Editorial: Water Sustainability Act


Tuesday, December 20 2016

The thing to realize with the Water Sustainability Act is the government isn’t done with it yet. To quote the WSA website, this is being “phased in” - which is starting to look like the government is having to interpret/come up with the rules as they find new situations to deal with.

Be prepared to find yet one more layer to the Act when going through it. It’s a never-ending onion.

On the surface, the Act is bringing BC’s groundwater regulations in line with what the rest of North America has had for a hundred years. Until this past February, BC was the only jurisdiction north of Guatemala that didn’t have some kind of control on wells and groundwater use. So in theory, this is a good thing.

In practice, it’s going to be very difficult. It will be hard for people, especially multi-generational farms, to accept they will now be paying the government to use a well that has potentially been in use for decades.

It will be less difficult for the public to accept companies wanting to pump out water for sale either as bottled or bulk will have to pay for the right to do so, and will also be paying on a per-gallon basis.

Where the Act will get very tough is on the kind of farming the Gulf Islands have been trying hard to encourage. Small-scale farms which provide the direct-to-consumer production so many islanders want. Those producers will also have to apply to have a water licence for their wells. $250 to $1,000 per year is not a small amount to add in to a budget.

All the commercial buildings on Gabriola currently have to pull their water from a well. As do the institutional buildings like the school and Islands Trust office. All those wells will need to be licensed now.

Rainwater - that’s a wild card. The Act focuses on licensing of non-domestic use. So far, rainwater can’t be used as potable water in non-domestic settings.

Perhaps that will be the provincial government’s carrot, allowing rainwater to be brought in, but only if a water license is purchased. It is, after all, diverting water, which is the ability a licensee is paying for at the end of the day.

Domestic users will question if they want to register their wells. On one hand, it potentially protects their wells from non-domestic operators putting a well in adjacent to their property. On the other hand, it means putting a big flag in the air showing the province where there’s a domestic well. 

There’s no question we need controls put in place to protect water rights - but so far, implementation seems to be more about punishing the existing users, rather than setting them up to be protected.