One of the big challenges of environmental law is that when laws are not properly written, people will inevitably find a way to get around them.
A case in point is Montana.
As it became apparent that groundwater use contributed to stream and lake declines, conflict between water users and environmental degradation, the State began to require permits for groundwater use.
But now, with water supply scarce and populations growing, it is no longer possible to get a permit in many parts of the state. The reason? There are already too many water users.
Montana has however, exempted individual wells from regulation. Homebuilders are taking advantage of this loophole and avoiding the permit process by building 100+-lot subdivisions and drilling a well for each home, the New York Times reports.
The likely outcome of this run-around the law is that in a few years, the state’s aquifers will be completely dried up and both newcomers and long-time residents — the permitted and exempt — will be without water.
Despite Montana’s glaring deficiencies, it is still far ahead of B.C.
B.C. has zero groundwater regulation. The province is, however, in the middle of a process to modernize its Water Act. Troublingly, the province has proposed a system that could lead to the very same problems Montana is experiencing.
B.C.’s goal for reforming the Water Act is groundwater regulation in “priority areas” for “large withdrawals.” This proposal is better than the current situation, but it is far from ideal. Groundwater and surface water are directly connected in most regions, and groundwater use should be regulated to at least the same extent as surface water use.