Water Sustainability Act Update March 2019

You may have seen the news February 19, 2019 that the Province extended the waiver of water licence application fees for existing groundwater users. The exemption was originally from February 29, 2016 to March 1, 2017, the first year of a three year transition period for existing non-domestic groundwater users to get into the licencing system.

Then the exemption got extended to December 31, 2017.water_drop_sad_50w.jpg

Then it got extended to March 1, 2019

Then it got extended to March 1, 2022.

In addition, the requirement to apply for a licence at all got extended from March 1, 2019 to March 1, 2022. These users’ licence applications are not required to be subject to environmental flow needs consideration, something that from a purely administrative point of view is a good thing since the environmental flow needs regulations have still not been written. In terms of responsible water management in BC however, it makes a mockery of water law modernization.

A regulation that has been written was one that came into effect December 13, 2017 that exempted mines from oversight under the WSA for dumping goundwater so long as they don’t use the water for anything and don’t cause “significant risk of harm to public safety, the environment, land or other property.” Of course that begs the question of who other than the mine operator is watching? Remember Mount Polley?

There was also an exemption for people who are using water for mineral exploration or placer mining. They didn’t have to get a water licence until December 31, 2016.

Then it got extended to December 31, 2017.

Then it got extended to December 31, 2018.

Then it got extended to December 31, 2019.

And there’s nothing to indicate that new deadlines are any more fixed than previous ones.

Are we seeing a trend here? There could be at least a couple of things going on.

One thing was pointed to by a study from the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia. That study found that during public consultations leading up to the Water Sustainability Act there were two “clusters” of submitters, industry and everyone else, with industry preferring weaker regulation. built_this_way_300.jpgCore elements of the WSA aligned with industry input. For everyone else, “policy outcomes that align with non-industry preferences tend to be conditional, discretionary, and may or not be fully implemented through the ongoing development of regulations.”

Another thing that might be behind the weak implementation of the WSA, WaterWealth and SumOfUs campaigned on in 2015 before the WSA was even law. The Water Sustainability Act was intended to be self-funded. One time licence fees and annual water rental rates based on volume of water used were to pay for administration, monitoring and enforcement of the new water law. The government announced those fees and rates about a year in advance. Everyone but the government seemed to know they were inadequate.

In a briefing note the Water Sustainability Project at the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project on Ecological Governance wrote that while the rates were an improvement over the 1909 Water Act, “Province-wide, they are almost universally viewed as still too low.” They noted that while the top rate in BC is $2.25 per million litres Quebec charges up to $70 and Nova Scotia charges over $140 per million litres. Even Nestlé wrote in a WSA submission “All water-drawing permit and water-drawing fee pricing should be based on a full cost recovery model,” to enable the necessary science and robust management of freshwater. Ontario’s rates were raised in 2017. Currently there Nestlé pays $503.71 per million litres.

All of which begs the question, who are the government listening to on water pricing? SumOfUs/WaterWealth's campaign called on the province to “Charge a fair price for groundwater, so that conservation measures can be fully funded. Commit now to review the water rates!” The petition was the most successful petition SumOfUs had ever hosted in Canada and in July 2015 then Premier Clark and Environment Minister Polak publicly promised to review the rates. That review still has not happened. (Which begs the question why we haven’t returned to that campaign. Short answer: the giant time-suck of Trans Mountain.)

There is wide-spread misunderstanding and fear about the Water Sustainability Act. The government has utterly failed to explain to British Columbians the necessity and benefits of bringing groundwater into the licencing regime. As the Trailer Park Boys’ Ricky might say, “It’s not rocket appliances!” Climate is changing, population is growing. Water security is declining as demand for water increases. We can’t manage our water use if we don’t know how much there is and where it’s going. Yet have you seen anyone from government taking that message to the public? Probably not. Neither have the thousands of existing groundwater users who are avoiding applying for water licences in droves.

q-flex.jpgOn the other hand, you may recall former Liberal Party leader Gordon Wilson being paid $150,000 per year plus expenses from 2013 to 2017 to promote the LNG industry, connecting LNG proponents with BC businesses and First Nations. (Coincidentally, at time of writing a new tax break for the fracked gas industry was just announced.)

We don’t know who government are listening to on water policy, but the record shows they need to do the promised pricing review and give themselves the capacity to do the job properly so we can benefit from the planning tools in the WSA before we're forced to depend even more on the crisis management tools.

WaterWealth will definitely be coming back to this issue in a strategic way, but honestly it’s going to be piecemeal while the Trans Mountain pipeline is an impending threat to water supplies and critical habitat areas. One place you can take action on the Water Sustainability Act right now is the Canadian Freshwater Alliance’s “Our Water BC” campaign.

Our Wealth is in Our Water, Let’s Protect It!


Special Donation Request


WaterWealth depends on support of people who recognize the importance of public
participation in planning and decision making that affects our shared home waters.





The Fraser Watershed Restoration Conference 2019 was to bring together Indigenous leaders,
industry experts, government representatives, academics, community officials and conservationists
interested in advancing watershed restoration, and reconciliation with First Nations.

With a number of federal and BC government ministers on the speakers list, WaterWealth
planned to attend to ensure a grassroots community presence at this important
inaugural event of the Fraser Watershed Initiative. While the conference website
doesn't say so presently, we received word that the conference has been cancelled.

Response to the donation request to enable us to attend the conference has been very generous!
We are very grateful for and encouraged by the show of support that response represents. We will
confirm with the conference organizers whether the conference is truly cancelled or whether it might
be rescheduled. We will contact those who have donated toward this special request, to see about
their wishes for these donations, whether refund, or perhaps hold till a later date for the conference,
or put toward other programs. Of course should the reader feel moved to donate to support our work
aside from this conference, donations are always very gratefully received!


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