When it comes to water, what does “beneficial use” mean to you?
Maybe you think of drinking water, instream flows, irrigation. Maybe supporting BC's many wineries (Not that we'd ever water down good BC wine! But there's irrigation and equipment cleaning.)
How about mixing water with chemicals so toxic that it can never be returned to the water-cycle, then pumping it into the ground under high pressure? That's the fracking that goes on in Northern BC and that the government is looking to as the road to prosperity for the province.
Is that a beneficial use of water?
The current definition of “beneficial use” in BC water law is “using the licensed volume of water for the intended purpose(s) and in compliance with the terms of the water licence.” The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) makes a small improvement by adding “Efficiently, to the extent reasonably practicable for the authorized purposes”.
Many British Columbians do not agree with the official take on “beneficial use”. There is a common expectation that “beneficial use” means something that is not destructive to the water. It is commonly held that water, like air, is part of a commons that is to be shared, that is not to be 'owned' and that the beneficial use of which would on balance provide some broad benefit or at least would not diminish the commons for the benefit of a few.
Many are surprised to learn that water left in a stream to ensure sufficient flows for aquatic life does not count as beneficial use and water licences cannot be had for the purpose of leaving water in a stream.
The definition of “beneficial use” should be expanded to include community, social and environmental benefits so that license holders understand they are not gaining a property right, but rather are using a shared resource that they must steward with care.
Another area within the WSA where those same values could be applied is with “Water Ojectives”. Water Objectives are proposed to address water quality, quantity and aquatic ecosystem health, in the natural resource sector and in local government planning.
However, decision makers would only be required to 'consider' Water Objectives. What's more, the oil and gas sector and forestry would be exempt.
Water Objectives need to be enforceable and applicable to all fresh water users, or at least require that related objectives under other legislation are equivalent.
Water Objectives should incorporate the expanded definition of beneficial use to prioritize household use, environmental flow needs and First Nations uses. These categories of use should be excluded from the FITFIR system.
This is a critical time for British Columbia. We can expect this Water Sustainability Act to fundamentally shape how our home waters are governed for many decades to come.
Read more about the implications of this proposal on our other info pages, and please provide your thoughts to the government by the November 15 deadline.
Comments to government can be made on the Water Sustainability Act blog
(click on any blog post title to get to comments for that post)
or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
by fax to (250) 356-1202
or by mail to Water Sustainability Act, Ministry of Environment, Water Protection and Sustainability Branch, PO Box 9362 Stn Prov Gov, Victoria BC, V8W 9M2.
Let's make sure BC gets this right!