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Understanding Water Resources

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)


“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. 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,” wrote Andrew MacLeod.

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CALL FOR ACTION TO GET GROUNDWATER LICENSING BACK ON TRACK IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “This is the moment for leadership from the highest level to demonstrate that the provincial government is implementing the Water Sustainability Act in good faith. It is also a moment for ALL to embrace shared responsibility to ‘get it right’,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (October 2021)


“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,” stated Kim Stephens.

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GROUNDWATER LICENSING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA IS A CRISIS IN THE MAKING: “People have been issuing warnings about this for several years, but a legislature committee heard first-hand last week about how bad it could get,” wrote columnist Les Leyne in his article published by the Victoria Times Colonist (October 2021)


“There was a pivotal moment in B.C.’s resource management history about five years ago when the Water Sustainability Act was passed. The only problem was that scarcely anyone paid any attention to it. Particularly the thousands of farmers, businesses and entities in rural B.C. who use well water and have been doing so for years. That collective indifference and the government’s slow acknowledgment of it is about to hit a lot harder than the new law ever did,” stated Les Leyne.

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BUDGET CONSULTATION 2022: Partnership for Water Sustainability issues a “Call for Action” by the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services to rectify a chaotic situation, provide a dedicated budget, and get groundwater licensing implementation back on track in British Columbia (October 2021)


“With this year’s economic losses and social trauma of raging forest fires throughout the province, climate change has certainly become a top-of-mind issue for many British Columbians. The Partnership believes that $30 million for each of the next 10 years dedicated to achieving the objectives of the Water Sustainability Act is key to building provincial resilience in the face of climate change impacts already upon us and – with certainty – to increase in the future,” stated Ted van der Gulik in laying out a How-to-Framework for action,

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COUNTDOWN TO MARCH 2022 DEADLINE: “Existing groundwater users who have not applied by the deadline will be unlicensed and must stop using groundwater after March 1, 2022, until a licence is obtained,” forewarns the latest Information Bulletin from the Government of British Columbia (September 2021)


B.C.’s water licensing system is intended to be a fair and transparent process that helps reduce conflicts between water users, particularly in times of drought and water scarcity. Missing the licensing deadline could be costly and may include fines for unlicensed use of groundwater. In response to feedback, the Province has made an effort to improve the online application. “Licensing groundwater helps protect aquifers and streams, along with businesses and livelihoods that depend on reliable access to water,” states Julia Berardinucci, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

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GROUNDWATER USERS PUT ON NOTICE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “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,” stated Ted van der Gulik when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released its second Primer on groundwater licensing (September 2021)


“It seems to me that government needs to focus on an aspect of groundwater licensing that would be manageable. Specifically, government could choose to focus its enforcement efforts on first contacting owners of wells drilled during the period 2016-2021, then checking whether and how many of the new wells in use are licenced. The number of new groundwater users is a minor fraction of the 16,000 historical groundwater users. Thus, new groundwater use is a more manageable segment to tackle before March 1, 2022,” stated Ted van der Gulik.

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GROUNDWATER LICENSING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA IS A CRISIS IN THE MAKING: “I think there’s a lot of frustration all around, and it’s because the government, in my mind, hasn’t taken this file seriously. It’s a big story but it hasn’t gotten much traction. It’s going to be a big story,” stated David Slade, a Past-President of the BC Groundwater Association (August 2021)


BC’s faltering effort to manage groundwater use brings a looming crisis. Thousands of groundwater users could be cut off effective March 2022 as they fail to apply for water licences. Critics blame government inaction. The way it looks to David Slade, a water-well driller with 50 years of experience, some 15,000 British Columbia groundwater users are going to become criminals overnight next March. “That certainly seems to be the trajectory we’re on now. I don’t know if it’s willful ignorance, or just people are ignoring it in hopes it will go away,” said Slade.

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GROUNDWATER LICENSING IS A CRISIS IN THE MAKING: “Groundwater licensing is a serious issue. In case one thinks this is a partisan political issue, remember it was before the NDP was elected as government, it was the BC Liberal government that brought in this modernization of the Water Act,” wrote David Zirnhelt, newspaper columnist in small town BC and former provincial cabinet minister (May 2021)


“It has been since the 1990s that local areas experiencing shortages or conflicts over water, could apply to have a licensing area established and ground water rights governed in that area. The reason this enabling legislation was enacted then was that under Canadian law, unless there was a regulatory regime (acts and regulations) for water, there could not be a restriction on the export of water from the province. This meant that a groundwater well could be pumped for export out of B.C. There was a real fear that the demand for safe water would create a rush on the use of water for export,” stated David Zirhhelt.

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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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