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BC’s Effort to License Water Use Falling Apart, Critics Say

BC’s Effort to License Water Use Falling Apart, Critics Say

Liberals, Greens agree a crisis looms for thousands of farmers and other water users.

B.C.’s opposition parties want the government to extend — for a second time — an approaching groundwater licensing deadline, warning of a looming crisis for local farms and small businesses.

“We are just deeply concerned,” said Shirley Bond, the interim leader of the BC Liberal Party, in an interview. “We want them to extend the deadline, but additionally we want them to do a better job of getting the information out there and finding people who haven’t registered and help.”

Existing users of groundwater, generally from wells or dugouts, for agriculture, industry or business have until March 1 to get licences or risk losing access to water. The requirement is part of changes to the province’s Water Sustainability Act that came into force in 2016.

But less than 25 per cent of the estimated 20,000 water users, some of whom have been drawing groundwater for generations, have applied for licences.

By mid-December, only around 4,300 had applied, up just slightly from September and last summer.

In 2016 groundwater users were given a three-year transition period to apply for a licence, a policy that recognized their historic use and brought them under the regulations with fewer requirements than new users would face. If they didn’t get a licence, they would lose guaranteed access to the water and have to re-apply, facing the risk of long delays and being denied water rights.

In 2019, when that special treatment was previously set to end, the government extended the deadline and gave users until March 1, 2022, to apply.

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