LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “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,” stated Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, when commenting on implementation challenges around groundwater licensing (April 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.
Government can still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and avert a looming crisis!
“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.
“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 that the Partnership published in April 2021, 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.”
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.
“When water is not a priority for government, and there is no ‘water champion’ at the top, you wind up with the current challenges that, in a very short time, will become unmanageable for government. However, the situation can be turned around,” continues Mike Wei.
“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.”
“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.”
“For this reason, the water champion (or water leader) can only be a cabinet minister who has the authority and accountability to make water a priority; and has a mandate from the Premier to facilitate collaboration across government. And to ensure success in carrying out the WSA mission, it is essential that the minister empower and support staff.”
“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. 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 WSA.”
“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.”
To Learn More:
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)