Putting the “Sustainable” in BC’s Water Laws


2014 Water Sustainability Act

The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) — which came into force on February 29, 2016 — updated and replaced the historic Water Act. The WSA is a lengthy and comprehensive document. Much of the detail about how government will implement these seven new policy directions will be provided in regulations and operational policies.

The Relationship Between an Act and a Regulation

An Act is a law that has been introduced in the Legislative Assembly as a Bill, has passed three readings and committee-study by the Legislative Assembly, and has received Royal Assent. Acts typically state legal requirements to advance the Act’s intent and objectives and establish the overall framework within which the government is expected to act.

A Regulation is “subordinate legislation” (made under the authority of an Act) that provides the details of how the general principles laid out in legislation are to be applied, and must remain inside the boundaries established by the Act.

One Water Resource

“B.C.’s water law regime leaped into the 21st century this past year with the coming into force of the province’s new Water Sustainability Act. For the first time in B.C., groundwater is now regulated which means that the province is now managing surface 2Oliver Brandes_Mar-2015_120pwater and groundwater as exactly what they are: one interconnected resource,” states Oliver Brandes, Co-Director, POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria.

“New legal provisions to ensure water flows for nature – sometimes called ‘environmental flows’ – are a key feature of this new regime so that ecosystems and fish can survive during periods of drought.”

“The act’s coming into force is only one part of the long journey to a truly substantial, sustainable water law regime. This process is still a work in progress. The very best tools in the new act’s tool box to protect water for nature — things like water sustainability plans, innovative governance and water objectives — are still being developed and will all be needed to really put the ‘sustainability’ in the new Water Sustainability Act,” concludes Oliver Brandes.

To Learn More:

Much of the detail related to implementation of the Water Sustainability Act is provided in regulations and operational policies. An initial set of regulations also came into effect on February 29, 2016.

Due to the number of proposed regulations and policies, government is taking a phased approach to their development and work in this area continues. Visit https://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/

WSA_one water resource_2016