LOOMING GROUNDWATER LICENSING DEADLINE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “As deadline looms, thousands of BC groundwater users risk losing access to water, but not most water bottling, fracking and mining companies,” wrote resource analyst Ben Parfitt after doing investigative research into who has applied, and who has not (May 2021)

Note to Reader:

In 2016, water management in BC entered a new era with passage of the Water Sustainability Act. The WSA made it a legal requirement that all non-domestic groundwater users in BC be licensed or otherwise authorized. Until then, only water users drawing from surface sources had been regulated in BC. Now, groundwater users were required to play by the same set of rules. At the time, there were an estimated 20,000 non-domestic groundwater users in BC. They were given three years to apply for licences.

Research by Ben Parfitt of the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) shows, however, that only 10 per cent of those users have actually been issued licences by the government. In his article, Ben Parfitt takes a deep dive into the numbers and makes some startling observations.

Ben Parfitt joined the CCPA staff team as a resource policy analyst in 2005 after years working as an investigative journalist with numerous magazines, and previous to that as a reporter with The Vancouver Sun. He is author and co-author of two books on forestry issues and currently devotes much of his policy research to natural resources, with special attention paid to energy, water, and forest resources and climate change.

As deadline looms, thousands of BC groundwater users risk losing access to water, but not most water bottling, fracking and mining companies

“If the deadline passes and thousands of groundwater users fail to apply, there could be big trouble ahead for the government and groundwater users alike. If existing historical users—some of whom can trace their use of specific water wells back generations—fail to apply before the deadline, they will find themselves in the same queue along with new entrants, creating a regulatory nightmare for the government and water users alike,” wrote Ben Parfitt in his article titled Out of water? and posted online in May 2021.

“Barring a massive surge in applications thousands of groundwater users could risk losing their access to water in less than a year.”

To Learn More:

To read the complete story by Ben Parfitt, download a PDF copy of Out of water?

Groundwater Licensing: Intention versus Reality

“When the Water Sustainability Act was first introduced, it was one of those rare pieces of legislation that enjoyed widespread if at times qualified support from the governing and opposition parties alike. In introducing the bill, then Liberal environment minister Mary Polak, said the time had come to effectively count and manage every drop of water in the province.”

“This legislation delivers on government’s commitments to modernize B.C.’s water laws, regulate groundwater use and strengthen provincial water management in light of growing demands for water and changing climate. Water is our most precious resource, and this legislation will help ensure that our supply of fresh, clean water is sustainable to meet our needs today and for generations to come,” Polak said in the Legislature, later adding that the act “recognizes that groundwater and surface water are interconnected and addresses the need to manage them under the same regulatory regime.”

“The legislation’s key objective to regulate groundwater was widely supported by NDP opposition members as well as the Legislature’s then lone Independent and Green MLAs.”

“But as then Green MLA Andrew Weaver noted when the proposed legislation moved to second reading, it was one thing to say that groundwater users would be licensed and quite another to make it a reality.”

“If the deadline passes, and historical water users have not applied, they will be at the back of the queue behind all existing licence holders as well as new applicants,” foreshadows Ben Parfitt.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Emerging Crisis Around Groundwater Regulation Implementation, a call to action released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in April 2021 to draw attention to the issue.