The provincial government is eliminating its requirement for water permits and rental fees for rural fire departments to install dry hydrants or otherwise divert, store or draw surface water for fire suppression purpose.
It was announced by Minister of State for Rural Economic Development Donna Barnett on March 31, who says this was made possible though recent changes to the Water Sustainability Act.
The fire departments to benefit across the rural areas of British Columbia are in need of help with funding, and most of their hardworking firefighters and volunteers need more support to protect their communities, she explains.
Barnett says the Watch Lake/North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department (WLNGLVFD) previously installed two dry hydrants it had to pay permit fees for to put in, and then annual fees to use water to fight fires (or train members).
This year, the independent fire department with two fire halls that cover a large fire zone area wants to install a third hydrant, and was facing a $1,000 permit fee and $200 annual rental costs it now will no longer be required to pay, she explains.
“This has been a real bugbear,” Barnett says. “It has not been very good for rural volunteer fire departments that have to go and raise their own money.”
Also the Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA, Barnett adds (with a smile) that WLNGLVFD chair Alan Boyd has been “bugging me for years” about this expense to his VFD.
Now, in her strengthened parliamentary role as a rural advocate for policy changes affecting economic development, she says she is pleased to be able to help in her part toward instigating this Order in Council (OIC) by Cabinet.
“I have advocated for policy changes … this was one that was really near and dear to my heart.”
There will no longer be a fee for water use for rural fire departments anywhere in British Columbia, and it also saves on the water use paperwork that is often also borne by volunteers, she adds.
Meanwhile, the province will continue to monitor environmental issues through a 45-day period for a notice of intent to be filed and approved in advance of a dry hydrant installation, so its habitat officers and engineers can review the site to ensure ecosystems will be protected.
Boyd says removal of the licence fee for installation and what he calls its “annual water usage fee” will be of great help to their department, and he is thankful it was approved before the summer fire season hits once again.