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Understanding Water Resources

THE EMERGING CRISIS AROUND GROUNDWATER LEGISLATION IMPLEMENTATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “By not applying, the historical water users are effectively giving the government back the volumes of water they were using. After March 1, 2022, these volumes go back into the communal system for reallocation and when they apply, the historical users will be at the back of the line,” stated Donna Forsyth, former Legislative Advisor in the Ministry of Environment (May 2021)


“When the government changed the rules with the Water Sustainability Act, it recognized that it was placing a new regulatory burden on historic groundwater users and gave them time to continue using their water while they applied for the licences. Now, the time to get those applications in is running out. If historic, non-domestic water users don’t get their licence applications in by March 1 2022, they’ll not only lose their authority to use the water, but they could experience a gap of years before a decision is made on their applications,” warns Donna Forsyth.

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BRITISH COLUMBIA’S DROUGHT RESPONSE PLAN / 2021 UPDATE: “The Plan has been updated to provide clearer messaging, improved definitions, and include new supplemental drought indicators such as water temperature and air temperature,” stated George Roman, Manager, River Forecast Centre and Flood Safety (May 2021)


While it rains a lot in BC, communities are typically storage-constrained, and what storage they do have is measured in weeks to months. “The updates to BC’s Drought Response Plan better align the province with North American best practices and include revisions and feedback from public engagements held earlier in 2021. An evaluation of the drought levels trial will be conducted at the end of the 2021 drought season to determine effectiveness. If the new levels are found beneficial, then they will likely become permanent,” stated George Roman.

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THE EMERGING CRISIS AROUND GROUNDWATER LEGISLATION IMPLEMENTATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: As deadline looms, thousands of BC groundwater users risk losing access to water, but not most water bottling, fracking and mining companies, warns the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (May 2021)


When the Water Sustainability Act was first introduced in 2016, it was one of those rare pieces of legislation that enjoyed widespread if at times qualified support from the governing and opposition parties alike. In introducing the bill, then Liberal environment minister Mary Polak, said the time had come to effectively count and manage every drop of water in the province. “This legislation delivers on government’s commitments to modernize B.C.’s water laws, regulate groundwater use and strengthen provincial water management,” she stated.

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THE EMERGING CRISIS AROUND GROUNDWATER LEGISLATION IMPLEMENTATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “All water users in BC need to know that the government takes unauthorized water use seriously. Enforcing the law will send a powerful message to historic groundwater users that if they fail to get in the queue by March of next year, there will be consequences,” said Ben Parfitt, resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Pollution Alternatives (May 2021)


If historic, non-domestic water users don’t get their licence applications in by March 1 2022, they’ll not only lose their authority to use the water, but they could experience a gap of years before a decision is made on their applications. “It is entirely possible that after the deadline ranchers or farmers who had used water from their wells for a century but failed to meet the licence deadline could find themselves competing for the same resource alongside new bottled water companies. That’s a minefield the government does not want to step into,” stated Ben Parfitt.

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NEWS RELEASE: Trouble is Brewing Around Groundwater Licensing in British Columbia (April 20, 2021)


“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.” 

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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)


Effective March 2022, the transition period for groundwater licensing ends. The implication is that ‘historical uses’ without a licence would be considered ‘new uses’. “There will be no consideration of historical use for any application received after the transition period. Even if they apply after the deadline, any new use applications received prior to theirs will get a more senior priority date. By not applying, historical groundwater users are effectively giving their current volume of groundwater use back to the government for reallocation,” stated Mike Wei.

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ADAPTING TO THE NEW REALITY OF LONGER, DRIER SUMMERS: Unlike other regions and countries, the water supply challenge in British Columbia’s mountainous environment is that seasonal water storage potential is limited – such that there is little margin for operational error even though our droughts are measured in months rather than years!


“Drought severity in B.C. is currently communicated through four “drought levels”. Because these categories are broad, it makes it difficult to communicate moderate levels of drought, worsening drought conditions over time, or when regions are experiencing abnormal water scarcity. Desired outcomes in going to a 6-level system include better understanding of current conditions, advance warning of extreme drought, and better alignment with other jurisdictions in North America,” stated Julia Berardinucci.

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A SHINING EXAMPLE OF COLLABORATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “We call it community-based water monitoring (rather than citizen science) because it is driven by community, and by sense of place within community, both for Indigenous and non-Indigenous stewardship initiatives,” stated Kat Hartwig, Founder & Executive Director of Living Lakes Canada, when she spoke about the Columbia Basin Water Hub, a new online tool for open source data collection and sharing


“In a national survey coordinated by Living Lakes Canada to see what groups were doing across the country, we found there had been an exponential growth in community-based water monitoring – CBWM – in Canada over 10 years. We want to ensure that CBWM, which is rather sophisticated in some parts of Canada, does not get left behind and is acknowledged and built upon in this new Canada Water Agency. During this era of biodiversity crisis and climate crisis, we need all hands on deck if we’re doing to try and build resilience into our communities,” stated Kat Hartwig.

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TOWARDS WATERSHED SECURITY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: A report on the role of water in modernized land use planning by the University of Victoria’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project (July 2020)


“In the past decade, land and water planning by the provincial government have advanced in fits and starts. Plans were often developed in response to conflict and litigation by Indigenous Nations or by local governments and authority holders seeking to fill planning gaps. While these plans are highly local and fit for purpose, they lack provincial authority and resources making them challenging to enforce. The report provides direction to both provincial and Indigenous decision-makers by outlining the need for, and elements of, a reformed provincial land and water planning framework,” stated Rosie Simms.

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WATERSHEDS 2020: Stepping Stones to Collaborative Watershed Governance in British Columbia (a virtual forum hosted by the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project on October 15-16, 2020)


“Watersheds is an ongoing series of forums designed to inspire and nourish B.C.’s water community—an almost decade-long tradition of engaging with innovative ideas and bold thinking, building connections and networks in our freshwater community, and finding sustainable solutions to pressing problems. This forum will bring together a diverse community of water leaders in B.C. to build and deepen connections, learn from one another, and explore opportunities for improved watershed decision-making and longer-term watershed security,” stated Laura Brandes.

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