed the BC Agriculture Water Calculator, an online tool.
Licensing Groundwater Use under British Columbia’s new Water Sustainability Act
“In British Columbia, surface and groundwater are now managed under the same regulatory system,” states Greg Tyson, Water Policy Advisor with the BC Ministry of Environment. “Effective February 29, 2016 all non-domestic users of groundwater are required to obtain a licence to withdraw and use water from wells. This means that about 20,000 existing non-domestic well owners, including those in the agriculture sector, must now apply for a licence.”
Context for Calculator Development
“Licensing 20,000 wells initially seemed daunting when a provincial group met in mid-2015 to brainstorm an approach to this immense task. The team had to solve the challenge of HOW to help groundwater users reliably quantify their annual water licence volumes. Suffice to say, the brainstorming resulted in an Aha Moment and a solution took shape,” recalls Ted van der Gulik, Partnership President.
Prior to retiring from government, he was the Senior Engineer in the BC Ministry of Agriculture, and is the champion responsible for province-wide implementation of the Agriculture Water Demand Model (AWDM). His history of innovation and his ability to connect dots made it possible to fast-track development of the BC Agriculture Water Calculator. This online tool enables water licensing for all irrigation purposes, whether agricultural or landscape.
Nature of the Innovation
“The calculator works for any and all properties in the province,” continues Ted van der Gulik. “Just go to the website, type an address, and zoom in on that property. It is that easy. The tool then instantly generates both the annual water demand and the peak irrigation flow rate for the property selected.”
“The innovation is in how we utilized the Agriculture Water Demand Model (AWDM) to generate the database for the Water Calculator. The AWDM incorporates a climate database for the entire province. This data is on a 500-metre grid. That is an incredibly fine scale of detail.”
“Integration with the AWDM results in consistent and reliable annual volumes for licence requests. This is the key. It then allows the Province to assess the acceptability of licence requests versus water resource availability and sustainability,” notes Ted van der Gulik.
Who Funded Calculator Development
The three funders are the Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia (IAF), BC Ministry of Environment, and the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB). The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC is providing in-kind support and is the entity of record for the tool.
The OBWB has also provided substantial in-kind support toward tool development. The Water Licence Calculator is compatible with the BC Water Use Reporting Centre (BCWURC) tools developed in partnership with the BC Ministry of Agriculture. The Water Use Reporting Tool will help producers report water use when this regulation comes into force.
Right-Size Licence Requests
“Agricultural users need water licences that are big enough to get through droughts, longer growing seasons from climate change, and changes in crop types to respond to market demand,” notes Anna Warwick Sears, Executive Director, Okanagan Basin Water Board.
“At the same time, they don’t want the unnecessary licence costs of having them oversized. The Agricultural Water Licensing Calculator lets farmers right-size their licence requests – it’s fast, it’s easy, and they can get on board with the new Water Sustainability Act.”
A Look Ahead
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