Most of the British Columbia's new Water Sustainability
Act (the "Act") came into force on
February 29, 2016, accompanied by the following regulations: the
Water Sustainability Regulation, the Groundwater
Protection Regulation, the Dam Safety Regulation, the
Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff
Regulation and the Water Districts Regulation.
Section 18 of the Act – quick licensing procedure – is
not yet in force.
The Act replaces the old Water Act and governs the use
of surface water and groundwater in British Columbia. Below are the
highlights of the transition to the new regime.
Applying for a groundwater license
Under the Act, persons using groundwater will require a license.
This was not a requirement under the former Water Act.
Accordingly, a transition process was set in place to enable
persons who are already using groundwater to obtain a license.
Pursuant to the Water Sustainability Regulation
("WSR"), persons using groundwater have
until March 1, 2019 to apply for a license. If the
application is submitted by March 1, 2017, the
application fee will be waived. Application fees are set out in
Schedule 1 to the Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and
Charges Tariff Regulation.
Establishing precedence for a groundwater license
Under the Act, every license must specify the date of precedence
of the subject rights. For persons already using groundwater, the
date of precedence means their "date of first use".
The term "date of first use" refers to the date from
which the use of groundwater for a specified water use purpose
commenced. To establish the date of first use, applicants must
provide to the decision maker the following information:
name (or location) of the aquifer;
the location of each well from which the person diverts
the water use purposes for which the person diverts
the land, mine or undertaking to which the water use is
history of the groundwater use (including the date from which
the use started, the quantity of water used and the like).
Applicants must submit evidence supporting the above information
and a signed declaration as to the origins and accuracy of the
submitted information. For a full list of requirements, please
refer to section 15 of the WSR.
The Groundwater Protection Regulation (the
"GPR") contains detailed provisions
about the construction, operation and maintenance of groundwater
The GPR does not require any immediate transition actions.
However, it clarifies the relationship between some of the old and
new terminology. For example, the term "well construction
report" under the GPR includes a well construction report
completed before the GPR came into force. The term "well
decommission report" includes a well closure report under the
The Dam Safety Regulation contains a number of
transition provisions, some of which are set for
2016. Transition periods apply to previously
unregulated dams (such as groundwater dams), classification and
re-classification of dams, operation and maintenance manuals,
identifying emergency contacts, signage requirements, monitoring
and review of dam safety and general offences.
Owners and operators of dams would be prudent to carefully
review their records and the Dam Safety Regulation to
determine what, if any, actions need to be taken.
Power purpose licenses
Section 138 of the Act enables persons who hold a license for
power purposes to apply for an extension of the license term for up
to 10 years on account of any design, engineering and construction
of the project. This application must be submitted within one year
of the Act coming into force – which means by March
Water Protection Act
The Act triggers a number of consequential amendments, including
amendments to the Water Protection Act (the
"WPA") which restricts the removal of
water from British Columbia. Under the previous regime, persons
using groundwater were registered as "unlicensed" in the
register under the WPA.
With the adoption of the Act (and licensing of groundwater use),
"unlicensed" registrants have 180 days from February 29,
2016 to apply for a license under the WPA – which means by
August 28, 2016.
Fees and charges
Fees and charges prescribed under the Water Sustainability
Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff Regulation apply as of
February 29, 2016. Irrespective of the transition
period to obtain a license, persons using groundwater are liable
for the rentals and charges for such water effective
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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