PARTNERSHIP FOR WATER SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES ‘CALL FOR ACTION’ DURING BUDGET 2022 CONSULTATION: “BC’s groundwater licensing system is still in crisis. Experts warn of chaos and economic disruption, but say it is not too late to save the needed initiative,” wrote Andrew MacLeod in his article published by The Tyee (October 2021)

Note to Reader:

British Columbia’s groundwater licensing regulation is a foundation piece for successful implementation of the Water Sustainability Act (WSA), passed in 2016. The WSA is once-in-a-generation, transformational legislation. The 6-year transition period for groundwater licensing ends on March 1, 2022. With five months to go, the dilemma is that a mere 1 in 5 small business owners and farmers who rely on groundwater have applied for a licence. This is a looming crisis with far-reaching ramifications for the BC economy. 

BC’s Groundwater Licensing System Is Still in Crisis

The Water Sustainability Act (WSA), passed in 2016, is the governance and regulatory component of Living Water Smart in British Columbia. Groundwater licensing is a cornerstone for successful implementation of the WSA.

Water has not been a high priority for successive provincial administrations. There has been no water champion. And this has had consequences for sustainable water management. In a very short time, become unmanageable for government. The Partnership for Water Sustainability has developed the how-to-framework for rectifying a chaotic situation and getting groundwater licensing back on track.

Consequences of a Failed Groundwater Transition

“There’s still time for the British Columbia government to save its troubled groundwater licensing system, observers and experts say, but it will require stronger commitment and action than the province has shown so far. With a deadline fast approaching and licence applications coming in slowly, the government needs to act now to avoid having to choose between creating chaos for water users or backing down and losing credibility, they say,” wrote Andrew MacLeod in an article published by The Tyee on October 15, 2021.

“The consequences of a failed groundwater transition — political, economic, ecological — cannot be overstated and are extremely difficult to reverse, they add. Failure would erode the public trust in the government’s ability to manage water resources and undermine the Water Sustainability Act, they also say.”

“Water management and the implementation of the act have also been raised by various presenters to the government’s select standing committee on finance and government services which is consulting on what should be in next year’s budget.”

“Ted van der Gulik, the president of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in B.C. and a respected former Agriculture Ministry official, proposed dedicating $30 million a year for the next decade to water management.”

To Learn More:

To read the complete column by Andrew McLeod in The Tyee, download a copy of BC’s Groundwater Licensing System Is Still in Crisis.

Partnership for Water Sustainability calls for action to rectify a chaotic situation, provide a dedicated budget, and get groundwater licensing implementation back on track

The Partnership’s Ted van der Gulik made the case for a total investment of $300 million over a 10-year period when he explained the critical nature of the situation to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services on September 30, 2021 as part of its Budget 2022 Consultation process. Ted van der Gulik was compelling. His call to action resonated.

“For months now, the Partnership has been raising the red flag regarding the consequences of government NOT making a last ditch, all-out effort to urge historical groundwater users to apply for their licences before the deadline. If they do not do so, they will lose their historical rights and be considered illegal uses of water,” Ted van der Gulik, Partnership President said to the members of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services on September 30, 2021.

“Without a substantial influx of funding, the situation will become even more complex – and volatile.”

How-to-Framework for a 10-Year Plan of Action 

Every year for 10 years, Ted van der Gulik informed the committee, government must invest $30 million in four streams of effort to get the job done properly.

$11 million per year for additional dedicated staff to adjudicate licences. That urgency is NOW but it will be compounded after March 1, 2022.

$4.5 million per year for enforcement. This is an issue of fairness. Government will have no credibility with those who have ‘done the right thing’ and applied for their water licence if it does not consistently enforce the Water Sustainability Act on those who flaunt the legislation and continue to use water illegally.

$13 million per year for investment in science. We need to know more about aquifer condition and capability, and provincial databases need updating to enable fair and timely adjudication of licence applications.

And finally, $1.5 million per year for leadership. British Columbia needs a designated ‘Water Champion’. To achieve water sustainability, there needs to be a Minister with the mandate and staff support to coordinate actions across ministries and communicate a clear and compelling message to British Columbians.

Quotable Quotes

“Water has, for far too long, been treated as a neglected resource,” wrote Mike Wei, retired Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, in a companion written submission to the committee. “This, in turn, has limited the economic potential of this province. Prioritizing groundwater management… will significantly strengthen B.C.’s future and increase water users’ commitment to use the resource wisely to allow B.C. to achieve its water sustainability goals.” Mike Wei collaborated with the Partnership in developing the $300 million action plan.

Donna Forsyth, a retired legislative advisor for the Ministry of Environment and the person who led the team that crafted the Water Sustainability Act, told the committee that water management should be the government’s top priority and needs its own independent ministry. “It cannot remain buried in a ministry that fails to prioritize this key resource and instead has a mandate to support forestry and other land development even when it is in conflict with water conservation and aquatic habitat protection,” she wrote in her companion written submission to the committee.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Groundwater Licensing and Budget 2022 Consultation.