LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “If ‘someone’ does not ‘fix’ the groundwater licensing problem, it will get messy for everyone after March 1, 2022. It seems inevitable that government will be forced to act against unlicenced non-domestic groundwater use – based on fairness to those who did apply,” stated Ted van der Gulik, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability (July 2021)

Note to Reader:

Groundwater licensing is the biggest endeavour the Province of BC has taken on in its water management history. There are an estimated 20,000 historical groundwater wells supplying farms, businesses, industries, utilities, and institutions across the province. Yet, after 5-plus years, a mere 1 in 5 have applied for a water licence. March 1, 2022 is the looming deadline to apply. Now it is a crisis in the making. What will it take to motivate the other 4 in 5 to apply in their own self-interest?

The introductory article below is about the second in a set of Primers that has a focus on groundwater licensing implementation. The first primer was released in April 2021. This second Primer builds on the first. It is not a technical report. It is a compendium of very persuasive and informed opinions from people who have expert knowledge and really understand the issue. The Primer provides context and perspective on the value of a water right and why it is worth the time and effort by farmers and small businesses to APPLY RIGHT NOW for a water licence.

Download a copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Groundwater Users Put on Notice.

True Risks of Not Applying for a Groundwater Licence

“Groundwater licensing is a foundation piece for successful implementation of BC’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA), passed in 2016,” stated Kim Stephens, Executive Director,  Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. “This is once-in-a-generation, transformational legislation. After 5-plus years of the 6-year transition period, the provincial government recently released this statement of intent: Existing groundwater users who have not applied by the deadline (March 1, 2022) must stop using groundwater. Yet this message is not getting through to those who use water for non-household purposes.”

“Groundwater licensing is a rare opportunity to make a difference and thereby make progress in bringing to fruition the Living Water Smart vision for water: Safe, sustainable, valued by all. A challenge for government has always been and continues to be ensuring the public knows about the value of a water licence and realizes the consequences of not having one. Yet, sometimes government has difficulty conveying messages in ways that connect with the public. All too often, it seems, something gets lost in translation.”

Do not delay. Apply now!

“If ‘someone’ does not ‘fix’ the groundwater licensing problem, it will get messy for everyone after March 1, 2022. It seems inevitable that government will be forced to act against unlicenced groundwater use – based on fairness to those who did apply. It will be difficult for government to shut down businesses. However, there are a few scenarios that have already come forward in the past few years that indicate what the future may look like after the March 1, 2022 deadline,” said Ted van der Gulik, formerly with the Ministry of Agriculture and now President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

Leadership and Enforcement Would Demonstrate Good Faith

“It is surprising how many small businesses in rural BC, such as roadside restaurants, motels and gas stations, use groundwater. Many are operated by families. These are typically small business operations and owners who are not familiar with all the various government requirements. Many are unaware, and even surprised, to hear of the requirement for groundwater licensing; it’s just not on their radar,” said Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, Ministry of Environment.

Missing the Deadline Would Mean Shutting Down Businesses

“Since the government made a ‘once in a century’ change to the water law, government needs to ensure that they communicate ALL of the ongoing financial risks to historical businesses and the potential devaluation of their properties, if they miss the deadline. I believe that it is very important to be crystal clear about the impacts of the end of the transition period given how the law is written,” said Donna Forsyth, retired civil servant. She led the team that developed the new water law under the Water Sustainability Act.

Potential Game-Changing Solutions

“Dealing with 16,000 non-compliant historical water users after March 1, 2022 would be overwhelming for government. The Province desperately needs a two-prong strategy to motivate historical non-domestic groundwater users to apply: communication and enforcement,” stated Mike Wei.

“If government would follow through with compliance checking for ‘new’ unauthorized water uses, 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. What would the succinct message be? It would be that government intends to systematically check compliance, now and beyond March 1, 2022,” suggested Ted van der Gulik.

“In addition to government’s two-pronged responsibility for better communication and enforcement, there is a third responsibility that all citizens can take on. We all need to recognize the importance of water as a shared resource and communicate to business operators and elected officials that groundwater licensing is fundamental to water management in BC and illegal water use is unacceptable,” added Donna Forsyth.

“Only the Premier has the authority and accountability to direct adequate resources and attention to motivate historical groundwater users to apply before it is too late and to ensure there are equitable groundwater supplies for the future,” concluded Kim Stephens.

To Learn More:

The Primer elaborates on an ongoing failure to communicate effectively about what is missing in government messaging. The Primer suggests potential game-changing solutions to create a desired “tidal wave of groundwater licence applications” between today and March 1, 2022. Because people learn through stories and anecdotes, the Primer storyline is built around quotable quotes from these knowledgeable professionals to tell the “story behind the story”.

Download a copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Groundwater Users Put on Notice.