Comment now on new water act

You need water to survive, so you may want to learn about what's proposed for the future of water management in B.C.

Environment Minister Mary Polak talks about the proposed legislation for a new water act for B.C. at Mission Creek, while Central Okanagan Regional District chairman Robert Hobson listens.

We all require it for life, but we don’t pay much attention to how it arrives in our glass—as long as it does.

Provincial environment minister Mary Polak was in Kelowna this week asking that you pay more attention to water and take this opportunity to review a proposal for updating B.C.’s Water Act for the first time in a century, with new legislation that will be tabled in the spring.

The proposed legislation for a new Water Sustainability Act includes provision for groundwater to be allocated, monitored, controlled and licensed, an area where B.C. falls far behind other jurisdictions in having no licensing or legislation governing wells or water drawn from an aquifer.

“We know they operate together (underground and surface water sources),” commented Polak, so both should be managed together.

Fees would be applied for use of groundwater, but the regulations following adoption of a new act would determine what those would be, she said. The idea is to recover the costs for managing the resource with fees, she added.

Domestic users would be exempt from licensing.

However, licences could be required in areas where aquifers are under high water demand, so are vulnerable.

Data would also be collected, so there’s a clearer understanding of groundwater resources.

Polak said the new act would also require that priority goes to maintaining environmental flow needs to ensure that fish stocks are not put at risk and pollutants are not introduced to the resource.

She favours regional approaches within watersheds because the needs and the resource is so variable in different parts of the province, but she said decision-making would continue to rest with the province.

In considering a fee structure, she agreed it’s important to keep water reasonable for farm uses, and she agrees with the concept of a water reserve tied to agricultural land.

Regional Water Sustainability Plans, integrating water and land use planning could provide the basis for allocation plans in a watershed, and each would be unique to the area.

The current basis for water licensing, seniority rules, or First In Time, First In Right, or FITFIR, would continue, she said, but the province would have the power to step in in the event of an emergency, such as a drought.

Polak said she expects the legislation to go before the house at its spring sitting, to be followed by construction of the regulations around the new act, which could take a year or two in all.

During the first period of public consultation on the new act, the Okanagan Basin Water Board submitted a detailed series of recommendations, and executive-director Anna Warwick Sears says what’s been presented reflects much of what they recommended, although there isn’t a lot of detail yet.

The devil will be in those details, she feels.

She appreciates that the government has been pretty open about the whole process.

It’s important that civic governments and the province engage in discussions so that careful thought, planning and decision-making around water issues result.

She was also glad to see that the proposed legislation is explicit about the need for fees to pay to manage water. Currently, the per-person cost for water is just pennies per year per person, so it’s not unreasonable to expect charges to go up, without that having a big impact on individuals, she commented.

The public has until Nov. 15 to comment online on the proposed legislation.

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