The end is near for groundwater licensing
It all started ominously on Feb. 29, 2016. It was a leap year and a leap into a new era of groundwater regulations in B.C. under the Water Sustainability Act. The previous Water Act was starting to show its age at 107 years, lacking and obsolete in many aspects and far behind every other jurisdiction in Canada and the U.S. in regards to monitoring, measuring and regulating groundwater.
We were living in the wild west where the guy with the biggest pump and the deepest well could pump to his heart’s content with no regard or responsibility for impacts on others sharing the aquifer or surface water that could be drained or depleted by aggressively pumping from connected aquifers. But it all changed on that fateful day when licence and application fees came into force. The party was over and cold water was tossed onto everyone using groudwater for anything but private domestic use. Pay to apply; pay to use; pay fines if you don’t pay, pay, pay….
There has been an amnesty though, allowing any of the cowboys who wanted to surrender, the opportunity to licence their wells with no application fee ($250) and to preserve their priority right to pump groundwater. This amnesty is scheduled to expire on March 1 of 2019, and I think there are a few reasons you should care.
If you get your water licence application in and accepted before the end of this coming February, you will save yourself at least $250 of application fees, you will be allowed to continue using your well AND your right to use the groundwater will be set from the date you started pumping. Meaning your right to groundwater will supersede any users whose licence dates come later than yours. This is called the FITFIR model or First in Time, First in Right.
If on the other hand, you choose to wait until after the end of February to apply for a licence, or choose not to apply at all, you may be denied access to groundwater and be forced to shut off your pumps. Further, you may not be granted a licence at all. Ever. And you may be forced to abandon your well.
If you are granted a licence, the process will be likely long and expensive, involving pumping tests, hydrogeologists reports and months or years of waiting and you may only be granted a licence for a portion of what you are currently using.
It sounds grim and draconian; a cash grab some say. You drilled the well, bought the pump, pay for the power, it’s your water so why should you pay for the privilege of using it?
First, the water running under your property is not your water any more than the lake that borders your land or the river/creek that runs through it belongs to you. No one would consider it OK to throw a suction in a lake or river and pump it at will with no regard for the other people and ecosystems that depend on it. For over 100 years we have lived with the requirement for a licence to pump or use surface water for any purpose. The good news is that the rates for using surface water or ground water are the same and are in fact very low, also, domestic groundwater users (single family residential) do not require a licence and do not have to pay annual fees.
I understand that it is hard to start paying to use something that you have had free access to for years or even generations in some cases, but in order to manage ground water use and make sure that there is enough for current and possible future users it has to be measured. The $50 or $200 that a small or large commercial user will pay for annual water licence fees will do very little to pay for the administration of licences and nothing to pay for the science necessary to fully map and understand the resource. But it will give regulators vital information as to who is using groundwater, how much is being extracted and where, when and how it is being used. Most importantly for you is that they will know that you are using and have a right to use groundwater, and they will defend that right for you if other users start to impact your ability to withdraw your licensed volumes. This is likely to become more important with climate change and the hotter, dryer summers we are expecting in the coming years.
There is a chance that the deadline of Feb. 28, 2019 will be extended, but if it is not, and you make the choice to not take advantage of the “grandfathering” option that has existed for almost three years, you run the risk of fines and prosecution. But worse than that, you are taking a chance on losing you right to pump and use groundwater and once it is lost, you may not be able to get it back. And nobody wants to be that farmer, out standing in his field, with a limp hose.
For more information please contact Front Counter BC in Nanaimo at 250-751-7220. Or do a search for BC Groundwater Licensing.
Well driller and Farm owner