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An enthusiastic lack of enthusiasm for well licencing in BC

An enthusiastic lack of enthusiasm

March 22, 2017  By Marg Land

You have to hand it to government and bureaucracy – they sometimes have a way of making even the most honest and supportive member of society turn into a negative naysayer with the mere swipe of a pen.

Case in point – B.C.’s groundwater licencing and well registration program. According to a recent article in Country Life B.C., the province has extended the deadline for applying for a groundwater licence without a fee from March 1 to Dec. 31, 2017, due to “underwhelming response.” As of the first week of January, the B.C. Ministry of Environment had received only 500 existing groundwater licence applications and 50 new licence forms despite estimating that the licencing and registration requirements applied to about 20,000 wells in the province.

It would appear they have a way to go to bring everything in line with the province’s new Water Sustainability Act, which came into effect more than a year ago on Feb. 29, 2016. Under the legislation, those using groundwater for non-domestic purposes – irrigation, animal agriculture, industrial and municipal waterworks – require a licence and must pay for the water they use. Existing groundwater users need to apply for a water licence by March 1, 2019.


“We are actively encouraging existing groundwater users to get their licence applications in early so their use is known and can be protected,” said Mary Polak, minister of the environment.

Even though domestic well users – homeowners with a well that provides water for household use, lawn and garden watering plus water for pets – are exempt from obtaining a licence and paying fees, they are still being encouraged to register their wells so their water use can be protected.

“If the provincial government staff reviewing a licence application doesn’t know about your well, they won’t be able to consider your water use when making their decision,” said Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB). “If you want to make sure that water continues to be available … it’s prudent to register your well.”

The OBWB recently developed a guide to help well owners sort out the new regulations since there has been “confusion” about the program.

“There are still a large number who are on their own wells and they should know how groundwater licencing will affect them,” said Sears.

Based on the Country Life B.C. article, the ministry has been busy making presentations across the province. But there’s been little buy in.

The B.C. Agriculture Council has urged its members to follow the law, adding that licencing and registering wells will protect their right to water based on the current First-in-Time-First-in-Right (FITFIR) allocation system.

“Under the FITFIR system, licensees with earlier licence dates (senior licensees) have priority over later licence dates (junior licensees) for accessing water,” the council stated in its most recent newsletter. “These rights are important during times of drought or water scarcity.”

It makes sense to take the licencing plunge while the fee is waived, considering one-time application fees can range anywhere from $250 to $10,000, depending on water use and volume. If you’re a heavy water user, that could mean big savings.

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