A CALL FOR ACTION BY THE GOVERNMENT OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: Groundwater licensing crisis has far-reaching ramifications for BC economy

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For the second time in three editions, the Partnership for Water Sustainability features groundwater licensing because it is fundamental to water management in BC. Leadership and commitment at the highest levels of government have been missing in action during the 6-year transition period for implementation. Consequently, the lack of groundwater licensing is a looming crisis with far-reaching ramifications for the BC economy.

The purpose in again featuring groundwater licensing is to draw attention to the presentation by Partnership President Ted van der Gulik to the Select Standing Committee on Government Finance on September 30, 2021. He laid out a How-To-Framework for a 10-year plan of action to get groundwater licensing back on track.

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

The Water Sustainability Act (WSA), passed in 2016, is the governance and regulatory component of Living Water Smart in British Columbia. Groundwater licensing is a cornerstone for successful implementation of the WSA.

In mid-September, the Partnership released a Primer that laid out WHAT must happen before March 1, 2022. Today, we spell out HOW the provincial government should fund and implement game-changing solutions beginning with Budget 2022. This would require an annual commitment of $30 million over a 10-year period.

The Partnership’s Ted van der Gulik made the case for a total investment of $300 million when he explained the situation to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. His presentation on September 30, 2021 was the last of 300 in-person presentations to the committee as part of its Budget 2022 Consultation process.

Ted van der Gulik was compelling. His call to action resonated. “Ted 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 conversations in terms of the message that we want to give to the legislature. It was a great presentation to end on,” stated Janet Routledge, Chair of the Select Standing Committee. This type of public statement by a chair is very unusual.


on groundwater licensing implementation

“The present chaotic situation can be turned around. But it requires commitment and a dedicated budget in place long enough to get the job done. Commitment starts at the top and requires action by the Premier. He needs to appoint a water champion,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“To be successful, the water leader must have the authority and accountability to make water a priority and remain a priority. This individual must also be able to direct adequate resources and attention to motivate historical groundwater users to apply before it is too late.”

“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.”

“At a meeting with the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services on September 30, the Partnership’s Ted van der Gulik laid out the framework for a 10-year plan. Download a copy of our submission to learn more about five ‘streams of effort’ totaling $30 million annually.”


Context for the Busy Reader

Water has not been a high priority for successive provincial administrations. There has been no water champion. And this has had consequences for sustainable water management. When water is not a priority for government, and there is no ‘water champion’ at the top, you wind up with the current challenges that, in a very short time, become unmanageable for government.

There is not a clear plan on how the provincial government will deal with the inevitable crisis that looms large on March 2, 2022.

After almost 6 years of the transition period, a mere 1 in 5 historical groundwater users have applied. Workshops, ‘how-to’ sessions for making an application, ads in local papers, mail campaigns, and information bulletins on a government website are clearly not reaching small businesses, farmers and ranchers in rural BC.

The Partnership has developed the How-To-Framework for a 10-year plan of action to get things back on track. Click on the image below to download a copy. 

Every year for 10 years, government must invest $30 million in four streams of effort to get the job done properly.

$11 million per year for additional dedicated staff to adjudicate licences. That urgency is NOW but it will be compounded after March 1, 2022.

$4.5 million per year for enforcement. This is an issue of fairness. Government will have no credibility with those who have ‘done the right thing’ and applied for their water licence if it does not consistently enforce the Water Sustainability Act on those who flaunt the legislation and continue to use water illegally.

$13 million per year for investment in science. We need to know more about aquifer condition and capability, and provincial databases need updating to enable fair and timely adjudication of licence applications.

And finally, $1.5 million per year for leadership. British Columbia needs a designated ‘Water Champion’. To achieve water sustainability, there needs to be a Minister with the mandate and staff support to coordinate actions across ministries and communicate a clear and compelling message to British Columbians.



Ted van der Gulik presenting to the Select Standing Committee on Government Finance on September 30, 2021 in Richmond at the fifth and final Budget 2022 Consultation in-person event. Seated at the head table are Chair Janet Routledge (right) and Co-Chair Ben Stewart (left).

To listen to the presentation, click on the following link and listen to the 13-minute segment from 3:54PM until 4:07PM.




“For months now, the Partnership has been raising the red flag regarding the consequences of government NOT making a last ditch, all-out effort to urge historical groundwater users to apply for their licences before the deadline. If they do not do so, they will lose their historical rights and be considered illegal uses of water,” Ted van der Gulik, Partnership President said to the members of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services on September 30, 2021.

“After almost 6 years of the licensing transition period, a mere 1 in 5 users have applied. The social, economic – and political – costs of government being forced to shut down the businesses of 16,000-plus current groundwater users in the province, most of them farmers, ranchers, and small business owners throughout rural BC, are too severe to contemplate.”

“However, regardless of how many or how few groundwater users, whether “new” or “historical”, have actually applied for their licences, by March 1st 2022 the die will be cast. Government’s headaches on this issue will be far from over on that date.”

“Without a substantial influx of funding, the situation will become even more complex – and volatile, as a new user – for example, a water bottling company – qualifies for a groundwater licence while a local rancher goes bankrupt because he no longer has legal access to water his cattle.”

“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 – and no doubt with the Finance Committee as well.”

“In this, as with all life, water is obviously critical.  We already know that many of our groundwater aquifers are at risk.  That is why groundwater licensing was included in the Water Sustainability Act (WSA). The Partnership believes that $30 million for each of the next 10 years dedicated to achieving the objectives of the WSA is key to building provincial resilience in the face of climate change impacts already upon us and – with certainty – to increase in the future,” concluded Ted van der Gulik

About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

Incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia as a not-for-profit society on November 19, 2010 was a milestone moment. Incorporation signified a bold leap forward. The Partnership evolved from a technical committee in the 1990s, to a “water roundtable” in the first decade of the 2000s, and then to a legal entity. The Partnership has its roots in government – local, provincial, federal.

The umbrella for Partnership initiatives and programs is the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. In turn, the Action Plan is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Released in 2008, Living Water Smart was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments.

Conceptual Framework for Inter-Generational Collaboration

Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.

The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. To achieve the goal, the Partnership is growing a network in the local government setting. This network embraces collaborative leadership and inter-generational collaboration.

Application of Experience, Knowledge and Wisdom

The Partnership believes that when each generation is receptive to accepting the inter-generational baton and embracing the wisdom that goes with it, the decisions of successive generations will benefit from and build upon the experience of those who went before them.

The Partnership leadership team brings experience, knowledge, and wisdom – a forceful combination to help collaborators reach their vision, mission, and goals for achieving water sustainability. When they are successful, the Partnership is successful.

The Time Continuum graphic (above) conceptualizes the way of thinking that underpins the inter-generational mission of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.  Influence choices. Capitalize on the REACHABLE and TEACHABLE MOMENTS to influence choices.


TO LEARN MORE, VISIT: https://waterbucket.ca/about-us/

DOWNLOAD: https://waterbucket.ca/atp/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2020/11/PWSBC_Story-of-First-Decade_Nov-2020.pdf