“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.”
State of Water in BC
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.
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.
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.
PREPARE FOR TOMORROW: “A Watershed Security Fund offers an opportunity for government to deliver effectively on multiple commitments and would provide a mechanism to integrate policy priorities at a landscape level,” states Tim Morris, Project Director, BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative
“50 years ago, BC’s political leaders took bold action to secure our farmland by creating the British Columbia Agricultural Land Reserve. This act of vision and courage created a legacy of food security that still benefits British Columbians today. But securing our farmland was only half the job: just like farmland is the source of our food security, healthy watersheds are key to our water security. It’s time to take bold action once again to secure and sustain our critical fresh water sources forever,” stated Tim Morris.
WATER SUSTAINABILITY LEGISLATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Not obtaining a groundwater licence and hoping that government will never find out is doomed thinking,” say Mike Wei, formerly BC’s deputy comptroller of water rights, and David Slade, water well drilling contractor
“If an existing groundwater user applies after March 1, 2022, they will be viewed as a completely new user and that seniority will be gone! In many watersheds, the chance of an existing user getting a licence applying after March 1, 2022 may not even be possible – imagine how that would impact the business or land owner? It may not seem like it, but we have entered a new reality. A reality of no return. Existing groundwater users need to realize this, so they can do the right (and smart) thing and apply for a licence prior to March 1, 2022,” stated Mike Wei.
FLASHBACK TO 2015: The Water Sustainability Act allows for the development of Water Sustainability Plans to integrate water and land use planning to address the potential impacts of land use decisions and actions on water
“The scale and scope of each Water Sustainability Plan – and the process used to develop it – would be unique, and would reflect the needs and interests of the watersheds affected. Planning will be an effective tool where the need is great, and where other area-based management tools are not able to address the links between land use and watershed impacts,” explained the Ministry of Environment’s Jennifer Vigano. Water Sustainability Plans can be combined with other local, regional or provincial planning processes.
“Many people believe that B.C. has limitless water supplies. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. All over the province, communities are already experiencing water shortages, and low water levels in many rivers threaten the survival of salmon. I began this project about a year ago, and my mission was to find a way to demonstrate how B.C. does not have the abundant water that many people think it does. Unfortunately, BC has very poor information about how much water we have and how much we use,” stated Tanis Gower.
ADDRESSING WATER CHALLENGES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Water Sustainability Plans are a powerful new legal tool with a lot of potential and flexibility to address local needs and priorities across the province,” says Deborah Curran, Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre, University of Victoria
Understanding how Water Sustainability Plans can begin meeting the needs of communities and healthy functioning watersheds will be critical to building necessary watershed resilience and ensuring B.C.’s freshwater future, says Deborah Curran. “They haven’t yet been implemented anywhere in British Columbia, which creates an opportunity for us to really explore how they could be used to their fullest extent.” Effective and sustainable freshwater management is an urgent priority for communities if they are to achieve multiple desired outcomes.
2019 REPORT ON PROTECTION OF DRINKING WATER: “We undertook this audit because of the considerable importance of safe drinking water and because the risks to drinking water are increasing,” stated Carol Bellringer, B.C.’s auditor general
In July 2019, Auditor General Carol Bellringer released a report entitled “The Protection of Drinking Water: An Independent Audit”. It found along with not notifying the public of potential risks, the Ministry of Health and the provincial health officer (PHO) are not sufficiently protecting drinking water for all British Columbians. The Auditor General’s report tells a classic story of how a government initiative, launched with the best of intentions, lost momentum over the years as the sense of urgency faded and other priorities took over.