In an effort to modernize BC's 100 year old Water
Act, the BC government has introduced into the Legislature the
new Water Sustainability Act. Although it will have
some familiar features from the old Water Act and the
Fish Protection Act, it will introduce some new features
such as the establishment of water objectives, consideration of
environmental flow needs of streams in licensing
decisions, new powers when streams are at risk of falling below
critical environmental thresholds and an administrative monetary
penalty scheme. It will also regulate groundwater for the
first time in BC, and the BC government is currently reviewing its
approach to water pricing.
The new Water Sustainability Act has been at least five
years in the making. Some of the key features of the proposed
Groundwater regulation: Groundwater will be
regulated using the existing regime that applies to surface water,
which includes the existing "first in time, first in
right" system of water allocation.
Water Protection: The new regime allows for the
establishment of water objectives which are to be
considered in decision making affecting water (i.e. licensing and
allocation). It also requires consideration of environmental flow
needs of a stream in licensing decisions. There are new powers
available when streams are at risk of falling, or have fallen,
below critical environmental flow thresholds.
"Water Management Plans" are renamed "Water
Sustainability Plans", and the proposed law contains extensive
powers relating to developing such plans and implementing them,
including that these plans can override other laws. There are
provisions that require "mitigation and offset" where
there is harm to a stream caused in one place and which can be
offset by enhancement in another area.
Licensing & Approvals: The government
will be able to issue repeat short-term water use authorizations
(up to 24 months) to the same person, for the same purpose with
respect to the same place, which would formalize the practice of
some regulators, such as the Oil and Gas Commission for fracking,
and which was recently challenged in the Courts by environmental
Enforcement: The new regime will provide more
enforcement options including administrative monetary penalties and
If passed, the new law is proposed to take effect in the Spring
of 2015. Between then and now, we can expect the development
of a set of regulations that will provide more details of this
proposed new regime.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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