Important Changes to BC Water Sustainability ACT - Agriculture and Industry

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Important Changes to BC Water Sustainability ACT

HCBC Staff
Created: December 9, 2015

As a farmer or rancher you may be impacted by upcoming changes to the Act.

Important Changes to BC’s Water Sustainability Act are coming in January 2016. This is a repeat article from the Fall Council Capsule because the information is important. As a farmer or rancher you may be impacted by upcoming changes to the Act. Read below to learn how to prepare. Please share this information with others you know who may be impacted.

The Water Sustainability Act will provide new tools to help ensure water stays healthy and secure for future generations of British Columbians. It will allow government to manage surface water and groundwater as one resource, provide water users with greater certainty regarding their water rights, and establish clear rules about managing water during times of scarcity. To support B.C.’s modernized water legislation a new fee and rental schedule for users is being introduced.

There are approximately 100,000 wells in British Columbia today. About 80 000 of those wells are used solely to support domestic household and will not require licenses. The remaining 20 000 used for commercial, irrigation or other non-domestic purposes, are the ones that will require a license to withdraw water after January 2016.

What does this mean for Farmers?
Users of groundwater will require a water license and be required to pay water fees and rentals. The exception is that individual household wells throughout the province will not be licensed or charged. The new fee and rental rates will only recover the costs of implementing the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA), including groundwater regulation.

Unlike surface water, groundwater use has not previously required permission or payment of fees and rentals. Regulating and charging for groundwater use will correct this imbalance and further government’s ability to sustainably manage water for future generations.

The new rental rates will vary from $0.02 per 1000m3 for water storage and conservation purposes, to $2.25 per 1000m3 for most industrial and commercial purposes. To put things in perspective, 1000 m3 of water is equivalent to one million liters which is enough to fill a 25 meter swimming pool.

Users of groundwater will also have the same access rights and responsibilities as individuals who obtain their water from surface sources. This includes assurance their rights are considered should any conflict over water uses arise. Groundwater and surface water are one interconnected resource and need to be managed as such. The new WSA allows for this.

What do farmers need to do to comply with the new regulations?

Beginning in early 2016, existing groundwater users will have a three year window to apply for a license. Licenses will also be required for any newly constructed wells from 2016 onward, with the exception of wells used only for domestic purposes. Existing well owners that apply for a license in the first year will be exempted from application fees. Applications received from January of 2017 and onward will need to pay the additional application fee.

How can farmers prepare for January 2016?

Farmers can look into their day-to-day operations and determine whether their well is connected to their irrigation system, or if it is only providing water for the home. If it serves a purpose other than domestic, it will require a license.

The government is still ironing out the application process, but in the meantime a farmer can prepare by checking the well for its ID Plate (a metal plate installed on the well by the driller that will identify the well in the provincial well database), and making a note of the ID number.

If the well does not have an ID plate, it can be obtained as a part of the licensing process in 2016. Farmers can start compiling information on when the well was installed which can help establish the priority date when applying for a license.

An example of evidence might include:
• Records related to the construction of wells and other works. If you don’t have this information, the drilling company may have kept copies.
• Environmental Assessment certificates for larger wells.
• Well maintenance records.
• Any other information that could be recognized as evidence of historic use.

If you are considering drilling a new well, choose a driller from the list of qualified drillers or qualified well pump installers and ensure they construct the well in accordance with current regulations.

Will there be advice to help determine how much water is required in a water license?

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC is building an online tool to assist the agriculture sector in determining actual irrigation water needs. The tool will estimate water demand based on current irrigation water demand models and local climate, soils, crop types and farm sizes. The tool will be free to the public and is anticipated to be available in early 2016.

Click here for more information about the Water Sustainability act.

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