Well registration continues to lag expectations

by DAVID SCHMIDT








KAMLOOPS – Hardly anyone disputes that licencing groundwater use is a good idea but in practical terms it has been an unmitigated disaster in BC.

Groundwater licencing requirements and usage fees came into effect March 16, 2016, as part of the rollout of the province’s Water Stewardship Act.

While individual domestic groundwater users are exempt from the requirements, other users could protect their FIT-FIR (first-in-time, first-in-right) rights by registering their existing wells before March 1, 2019 (they will still have to pay for groundwater usage from March 16, 2016). The province expects owners to register about 20,000 wells, primarily used for irrigation, watering livestock and other agricultural purposes.

As an added incentive, government promised to waive the application fee for wells registered before March 16, 2017. When that drew little response, the waiver was extended to December 31, 2017. It has done little to attract new registrations.

 “As of September 8, 2017 there have been approximately 1,333 licence applications for historic groundwater use that pre-dates the Water Sustainability Act,” reports BC Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy public affairs officer Danielle Bell.

Of even greater concern is the fact only 86 licences have been granted to that date.

“If that’s all they’ve been able to process, what is it they’re doing?” asks BC Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. “Some of these applications should have been just rubber-stamped.”

Boon supports the concept of groundwater licencing, saying it’s critical for a rancher’s water security. The process, however, is a “bureaucratic nightmare.”

“They ask a lot of questions that are not necessary,” he says. “If you’re licenced for a certain amount of water, why do they need to know where each irrigation line and water trough is? They’ve made it a lot more complicated than it needs to be.”

Weeks to months

Bell admits the review period “can range from weeks to months,” saying the application review time “varies by region and by application depending on staff resources and complexity of the application.”

She notes that once users have submitted their application, they may continue to use the water while the application is reviewed.

Boon says many ranchers are holding off registering their wells until a livestock watering regulation covering water usage on Crown range is in place, suggesting many believe they do not need a licence for the volume of water they consume at home.

Although the regulation was “pretty much in place” this spring, Boon says it wasn’t approved before the May 9 election and the new government may revisit it.

Bell says there are currently “no plans to extend” the registration deadline, but BC Agriculture Council executive director Reg Ens has other ideas.

“We need to do a restart,” he says, pointing out that government staff “couldn’t talk to us for three months during the election” and is now – rightly – focussed on the wildfires and their aftermath.

Boon says a planned mid-September meeting between the BCCA and the ministers of Environment, Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations, and Agriculture will discuss the registration deadline.

On the plus side, Bell indicates that enforcement actions set forth in the Water Sustainability Act are a last resort for producers found non-compliant with the new regime.

“Government’s current focus is on improving communications and outreach to ensure existing groundwater users are aware of the new requirements, as well as improving the efficiency of the licence review process,” she says. “There have been a number of enhancements made to the online groundwater licence application system to reduce complexity and government is continuing to look for ways to support applicants and improve the experience of users.”

CLBC September 2017

Vol.103 Issue 10
OCTOBER 2017

Cranberries

The agricultural news source in British Columbia since 1915

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