Country Life in BC

December 2017

Cattlemen speak out about groundwater licensing debacle

by Tom Walker

KAMLOOPS – Kevin Boon, general manager of the BC Cattlemen’s Association (BCCA), is calling the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to task for its inept handling of groundwater licensing.

“It’s been a fiasco from the start. It has been utter chaos and it has been, I would say, the biggest example of bureaucratic mishandling that I have ever seen,” says Boon, his frustration evident, at the Kamloops Stockman’s Association’s recent semi- annual meeting.

Since the BC Water Sustainability Act took effect two years ago, there have been little more than 1,500 applications, for which MOE has only issued 97 actual licenses.

“There has been a real glitch in the get- along somewhere,” he said. “Some of the applications have been in for more than a year and have not yet reached the desk of those that approve it. It has been an embarrassment to be quite frank and we made that very clear to the Ministry of Environment.”

Changes to the application form have made it simpler, and FrontCounter BC has made more computers available, but Boon says the issues run deeper.

“We are not sure the applications are leaving FrontCounter and ending up on the desk of Environment,” he says. “We are hoping the problems have been resolved. They promise us they have. But in the meantime, the new government is doing a review on the application process.”

While the government is working to move the application process online, Boon says this doesn’t work for all ranchers. Some don’t have computer skills or adequate Internet service.

“We’ve certainly made them aware that this does not work well for a lot of our members,” he says. “We have pushed hard to be able to have it done by paper.”

Giving credit

Boon credits BCCA director Linda Allison, who ranches in the Similkameen Valley near Princeton, with ensuring that ranchers have submitted the majority of the  license applications the province has received to date.

“She really understands the value of water licensing and the need for all ranchers to get their groundwater licensed,” he said.

BCCA is asking the province to permanently waive application fees and to extend “first- in- time, first- in- right” privileges to late applications.

“We got a one- year waiver and we had it extended to the end of this year but it is very evident that it is still not working and it is not our fault,” Boon says. “We are also asking that they extend the first- in- time, first- in- right recognition because of the flawed process.”

Boon wonders what value BC taxpayers are getting from the process. He notes that $25 million was allocated for extra staffing to do the applications.

“If we are spending $25 million and getting 97 licenses approved in that time, I would not say that that is a very good use of our dollars,” he says. “Especially when I consider that the contribution for AgriRecovery towards fires that devastated three million acres was $20 million dollars. Where’s the best use of those funds?”