DOWNLOAD A COPY OF: “Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Emerging Crisis Around Groundwater Legislation Implementation” (May 2021)

Note to Reader:

The umbrella for Partnership initiatives and programs is the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. In turn, the Action Plan is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Released in 2008, Living Water Smart was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments. In May 2021, the Partnership commenced Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series to facilitate knowledge-transfer. The Series comprises downloadable documents on featured topics.

Download a copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Emerging Crisis Around Groundwater Regulation Implementation.

Groundwater Licensing is a Foundation Piece for Water Sustainability

“Groundwater licensing is a foundation piece for successful implementation of BC’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA), passed in 2016. This is once-in-a-generation, transformational legislation. As and when government gets groundwater and other foundation pieces right, British Columbia will be positioned to bring the water sustainability vision (‘big picture’) to fruition. However, 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,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability.

A Conversation With Mike Wei and Ted van der Gulik

“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,” continues Kim Stephens.

“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 WSA 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?”

How Government Could Turn the Situation Around

“Time is running out. The deadline for historical groundwater users to apply is only months away. Just over the horizon, there is a crisis in waiting, for landowners and for government. Groundwater is intertwined with other regulations. Without quick action, government risks other dominoes falling. There will be economic consequences for rural BC farmers, businesses, and industries. They need government to fix this,” states Ted van der Gulik.

“Government can turn it around if a water champion is appointed at the highest level. To be successful, this water leader must have the authority and accountability to make water a priority and remain a priority. This individual must also be able to direct adequate resources and attention to motivate historical groundwater users to apply before it is too late,” continues  Mike Wei.

“The responsibility for water needs to reside in one ministry with the mandate to require other ministries to communicate, cooperate, coordinate, and collaborate. In our system of government, accountability flows through the minister.”

“Failure to achieve licensing for 16,000 historic groundwater users who have yet to apply would have serious economic impacts, both on the users themselves and on the provincial economy – but it is only part of the problem.”

The Big Idea for Compliance and Enforcement

“Groundwater users with any sort of direct public accountability, in particular government agencies and corporations, have for the most part already applied. But these users represent only a small percentage of the grand total,” explains Ted van der Gulik.

“The number of new groundwater users is a minor fraction of the 16,000 historical groundwater users. Thus, new groundwater use is a manageable segment to tackle before March 2022. And this manageability is key to my ‘big idea’ which is to try out a learn by doing approach to compliance and enforcement of unauthorized water use.”

“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 concerted education and communication effort. And what would the succinct message be? Well, it would be that government’s intention is to systematically check compliance now and beyond March 2022.”

“Trust me, Mike, word would spread like wildfire that government is serious about unauthorized water use and would result in a surge in applications from historical groundwater users. In parallel, government must also dedicate staff resources to review and decide on licence applications in a timely manner.”

“This decisive action would demonstrate to the groundwater community that government means business. If the outcome is that most water users comply with the Province’s licensing requirements by March 2022, the vision for water sustainability would be on its way to becoming a reality.”

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Emerging Crisis Around Groundwater Regulation Implementation.

Or, read this article posted elsewhere on the Water-Centric Planning community-of-interest: THE EMERGING CRISIS AROUND GROUNDWATER LEGISLATION IMPLEMENTATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “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,” stated Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights (April 2021)

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