Ministry of Environment accepting comments on groundwater licensing, protection

It was a long, hot dry summer in B.C. and water was in the news and on many British Columbians’ minds.

In many parts of the province, we experienced what happens when our water supplies fall short of demand. If we don’t get our laws and policies right, this could be a common experience in the future.

A big part of whether B.C. will adequately be prepared for the future is the Water Sustainability Act (WSA). In May 2014, the province passed the WSA, which is intended to replace the 106-year-old Water Act. The WSA will be the primary statute of B.C.’s new water law regime, and will govern who is entitled to have water, conservation requirements, protection of streams and many other key issues. The WSA presents a long overdue opportunity to modernize B.C.’s water law and prepare for managing tomorrow’s water challenges.

Though the WSA has been passed, it won’t come into effect until regulations setting many important details of the water management are brought into force. Several of the key regulations are now in development, and the Ministry of Environment is accepting comments on proposals related to: licencing groundwater use, protecting groundwater quality, dam safety and compliance and enforcement.

The WSA has the potential to dramatically improve water management in B.C. — if the regulations are done right. There are many good things in the government proposals, but a few things are still missing:

  • Environmental flows need to be protected, particularly in relation to groundwater use. Groundwater is an important source of inflows to streams and during times of drought, groundwater is often the only water source helping to moderate water temperature and maintain base flows in rivers and streams, which are critical for the survival of fish and wildlife.
  • The Water Sustainability Act has yet to define what “sustainability” actually requires. In response to its historic drought, California defined sustainable groundwater use as precluding long-term aquifer depletion, salt-water intrusion for coastal aquifers and interference with surface water. B.C. needs to put clear standards and performance measures into the WSA regulations.
  • While the B.C. Government has done a good job in providing opportunity for public input into the development of the WSA, public participation is not adequately provided for in the planned water management system. Sadly, there are few guaranteed rights for members of the public to be involved in key decisions such as water licencing.
  • Finally, the WSA is does not adequately recognize and protect aboriginal rights and title in the WSA.

This Labour Day weekend, at the end of a hot and dry summer, please take a few moments to let the B.C. government know that strong water laws are important to B.C. residents.

You can submit your comments at http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/2015/07/30/blog-post-16-proposed-water-policies-what-do-you-think/ or by sending an email to livingwatersmart@gov.bc.ca. Comments will be accepted until September 8th, 2015.

Photo by: Fox

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