DOWNLOAD A COPY OF: “The Emerging Crisis Around Groundwater Legislation Implementation in British Columbia” – released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in April 2021

Note to Reader:

Groundwater licensing is a make-or-break foundation piece for British Columbia’s Water Sustainability Act. This once-in-a-generation legislation was enacted in 2016. Groundwater licensing is an emerging problem for government. Why is that? The answer is found in the looming deadline of March 1, 2022 for transitioning historical non-domestic groundwater use. Transitioning means that those using groundwater prior to 2016 are allowed to apply for a licence to retain their right to continue to divert and use water.

What will government do on March 2, 2022 when an overwhelming majority of historical groundwater well users are in regulatory non-compliance? In the conversation presented in, Ted van der Gulik and Mike Wei reflect on how a set of four coordinated actions would enable government to avert and turn this looming crisis into a game-changing opportunity.

Crux of the Problem

A look at the numbers reveals the nature and magnitude of government’s problem.

There are an estimated 20,000 historical groundwater wells supplying farms, businesses, industries, utilities, and institutions across British Columbia.

Yet a mere 4000 reported applications have been submitted during the first five years of the 6-year transition period.

Decisions by government are taking 3 or more years, and this has had an impact in undermining the public’s confidence in the licensing process and thus, the willingness of groundwater users to comply.

Government can still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and avert a looming crisis!

Groundwater licensing is a fundamental government policy for achieving a healthy and sustainable water resource. To provide the reader with insight into why it is still possible to “get it right”, the conversation with Mike Wei and Ted van der Gulik is presented in two parts.

In the first part, they draw on their direct knowledge to provide relevant context for understanding this question: How did government arrive at this “watershed moment” where the water sustainability goals in the Water Sustainability Act are at risk of being undermined?

In the second part, Mike and Ted apply their experience, knowledge and wisdom to address this question: How would coming to grips with the root causes of the non-compliance problem enable government to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and turn a looming crisis into a game-changing opportunity?


“Leadership at the highest level and a clear strategy to motivate historical groundwater users to apply, including signalling that government will deal with unauthorized water use, would be the game-changer that groundwater licensing desperately needs right now,” said Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, Ministry of Environment.

“If government were to follow through with compliance checking of all unauthorized water uses, including on NEW wells, it would certainly send a message and a wake-up call to ALL water users – especially if accompanied by a massive communication effort,” said Ted van der Gulik, former Senior Engineer, Ministry of Agriculture.

To Learn More:

Download a PDF copy of the The Emerging Crisis Around Groundwater Legislation Implementation in B.C.