NEWS RELEASE: Trouble is Brewing Around Groundwater Licensing in British Columbia (April 20, 2021)
For Immediate Release
April 20, 2021
TROUBLE IS BREWING AROUND GROUNDWATER LICENSING IN BC
In a special issue of its Waterbucket newsletter, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC is raising the red flag on an emerging crisis related to well registration under existing groundwater legislation in BC.
Created two decades ago as a collaborative technical committee to implement the Water Sustainability Action Plan, the Partnership transitioned to a non-profit society in 2010 but continues to be co-funded by and provide services to the provincial government.
Groundwater licensing is a foundation piece of the Water Sustainability Act that was passed in 2016. March 1, 2022 is the deadline for historical non-domestic groundwater users to apply for a licence to retain their right to divert and use groundwater.
The problem, says the Partnership, is that, of the estimated 20,000 historical groundwater users, a mere 4,000 have reportedly submitted applications. Moreover, government decisions on these applications are taking 3 or more years, which is undermining the confidence of rural water users and potentially discouraging others from complying with the requirement to licence their wells.
“The licensing issue has far-reaching consequences for the remaining 16,000 farmers, businesses and industries throughout BC who rely on groundwater. Historical water users who have not applied by the March 1, 2022 deadline will be using water illegally,” said Ted van der Gulik, formerly with the Ministry of Agriculture and now President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. “There may be any number of reasons why historic groundwater users are not applying for their licences but it doesn’t really matter. With the deadline less than a year away, Government needs to embark upon a concerted education and communication effort to urge them to do so.”
The Partnership maintains that the failure to achieve licensing for 16,000 historic groundwater users would have serious economic impacts, both on the users themselves and on the provincial economy – but it is only part of the problem. There are also new water users who have drilled wells since the legislation was passed in 2016 but who have not applied for a licence to do so. There appears to be no effective compliance and enforcement program to deal with this issue either.
“Licensing the 20,000 groundwater users who predate the 2016 legislation is a massive task but the other side of the coin is ensuring proper compliance by new groundwater users who have drilled wells since 2016”, said Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, Ministry of Environment. “By both motivating historical groundwater users to apply for their licences and signalling that government will deal with unauthorized water users, Government could go a long way to restoring public confidence and realizing the transformative goals of the Water Sustainability Act.”
The Partnership further concludes that the apparent disconnect between the policy intent of the Water Sustainability Act and the operational difficulties manifesting themselves in the groundwater licensing issue is partly structural. It urges Government to establish a ‘water champion’, to designate one Cabinet Minister who has the authority and accountability to make water a priority and, most importantly, has a mandate from the Premier to facilitate collaboration across government related to water sustainability.
TO LEARN MORE:
In “The Emerging Crisis Around Groundwater Legislation”, Mike Wei and Ted van der Gulik shine the light on a path forward for government. Download a copy:
Ted van der Gulik, PWSBC Director & President