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B.C. farms, industry risk losing water rights as licence deadline nears

Non-domestic groundwater claims must be filed by March 2022
Agriculture depends on irrigation in many parts of B.C., and licences are required for using groundwater sources such as wells for agricultural or industrial use. (B.C. government photo)

It’s been six years since the B.C. government passed a law requiring licences for farms and industries to tap into groundwater, and historic users have less than a year to declare when they started using the resource.

The law does not apply to people who use wells or dugouts for residential purposes, including watering lawns and gardens of a quarter acre or less and fire protection, but the province is encouraging them to register their wells at no cost. As with the farming and industrial licences, the date of use is included in calculations to determine whether new licences can be issued, or when groundwater use is being restricted due to water shortages.

The deadline for applying for a water licence is March 1, 2022. It is required for non-domestic groundwater use that began on or before Feb. 29, 2016, the date the B.C. Water Sustainability Act took effect, and fees are waived for users who apply before the deadline. Municipal and surface water sources are not affected, but dugouts may be considered a groundwater source depending on circumstances.

Domestic well users can search the province’s groundwater database to see if their well is registered.

“Existing groundwater users who have not applied by the deadline must stop using groundwater and will lose recognition of their historical date of first use,” the B.C. forests and lands ministry said in a statement July 2. “That historical date is important because during water shortages older licences get priority access to water.

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“Missing the deadline could also be costly and may include fines for using groundwater without having applied for a licence, a new-user one-time application fee and the cost of additional studies to support an application. Application fees are waived for existing groundwater users who apply before the deadline.”

Regulation of naturally occurring groundwater is designed to protect aquifers and streams, as well as businesses livelihoods that depend on reliable access to water. The B.C. and federal governments support Climate and Agriculture Initiative B.C., which develops adaptation strategies to deal with drought, wildfire and wet conditions that can lead to flooding.


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