On the heels of the successful petition to have BC review rates set for the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA), the province has released four discussion papers on the next regulations in development. Of broadest relevance and with most far reaching implications for future water security in BC is groundwater licensing.
Groundwater is unregulated until the WSA comes into effect next year. Regulation of groundwater is perhaps the most significant change in this first major overhaul of BC water law in over a century. It brings with it recognition that groundwater is an integral part of the water cycle, essential to our economic and ecological well-being. It also brings responsibility to determine the state of groundwater in BC.
Currently our picture of groundwater is far from complete. We don’t know existing supplies and uses, never mind reliable projections for changing climate and growing population. Even where provincial observation wells exist there are large data gaps.
Of great concern, as the government prepares to issue approximately 20,000 licences to existing non-domestic groundwater users, is that the licences are set to be for a minimum of 30 years. Even after 30 years there is no fixed requirement that licences be reviewed. The WSA only states that licences will not be reviewed before 30 years.
We already know that some water sources are overused. It would be prudent to make initial groundwater licences conditional on a review in 5 or 10 years time. This would allow the government time to complete audits of groundwater supply and demand, and to make projections for future supply and demand based on up-to-date data and science, before committing to long term licences.
The province is taking public comment on these latest WSA regulations until September 8. Please see www.waterwealthproject.com/blog for more thoughts on groundwater regulations and links to provincial discussion papers and options for providing your comments.
Let’s get these new water regulations right the first time!