Despite a growing number of areas in BC being elevated to Level 5 drought, the province has yet to issue fish protection or curtailment orders in response to low stream flows and the risk to aquifers.
This also means that compliance activities have yet to shut down unlicensed groundwater users across the province, thousands of which have been afoul of the law since March 1.
Under the Water Sustainability Act of 2016, existing groundwater users were required to apply for a licence by March 1 this year in order to secure their historic water rights and maintain their priority in times of scarcity.
According to the province, just 7,600 licence applications had been received by deadline, or little more than a third of the approximately 20,000 anticipated.
Users who didn’t apply for a licence have lost their historic water rights and are deemed new users.
But those who continue to use groundwater won’t be shut down, a fact made clear this fall. Reports from the field indicate that unlicensed users continue to use water for irrigation and other uses without penalty.
According to the BC Ministry of Forests, which is responsible for groundwater compliance and enforcement, “appropriate steps” are being taken against unlicensed use.
“Provincial staff are reviewing water usage in streams impacted by drought to determine if there is unauthorized use, including unauthorized groundwater use,” ministry staff told Country Life in BC. “Appropriate steps are being taken under the Water Sustainability Act when an unauthorized user is identified.”
But staff declined to say what those steps were or how much unauthorized use had been identified.
An additional three basins have been elevated to Level 5 drought since last week, raising the total to eight. The regions cover all of Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast and the Peace.
A year ago, just four basins were rated Level 5 before rain began falling in September. Provincial authorities also imposed fish protection orders prohibiting farmers from drawing water on four watercourses.