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Mike Wei

    CHALLENGES & GAPS IN THE WSA: “Why we need to talk about unvested water in British Columbia” – the story behind the story as told by Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei, retired senior civil servants in the Ministry of Environment (April 2022)


    When BC’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) came into force in 2016, “certain things were left behind”. Released in January 2022, the government’s Discussion Paper on Watershed Security Strategy represents a once per decade window of opportunity to revisit assumptions and decisions that defined the WSA scope, reflect on the context for those assumptions and decisions, and determine what action should be taken in light of new understanding. “It is possible that no water-related legislation, bylaw, plan or strategy can be applied to unvested water,” stated Mike Wei.

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    STRENGTHENING THE FOUNDATION FOR WATER LAW IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei bring an informed perspective to their quest to strengthen the foundation for BC water law. They draw on decades of experience to pull threads of understanding from the past through to the present,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (April 2022)


    “Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei have drawn attention to a jurisdictional gap in the Water Sustainability Act because of the potential for a domino effect. Initially I had trouble wrapping my mind around why Waterbucket eNews would feature a topic related to water law. However, I do respect the passion Donna and Mike bring to a conversation about challenges and gaps in the Water Sustainability Act. So, I asked, is there a “story behind the story” that would interest our readers? The real issue, they emphasized, centres on what government cannot do when the water use involves unvested water,” stated Kim Stephens.

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    LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Over the years, my thinking has evolved – from thinking ‘so why should I care’, to appreciating that legally vesting water is ultra important because of how it translates into what government can and cannot do operationally,” stated Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights with the BC Ministry of Environment, in the second article in a series on challenges and gaps in the Water Sustainability Act (April 2022)


    “In a nutshell, ‘vesting’ is the legal concept that has historically been used to establish the government’s authority to write the laws that govern water use in BC. This means that any use of water that is unvested remains outside of those provincial laws. Vesting all water does not mean the use of every drop will or needs to be regulated. That concern is a red herring. The real issue centres on what government cannot do when the water use involves unvested water. The concern should be whether a jurisdictional gap in the WSA has a domino effect with the potential for unintended consequences,” stated Mike Wei.

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    LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “What might a Water Sustainability Act 2.0 look like? Mike Wei and I identified five challenges and gaps in our submission to the Province of BC that we believe should be front-and-centre in the next round of government priorities,” stated Donna Forsyth, team leader for the drafting of the existing WSA and many of the supporting regulations when she was a legislative advisor to the Ministry of Environment (April 2022)


    “During development of the Water Sustainability Act, the stars appeared to be aligning and everything was pointing to water becoming a real priority for the government. That was our frame of reference in 2014. We believed that the initial version of the WSA would not be government’s only kick at the can. Given that water is now being recognized as such a big priority, we could say to ourselves: ‘we will be back for WSA 2.0 to deal with the things that we had to leave behind’,” stated Donna Forsyth.

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    CHALLENGES & GAPS IN THE WSA: “What might a Water Sustainability Act 2.0 look like?” – a joint submission by Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei to the government of British Columbia lays out five issues of concern (March 2022)


    “So far, the current engagement for the Watershed Security Strategy has prioritised the questions that relate to: ‘what can First Nations and local organisations do to help with the management of BC’s water’. Our submission focused on government’s actions that we believe need to be discussed and addressed in conjunction with the Watershed Security Strategy in order to unlock the full potential for sustainable water management in BC. Since climate change is all about water – too much or too little – these changes should fit into climate related initiatives as well,” stated Donna Forsyth.

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    GROUNDWATER LICENSING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA IS A CRISIS IN THE MAKING: “But no amount of localized planning for healthy, more resilient watersheds will be credible if we don’t have a firm handle on who is using our shared water resources and how much they are using. And that assessment absolutely has to include licensed groundwater users who are in compliance,” stated Donna Forsyth, former legislative adviser in B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in an article for The Tyee (February 2022)


    “What will the government do, come March 1, 2022? Enforce a law that it passed with broad support from both the governing party and opposition, and effectively shut businesses down by turning off their taps? Or will it turn a blind eye and allow thousands of business owners to use their water illegally, while their counterparts who did the right thing and applied for their licences follow the law? Either outcome guarantees trouble ahead and must be avoided. But before saying what needs to be done, we need to understand why we are in this mess,” stated Donna Forsyth.

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    WATER RESOURCE USE AND CONSERVATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Over the past several years, the B.C. government dropped the ball on several important and varied water-related files with the result that threats to public health and safety, critical infrastructure and food security have all increased,” stated Donna Forsyth, lead author for an opinion piece published by the Vancouver Sun newspaper (January 2022)


    “Mandates to facilitate development conflict with the protection of our water. This must change and it will require strong political leadership and the creation of a dedicated, independent and comprehensive water agency with a clear mandate to ensure the protection of our water resources as a top government priority. Last year’s floods and heat domes are a wake-up call. We can expect more and failure to make water policy changes now guarantees a torrent of trouble ahead,” stated Donna Forsyth.

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    GROUNDWATER LICENSING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA IS A CRISIS IN THE MAKING: “Groundwater users could lose rights next year. Unlicensed water could be reallocated to new users” – headline and tag-line in Country Life magazine (November 2021)


    “This summer’s dry weather resulted in a record number of restrictions on water use across southern BC, underscoring just how tapped out some basins are,” wrote Peter Mitham, Associate Editor, in the November 2021 issue of Country Life magazine. “With the province standing firm on a deadline of March 1, 2022 for existing nondomestic well owners to license their wells, a renewed push is taking place to make sure those wells are licensed. If they don’t, users in watersheds such as Bessette Creek in the North Okanagan, could find themselves out of luck.”

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    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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