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groundwater licensing

    LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Commit $30 million annually over a 10-year period – to deal with both the fallout of a less-than-successful launch of the groundwater licensing system AND the requirements necessary to meet the objectives of the Water Sustainability Act,” stated Ted van der Gulik in his presentation to the Select Standing Committee on Government Finance (September 30, 2021)


    “I am an urban MLA. I have learned a lot more about water (through the Budget 2022 consultation process) than I ever knew before. Ted van der Gulik’s expertise, his passion, and his knowledge make him a powerful voice. He has managed to scare me about what needs to be done! I am pretty sure that what Ted has raised will be a big part of our (committee) conversations in terms of the message that we want to give to the legislature. It was a great presentation to end on (after 300 presentations in 5 locations around BC),” stated Janet Routledge, Committee Chair.

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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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    LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Leadership and enforcement by government would help demonstrate good faith. One key strategy to ensuring people know that government is serious about the water resource is to systematically check compliance and conduct enforcement on unauthorized water use,” stated Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, when commenting on implementation challenges around groundwater licensing (September 2021)


    “It is clear to me that this is much bigger than sending out students or contractors, for example, to talk to farmers and small business owners throughout the Province. The groundwater licensing issue requires someone with profile, such as a Minister or an MLA, to reach out to local community leaders and talk to them about how to engage their communities about the benefits of compliance versus consequences of not applying. Just posting an information bulletin on a government website will not achieve this,” stated Mike Wei.

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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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    GROUNDWATER LICENSING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “The Water Sustainability Act removed the wild west free-for-all that had prevailed when capturing groundwater under common law was deemed a right,” stated Donna Forsythe, a former civil servant in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in an Op-Ed published by the Vancouver Province newspaper and co-authored with Mike Wei and Ben Parfitt (June 2021)


    “The old regime effectively ignored the risks of aquifers being depleted and groundwater pumping affecting stream flows. Now, groundwater users play by the same rules as surface users who withdraw water from rivers, streams and lakes and have long been required to have licences. The new law exempts homeowners using well water or groundwater for domestic purposes from applying for licences, but requires all “non-domestic” groundwater users — mining companies, pulp and paper companies, farmers, water bottlers and others — to do so,” stated Donna Forsythe.

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    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)


    “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. 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.

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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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