British Columbia's long-awaited Water Sustainability
Act (the "Act") came into force on February 29,
2016. The Act replaces the long standing Water Act, which
was over 100 years old. To date, six regulations associated with
the new Act have come into force: the Water Sustainability
Regulation, the Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and
Charges Tariff Regulation, the Groundwater Protection
Regulation, the Dam Safety Regulation, and the
Water District Regulation.
The Act and its associated regulations introduce a number of
significant changes. For the first time in B.C.'s history, the
Provincial government is regulating groundwater use. The new regime
also imposes fees for water use, provides protection for aquatic
ecosystems and groundwater, imposes new requirements for well
construction and maintenance, introduces additional compliance and
enforcement mechanisms, and improves dam safety.
Those using groundwater for non-domestic purposes now require a
licence to extract and use groundwater. The licencing requirement
applies to existing groundwater users, however the Act includes a
three year transition period during which existing users must apply
for a water licence. The licencing fee will be waived for the first
Fees for Water Use
The new Act and associated regulations impose fees and rentals
on water use. The rates were announced in February 2015, and the
same rates apply to both surface and groundwater use. Industrial
and commercial users will be charged $2.25 per 1000 m3,
while those using water for storage and conservation purposes will
be charged $0.02 per 1000 m3. As of February 29, 2016,
annual water fees and rentals begin to accrue for non-domestic
groundwater users. Existing surface water users may experience
changes in their water bills as of February 29, 2016, depending on
the water use purpose set out in the licence.
Aquatic Ecosystem and Groundwater Protection
The Act introduces new measures to improve protection for
aquatic ecosystems and groundwater. Decision makers must consider
the environmental flow needs of any stream or aquifer potentially
affected by the granting of a licence or other water use
authorization. Environmental flow needs are defined in the Act as
the volume and timing of water flow required for the proper
functioning of the aquatic ecosystem of the stream. The Act also
contains expanded prohibitions on dumping debris into streams and
The Groundwater Protection Regulation introduces
restrictions on the location of wells as well as requirements for
well maintenance and monitoring. Artesian wells and well pits are
restricted under the new regulation.
Well Construction & Maintenance
The Act and Groundwater Protection Regulation expand
requirements applicable to wells, and the new statutory regime now
applies to all well owners, regardless of what water use purpose
their well water is intended for. The Groundwater Protection
Regulation includes requirements related to construction,
maintenance, deactivation and decommissioning of wells.
Compliance and Enforcement
New compliance and enforcement mechanisms are included in the
Act. The Act introduces alternative enforcement mechanisms, such as
remediation orders. A reclassification of offences is also
The Act and Dam Safety Regulation impose new
requirements on dam owners. Emergency preparedness plans are now
required. Mandatory risk classification reviews are also imposed by
the new regime.
The B.C. Government has indicated that it will begin working on
the next phase of regulations and policies later this year. Topics
for the next phase of regulations and policies include measuring
and reporting requirements, livestock watering rules, water
objectives, and planning and governance objectives.
Any business dealing with water use should be aware of the new
statutory regime and its implications. Property owners should also
be familiar with the new regime, particularly those who have wells
on their property or who have control or ownership of a dam.
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