Blog Post #9 – Introducing the Water Sustainability Act



Today, along with my colleague Minister Steve Thomson, I’m pleased to announce the introduction of Bill 18 into the B.C. Legislature for First Reading.

The new Water Sustainability Act delivers on government’s commitments to modernize BC’s water laws, regulate groundwater use, and strengthen provincial water management in light of growing demands for water and a changing climate.  Water is our most precious resource and this legislation will ensure that our supply of fresh, clean water is sustainable – to meet our needs today and for generations to come.

The WSA was prepared after extensive public engagement spanning four years. We met with British Columbians from across the province and received thousands of comments, ideas and recommendations. This input was considered in writing the Act and will continue to guide us as we develop supporting regulations and implement the legislation if passed.

British Columbians also expressed strong sentiments about water pricing including many responses to this October 2013 blog post.  In my December blog post, I indicated we would be engaging further on fees and rentals this year. Today kicks off that opportunity with the release of Pricing B.C.’s Water that sets out a number of principles to help inform options for an improved pricing structure for B.C.’s water.

Over the next four weeks (until April 8) we’re looking for your comments on the principles we’re proposing to use to help inform new water pricing options. Which principles are most important to you?  Tell us how you’d like to see these principles shape how British Columbians use and protect B.C.’s water.  Leave a comment below on the Blog.

Mary Polak
Minister of Environment

32 responses to “Blog Post #9 – Introducing the Water Sustainability Act

  1. Mooney

    This site is a complete waste of time.
    I came here looking for the simple proposal and all I could find was endless gobbledegook.
    I came here looking for the legislation and there’s more gobbledegook.
    Get real. Just put up the proposed legislation on the first page. And quit wasting everyone’s time.

    1. Living Water Smart Team

      Thank you for your comment. We have now added a direct link to Bill 18 in addition to the link to all First Reading Bills. You can also follow along with the progress of Bill 18 at the Progress of Bills page on the Legislative Assembly of BC site.

  2. David R

    Geeee Mooney of March 11, 2014, maybe you might want to read the Act as presented. It seems to contain lot’s of what we talked about over the last number of years in the Kootenys and the O Kay Valley’s at the public forums and the daily blogs. Gooblygoop? Yup, definitely in your blog.
    But you have to read the act to understand how much went into this long needed legislation.

  3. Kevin Ronneseth

    Price the water high enough that it covers the cost to both administer the Act and cove the cost of the program to manage and protect the province’s water resources in a sustainable manner.

    If a region or an area requires special water management, due to some known or potential issues (e.g., Saturna Island, Langley, etc.), it may require a surcharge, on top of the “normal rate”, to encourage sustainable behaviour. A tool like a “surcharge rate” could be managed at the local gov’t level – which could help offset their costs.

  4. ET

    Fracking puts water into the ground under the bedrock which is therefore PERMANENTLY out of the surface cycle. How do you adequately address this loss of waterÉ Agricultural use rates should be less – this is the food that feeds us. No agreements should sell or lease water rights for extended periods. No agreements should give exclusive control over water to any single group. The government should retain control over water through ALL stages of use and should have overriding veto AT ANY TIME if public interest in use of the water is compromised. This is our MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE, economically and environmentally, and as such it should be treasured. PROTECT, PROTECT, PROTECT!

  5. Denise DuFault

    Not good enough! This act does nothing for Britih `columbians nor our fish, nor our wetlands.
    Why are you helping mutinational companies, not B.C. first?
    “Not all large-scale water users have been paying for their water, in one case the Nestle Canada plant has been paying nothing to bottle an estimated 256 million litres of water for sale annually.

    Under such a framework, new fees could apply to Nestle.” COULD!?
    from http://www.nationalnewswatch.com/2014/03/11/historic-water-law-introduced-in-b-c/#.UyFU2K79VqA

    This is nt good enough and helping foreign corp.s extract our water in these sums 40 years into the future, with climate change is just dumb! Back to the drawing board.knowing truly that Clean Water is our most precious resource!

    1. Living Water Smart Team

      Thanks for your comment Denise. Just to clarify, groundwater is not currently regulated in BC. Under the current legislation government cannot charge fees or rentals for groundwater. The Water Sustainability Act proposes to change that; under the new Act, all non-domestic groundwater users including commercial water bottling would be regulated and be required to pay water fees and rentals.

      The specific rates have not been determined yet. Government is aware that many British Columbians feel that water is undervalued and is reviewing the rates for both groundwater and surface water. We invite British Columbians to comment on this short paper on Pricing BC’s Water. Have a look at the principles on page 3 and tell us what you think.

  6. Lois

    As a member of the The Council of Canadians, I join other members and demand that the new Water Sustainability Act:

    – recognizes water as a human right
    – reaffirms water as a public trust that belongs to people and cannot be privately owned or controlled
    – creates an approval process for groundwater withdrawals that includes public consultation, incorporates community input into the final decision, and respects a community’s right to say “no” to projects that abuse or pollute water
    – includes strict pollution controls, strong conservation regulations and stringent monitoring
    – ensures a process to revoke permits where industries are polluting or abusing water
    – charges industry proper fees for their use of raw and municipal water takings
    – recognize Indigenous title and jurisdiction to watersheds as well as secure free, prior and informed consent protocols within the Water Act alongside policies to monitor and sustain groundwater.
    Thank you

  7. Geo

    SMALL SCALE PLACER MINER/PROSPECTOR USE OF WATER. Use common sense when considering water use for the small scale placer miner/gold prospector.
    We DO NOT use the water when we pump water through our Highbankers. We BORROW it for a few seconds, let it run into a settling pond away from the river/stream and filter it through the gravel, RETURNING EVERY DROP to the system. Heritage industry here that should not even be in the discussion for water use.

  8. Peter McLaren

    Will this Bill allow me to capture rainwater and through filtering systems and UV treatment etc. allow me to use the resulting potable water so that I do not need to drill a well?

    1. Living Water Smart Team

      Thank you for your question Peter.
      Bill 18 does not specifically address rainwater harvesting. Rainwater harvesting systems are subject to the BC Building Code, BC Plumbing Code and local bylaws. We recommend discussing your plans with your local government planning department. Here are some good sources of information on rainwater harvesting.

      Rainwater Harvesting Best Practices Guidebook (Regional District of Nanaimo 2013)
      Collecting and Using Rainwater at Home: A Guide for Homeowners (Canadian Mortgage and Housing 2013)
      Islands Trust Fund rainwater harvesting website

  9. Debra Nelson

    It’s extremely important that our fresh water be treated with respect and not
    be over-used by industry for simply profit. We must maintain the water cycle balance that nature intended or we will be in short supply for the things we really need it for; such as agriculture and everyday living requirements. I am very concerned that with the push for more LNG in BC that the fracking industry will be allowed to over use this irreplaceable resource; our fresh water, and replace it with a toxic form that we do not know what to do with. I oppose us putting this polluted ‘after product’ back underground where it can lead to other environmental issues. Let’s use our common sense. We can’t reproduce freshwater, but there ARE alternatives to natural gas… or other means of extracting it. Let’s be smart about how we use our water. Debra Nelson

  10. Jody Lownds

    I believe that the two most important principles set out in the Pricing BC’s Water document are Efficiency (motivating users to demand only the amount of water required and incenting the use of non-potable water where appropriate and encouraging conservation) and Food Security. I wouldn’t want the pricing system decided upon to negatively impact agricultural producers — particularly small scale farmers, but I do strongly believe that we should be paying more for our water so that we do a better job of not wasting it.

  11. Peter Barry Kerr

    This act is an improvement over the one it is replacing but still has to address a lot of issues. There should be an approval process for ground water withdrawals that includes consultation with the public so that a project can be rejected by the public if the water is abused or polluted. In Ontario any permit to take water is posted for the public to read and is open to comment for 60 days. B.C. could have a similar process.

    There also should be the capacity for the government to implement and enforce regulations and monitoring so that industry is not relied on for that as that can so easily lead to conflict of interest.

    Large-scale users should be charged appropriately so that they are not draining too much water such as with the process of fracking where incredible amounts have already been taken to the disadvantage of others.

    In the case of water shortages, priority should be given to those who need the water for basic needs and for farming.

    Thanks.

  12. LM

    The WSA is a necessary step forward in the protection and management of this invaluable resource. Reference data and defined management strategies are needed to ensure this plan is successfully implemented. Although the majority of citizens do not want to sell water, companies such as Nestle are taking our water for free and selling it for their own profits. If the province were to put a cost on water, companies would reconsider wasting this precious resource and the province could gain profits. Water is a basic human right and as such it should be available for future generations, but at the rate it’s consumed scarcity is an imminent problem. Lets take the proper steps now to protect our water for the future.

  13. Shawn Brown

    Demands #1 & 2 Recognize water as a human right and reaffirm water as a public trust that belongs to people and cannot be privately owned or controlled

    The legislation does not recognize water as a human right or public trust. Furthermore, it still includes a First In Time First In Right section so that those with the older/oldest permit have rights over new permits. As a result, an older permit held by a gas or mining company can take priority over a new permit for domestic use, (which includes water for drinking, sanitation, preventing fires, etc), or conservation.

    Though the new act also allocates 250 litres per household for “essential household use”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50 to100 litres of water should be allocated per person per day to meet the most basic needs and a few health concerns. The allocation of water in the legislation should be per person. A household of 5 people (especially if someone is ill) would be wholly inadequate to meet basic needs.

    Demand #3: Recognize Indigenous title and jurisdiction to watersheds as well as secure free, prior and informed consent protocols within the Water Act alongside policies to monitor and sustain groundwater.

    The New Water Sustainability Act fails to adequately recognize First Nations rights and title. Many water hungry and/or water polluting industries (such as fracking, pipelines, mining, and fish farms) are being proposed or currently operating on the territories of First Nations across the province. Despite these projects causing significant damage or posing threats to the streams, lakes, rivers, drinking water, and hunting and fishing activities on these territories, the vast majority of them still receive government approval, support, and water licenses. Moving forward, it is clear that any efforts to govern water must involve leadership from First Nations who have been stewards of fresh water in this province for thousands of years.

    Demand #4: Create an approval process for groundwater withdrawals that includes public consultation, incorporates community input into the final decision, and respects a community’s right to say “no” to projects that abuse or pollute water

    The New Water Sustainability Act will introduce a new pricing regime on groundwater users. The old water act left B.C. as the only province in Canada that didn’t regulate groundwater use. This allowed corporations and industries in B.C. to withdraw fresh water without paying the government for it, or measuring or reporting how much they take.

    When it comes to incorporating community input, while the new act does require that the applicant give notice to those that will be affected by the licence/amendment (this includes an authorization holder, a change approval holder, an applicant for an authorization or change approval, a riparian owner, and a land owner), it does not require that notification be given to other people in the watershed. Wider notice should be given as certain projects could impact other people’s drinking water, for example.

    The legislation definitely does not meet the requirement for respecting a community’s right to say “no” to projects that abuse or pollute water. In fact, it outlines the water licencees right to expropriate land which is “reasonably required for the construction, maintenance, improvement or operation of works authorized or necessarily required under the licence.” Furthermore, the act says that the ‘decision maker’ will decide when an hearing is warranted, which is insufficient as there should be situations that automatically trigger a public comment period/hearing process. In Ontario, any permit to take water is posted publically and open for comment for 60 days – ideally BC would have similar process. The act also fails to include a stipulation on incorporating community input as to whether a mitigation plan is adequate or not.

    Demand #5: Include strict pollution controls, strong conservation regulations and stringent monitoring

    According to Sheila Muxlow, Director of The Water Wealth Project, “We are pleased to see that B.C. will finally regulate the use of groundwater and recognize that sufficient environmental flows are essential to the well-being of communities throughout the province. However, this Act is still only a broad framework and the government has decided to defer many of the details to future regulations. It is critical that BC residents stay engaged in the process to ensure that the legislation has some teeth and isn’t another false dawn”.

    Though in some ways the new act is moving in the right direction, there is significant concern that the government lacks the resources and internal capacity to implement and enforce its regulations and monitoring. For example, the new act mentions that the government could rely on industry information to “determine the environmental flow needs of the stream”. Seems like the fox watching the hen house! The government really should be doing their own assessments in the first place and not asking industry for this info as they have a vested interest in having the licence issued.

    There are also some industries whose use of water are not compatible with the wellbeing of local communities and the health of the watersheds. In 2013, more than seven billion litres of water were used for fracking in B.C. If the government’s liquefied natural gas sector takes off, the water needed to get shale gas out of the ground in the northeast corner of the province will likely increase by 500 per cent, or more. When it comes to industries like fracking and LNG, one can’t help but be skeptical that this new water act will fail to result in any meaningful changes on the ground! Water used for fracking is currently sourced from both surface and groundwater. While the government is committing to regulating groundwater use and the act would require that environmental flows be considered by decision-makers before authorizing water use, is the government willing to put the breaks on runaway fracking development, undertake cumulative impact assessments, and limit water use to this industry in order to protect the environment, ensure clean drinking water for communities and respect First Nations rights and title? Will the government require fracking companies to disclose all the chemicals they are going to use for a fracking project in order to be issued a water license? (hint, the answer is likely no…)

    Demand #6: Charge industry proper fees for their use of raw and municipal water takings

    Many critics are concerned that the new legislation won’t charge enough to large scale water users (like Nestle or the fracking companies). There is concern that the government, in wanting to please big industrial users, will not charge the appropriate fees so that it can actually afford to enforce the law and protect our waters. It is absolutely essential that the government reform the pricing of industrial water use in B.C. to ensure that large corporations like Nestle, Encana, and Apache are no longer taking us for a ride and that water is being used sustainably.

    In the Pricing BC’s Water document the government outlines certain principles such as simplicity, fairness and equity, etc. These are good but pricing alone should not be how water is allocated or managed. Water allocation must be based on the principles that water is a commons, public trust and human right.

    Demand #7: Ensure a process to revoke permits where industries are polluting or abusing water.

    The new act will allow the province to limit water use if a significant water shortage is declared. That means all users could face potential curtailment during periods of scarcity. Under the proposed law, critical environmental flows will have priority over licensed rights on streams and connected groundwater users, meaning that companies such as Nestlé (Nestlé Waters Canada will draw an estimated 300 million litres of groundwater for its bottling plant in Hope this year) could see the taps turned off in some circumstances.

    However, the province has not clearly spelled out who and what gets precedence in a drought situation (or other situations of scarcity). And unfortunately that leaves too much up to the discretion of government regulators, who have shown on many an occasion that when it comes to competing water needs, Industry wins at the expense of the environment and local communities! Whether it is fracking companies who are able to withdraw large volumes of water from the Peace River while farmers fields go dry, or it is the provincial governments steadfast support for destructive projects such as the Site C Dam and Tsaseko’s New Prosperity Mine proposal (which would have destroyed Fish Lake as well as impacted the health of several major rivers), the BC government has prioritized corporate profit over the wellbeing of our watersheds time and time again. Furthermore, Nestlé Canada, in its submission last November, argued that its bottled-water production “should be considered an essential human-need function during times of drought.”

    Instead of engaging a more precautionary approach to protecting our water that would have regulators looking at some of the root causes of water scarcity, pollution and abuse, the new act simply creates a more reactive approach where we have to be pushed into a time a crisis before we can trigger these laws to protect our water!

  14. Robert Smits

    What you don’t talk about are the onerous fees about to be charged to domestic well owners $100 to $150 simply to register and $25 a year thereafter. Since there are no new guarantees to protect well owners from late comers drilling new wells, why should we encourage domestic well owners registering.

    If domestic users are supposed to be exempt from licensing, why is this even on the list?

    Second, you have to recognize that all water use is linked together, and we need to deal with water consumption on a regional (across reg dist boundaries), not a municipal or reg dist by itself.

  15. Kathie Woodley

    I am very pleased that the government of BC is moving forward to modernize BC’s Water Act. The prosperity and health of our communities is dependent on quality and availability of water. It is good that the public is being given the opportunity to comment on the proposed Water Sustainability Act (WSA). However, the timeline is much too short to provide for the thoughtful consideration that the WSA deserves. I would urge you to extend and expand the public comment period.
    My primary concerns are as follows:
    Ground and surface water must be protected as a public trust, with ecosystem needs and public good placed above commercial interests. Consideration must be given to the level of water use that is sustainable and best serves the public interest.
    With the projected impacts of climate change, including drought and groundwater shortages, the health of underground aquifers must be considered. Unsustainable water use must not be locked in by new regulations. As water expert Trevor Wicks of Trentec Innovations points out, “We have to define our watersheds and groundwater ‘recharge’ or catchment areas and protect them.”
    It is imperative that BC move away from the controversial “First in Time, First in Right” (FITFER) system of allocation. FITFER limits the effectiveness of local planning and local stewardship of watersheds. Environmental flows, drinking water, agriculture or other publicly supported water uses must be given priority. The changes proposed in the WSA will enhance the rights of existing well users, locking in unsustainable water use without considering its best use.
    Specifically on the pricing of water, my comments are as follows:
    In a recent poll funded by the Real Estate Board and the Vancouver Foundation, 93% of British Columbians rate water as our most important resource. It is vital that the price charged by the government reflects its importance to the environment, the public, and industry. Pricing should promote conservation, as well as new practices and technologies that will enable more efficient use of this precious resource. The rates must be high enough to matter.
    The current pricing for water is very low – pricing must signal that there is a cost to using water. This is a timely opportunity to ensure that water pricing reflects any pollution or degradation that occurs in its use. The renewable short-term approvals that are being given to the oil and gas industry are one area that must be examined much more closely. Pricing here must reflect what is happening to the water that is being used.
    As Ben Parfitt of the Centre for Policy Alternatives has pointed out, “In a province where climate change is contributing to regional droughts and seasonal water shortages, we need to know who is using our water where, and that a high enough price is charged to encourage conservation. “
    Water that is being removed from a watershed must also be priced at a higher rate. This water may not return for a significant time, imposing costs on future generations.
    Of course, there will be increased costs to implement the new Act, with many more functions to regulate, including administration, conflict resolution, monitoring, determining environmental flow needs, enforcement, and sustainability plans. Our water pricing must generate funds to make sure the Act works to protect and sustain our water resources.
    There must be transparent plans for timely reviews of water rates as our level of understanding increases. While there should be no exemptions given for the use of this most precious resource, impacts on low-income households must be considered.
    And finally, the most important principle to be considered should be the importance of water for nature. If we do not protect and conserve our ecosystems, we will be left with nothing.

  16. Steve Metzger

    The information is not presented clearly and simply enough to enable a small household domestic user with a well to determine just what this means. Obviously we need to protect our water (something this government has not been prepared to do because of industrial needs in the Northeast), but small volume domestic users should be excluded from these regulations – especially in the area of pricing. Rural people who live where there is no access to piped water have wells out of necessity. We already pay taxes to even though we gain very few of the benefits from taxes as do city dwellers, and to charge small volume users for a necessity of life would be outrageous. Hit the big users hard and leave the folks who are just trying to live their simple lives alone.

    1. Living Water Smart Team

      Thank you for your comments Steve.
      To clarify, under the proposed new Water Sustainability Act there are no plans to license or charge individual domestic groundwater users. In other words wells serving an individual household would not be licensed or subject to annual fees. However, when the new Act is implemented, existing domestic groundwater users will be encouraged to self-identify so their water use can be considered in decision-making.

  17. Eddie Gardner

    Water is not a commodity and should not be sold. We need to protect our water for future generations so everyone can have access to clean water in their homes. Bottles water is such a waste as they are put into plastic bottles that require more demand for fossil fuels, and extraction of fossil fuels is causing global heating.

  18. John Dressler

    Pricing B.C.’s water must be based on fairness above all else. Industrial water users must be required to pay the same rate as users who require water for domestic use. The notion of a “principled rate structure” which is far less than domestic users pay is unprincipled and unfair. Water availability must be priorized to fulfill ecosystem and domestic needs before the demands of agriculture and industry are considered. Industry must be encouraged to become responsible and watchful water users.

  19. Wayne

    Water for agriculture and food production has to be of the highest priority and have the lowest charges possible, if any. Water that is stored and used for conservation should result in an Environmental Goods and Services payment. Water used for agriculture is usually non-consumptive in that if the water goes through a cow or is used for irrigation it is filtered through the soil and winds up back in the system to eventually be reused.
    I also beleive that water that is used for fracking purposes should have a charge that is at least 10 times higher than any other industrial use. Water that is used for fracking is usually forever lost once it is mixed into a chemical soup and injected deep undergound to help force oil and gas to the surface. According to OilPrice.com each fracking well uses between 2 and 6 million gallons of clean fresh water, and in 2012 fracking consumed about 72 Billion gallons of fresh water in North America.

  20. CC

    Re “Pricing BC’s Water”, the Province needs to ensure that that revenues from a new water pricing structure are used for the administration of the Water Sustainability Act only and not flowed into general revenues. Administration of the new Act and it’s supporting regulations will come at a high cost to the Province so it would be reasonable to fund this process from new revenues generated from existing surface water and proposed new ground water application fees and rentals.

  21. Andrew Murray

    Price BC water more in line with the province of Quebec’s water rates. In the Act recognize water as a human right as is under the UN Charter. Recognize the rights of First Nations within the Act. Economic interests should not trump the long term interests of this Province’s citizens.

    Andrew Murray
    New West

  22. Linda Delli Santi on behalf of the BC Greenhouse Growers' Association

    April 8, 2014

    Dear Minister:

    Re: Comments on the “Pricing of B.C.’s Water”

    This posting is to provide comment by the BC Greenhouse Growers’ Association (BCGGA) on the “Pricing of B.C.’s Water”.

    The BCGGA represents greenhouse vegetable growers in British Columbia (BC). Our members produce 125 million kilograms of vegetables on 295 hectares, which represents about 0.01% of BC’s total farmland. The farm gate value of our produce is $300 million and the estimated value of our sector to the BC economy is $600 million. We employ more than 3,500 people.

    The mix of greenhouse vegetables we grow includes beefsteak tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine, sweet bell peppers, long English cucumbers, specialty cucumbers, specialty peppers, lettuce and eggplant. In order for us to produce this secure, local supply of nutritious vegetables for BC consumers, we need access to affordable water to grow our crops. Affordable water is needed for us to remain competitive with non-BC grown food. With this in mind, we offer the following comments on the “Pricing of B.C.’s Water”.

    Agriculture water pricing should be for licencing only
    Water pricing should only cover the actual costs of efficient management for monitoring and enforcement of WSA.

    Agriculture water pricing should not be used to drive efficiency
    Greenhouse vegetable growers are already leaders in efficient water use practices. One practice is to use drip irrigation systems that deliver a set amount of water to the crop roots only when the plant needs the water. Another practice is to re-use the irrigation water. This involves capturing water not used by the plant which has drained out of the grow bags. The captured water is stored in large tanks and mixed with fresh water to reduce the salt content before it is reapplied to the crop.

    Such practices cost money when growers purchase drip irrigation systems, water storage tanks, gutters for water collection as well as pasteurization systems to treat the recirculated water and ensure it does not carry pathogens. Even though greenhouse vegetable growers are very efficient water users, we still require large volumes of water to grow our crops. We feel we should not be penalized for our conservation efforts with high water prices because we use large volumes of water.

    Existing wells should be exempt from licensing costs
    Some greenhouse vegetable growers secure their water from wells. To access this water they paid the costs to drill the well and put the necessary infrastructure in place. Their business plans did not include having to also pay for the water. Therefore we propose that existing wells should be exempt from licensing costs.

    We thank you for this opportunity to comment on the “Pricing of B.C.’s Water”. We sincerely hope that the social benefits of having a BC-grown, safe, secure and nutritious food supply will be taken into consideration when setting water prices for agricultural producers including the greenhouse vegetable sector.

    Yours truly,
    Linda Delli Santi
    Executive Director, BC Greenhouse Growers’ Association

  23. water drinker

    Water is a human right – not a commercial resource sold to foreign companies. The language of your discussion paper suggests that the BC government agrees with corporations that would love to export our drinking water. Enshrine the human right to water in your legislation.

    Price the water high enough that it covers the cost to both administer the Act and cove the cost of the program to manage AND protect the province’s water resources in a sustainable manner. At 85 cents a megaletre, Nestle would pay a token $285 per year to drain the Hope Aquifer.

    If a region or an area requires special water management, due to some known or potential issues (e.g., Saturna Island, Langley, etc.), it may require a surcharge, on top of the “normal rate”, to encourage sustainable behaviour. A tool like a “surcharge rate” could be managed at the local gov’t level – which could help offset their costs.

    Water used by fracking operations becomes permanently contaminated and unavailable. Why would we want to give it away through renewable permits and pollute our ground water?

  24. Nelson Jatel

    08 April 2014

    Honourable Mary Polak
    Minister of Environment
    PO Box 9047, STN Prov. Govt
    Victoria, BC, V8W 9E2

    Re: Pricing B.C.’s water: applying the made-in BC Water Use Reporting system
    – a new service delivery model.

    Dear Minister Polak,

    The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) believes that the Water Sustainability Act is progressive legislation that goes far to modernize water governance in British Columbia. An important question arises, how may the province support a legacy of sustainable water management and improve water management services to British Columbians, while at the same time updating water pricing policies? The current rent collection process is broken – notably water resource rent collection is disconnected from water-use information management. Building on the MOE’s noted water pricing principles, the OBWB recommends managing water resource rent collection and water-use reporting through one system; supporting sustainable integrated water management and improving water services to British Columbians.

    Water is a valued resource by all B.C. In addition to the principles laid out in the March 2014 document, Pricing B.C.’s Water, we propose three more important principles:

    1. Transparent
    We underline the importance of transparency by governments in the extraction and licensing of water and the need to enhance public financial management and accountability. Transparency in water extractions (i.e., water use reporting) will make scrutiny of water resource revenue easier. Transparency ensures that revenues are fair, collected in a timely manner and enables auditing of both the resource rent collection and the use of water – a critical component to improving integrated watershed management in B.C.

    2. Enforceable
    British Columbian’s expect to have access to safe, clean drinking water. It is an important health and safety issue. Investing in the enforcement of water licenses, so that there is a standard means to judge whether the license holder is demonstrating beneficial use at appropriate volumes, is an important aspect to good water management. In order to manage for resilience to water shortages and changing demands, we need adequate enforcement and feedback of monitoring results to promote information flow, build local capacity, and support delegated control at relevant scales.

    3. Flexible
    Different water license holders (i.e. agriculture and water utilities) have different needs and water management service requirements. As such, water resource rents and associated changes to water rents should be customized and consider user needs and service levels to ensure equity and fairness of license pricing schedules for different license holder groups. An effective more flexible approach to water pricing policy in British Columbia will reduce non-compliance of water use reporting and positively impact the effectiveness of water governance throughout the province.

    Water-use reporting is about more than meeting regulations. The more often licence holders report, the more accurate our data is, and the more responsive we can be to annual water variability. A number of water professionals recognize that the development of a new water rent collection and water use reporting system will improve water services and management to British Columbians – above and beyond the benefits of generating revenue for water management needs.

    Today, many agencies – for example Canadian Revenue Agency and the British Columbia e-payments for Oil & Gas tenure – combine online reporting and payment collection. These services are efficient, support spot audit checks and enforcement, and are a stark contrast to the current practice, which involves significant amounts of paper-based management. Currently, water rental reports are mailed or faxed and then manually entered into a database – a practice that is outdated. To make matters worse, essential information on water-use is not made available for water management in watersheds. We can do better.

    The OBWB recommends that the province build on the identified water pricing principles and ensure that appropriate governance structures are developed to improve water resource rent management and increased levels of water data services. Thank you for your leadership in introducing Bill 18 and we looking forward to working with you. Please feel free to contact Nelson Jatel, Water Stewardship Director at (250) 469.6295 or nelson.jatel@obwb.ca with any questions.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Findlater
    Chair, Okanagan Basin Water Board

  25. Don Dobson

    I have reviewed the document Pricing British Columbia’s Water and agree with the proposed principles that inform water pricing. As the government is aware if the province is going to be able to implement the proposed Water Sustainability Act and the associated Regulations it will need significantly more resources than are currently budgeted for water licensing and water management. It has been stated that the current revenue from water fees and rentals for other than BC Hydro et al do not cover the administrative costs. As the water pricing document states the reality is that we pay virtually nothing for our water. The majority of BC residents receive their water from municipal systems where the price they pay for the water is reportedly $1/year. What they pay for in their utility bill is the cost of treatment and delivery. It is time we started paying the real cost for the water.
    The basis for the consideration of a new pricing strategy for water should be the services provided. The proposed Act provides for the delivery of a wide range of new services including licensing groundwater to water sustainability planning. In order for the province to be able to effectively deliver all the proposed services will require a significant increase in both staff and financial resources. The province has adopted a user-pay policy for services in many areas and that should include the services for managing its most valuable resource – water.
    Developing a process for pricing water that is fair and equitable is a difficult task. There are numerous examples of procedures used around the world available for review but there does not appear to be a single perfect system. The province has presented a worthy set of guiding principles in its Pricing British Columbia’s Water document that is a start. The next step is to estimate the true costs to deliver the services set out in the Act and subsequent Regulations that for the most part is an internal exercise since future costs may best be estimated using current “real” costs for existing service delivery that only ministry staff may know.
    The future management of BC’s water can only be sustainable if adequate revenues are generated to deliver effective and efficient services and fund the costs of improved data collection, planning and research that will be required with our changing climate and demands.

  26. Richard Wright

    Water Pricing Forum

    Dear Mary Polak and delegation,

    Pricing B.C.’s Water, government website, March 2014, pg. 3, “British Columbian’s clearly value their water as a social, cultural, and economic good, and support sustainable management of this public resource.” An “economic good”, a “public resource”, I’m not so sure these are the concepts people are using. Costs of stewardship is one thing, profiting is a different ball game.

    Unlike oil or gas or iron ore, water is a natural right inseperable from life itself. I would be careful when applying the words “current prices”, “fees”, “rentals”, “increased fees”, to something as basic as life itself. This is water we’re talking about.

    My concerns fall more into another category of water pricing, particularly when you see it grouped together with the words “water rights”, “water, the new oil”, and “water pricing.”

    In Yuma, Arizona, one individual owned a “neighbourhood water company” servicing a small population of just over fifty households. [1] He had it up for sale. In Florida, another person “owned 65 acres surrounding [a] spring that she was looking to develop. In 1998, [she] received a permit to bottle water from Madison Blue. She never used the permit. In October 2000, she sold 38 acres to the state. The spring, which bubbles up to a limestone basin on the west bank of the Withlacoochee River, became Madison Blue Springs State Park. Months later she sold 2 acres of her land and her water-bottling permit to Blue Springs LLC, owned by Bill Blanchard of Tampa. He in turn negotiated to sell the land to Nestle.” [2]

    There are many people in the United States that would sorely like to turn back the clock on this legacy. These are exactly the sort of developements we don’t want to see in Canada or arriving at our doorstep.

    REFERENCES:

    [1] Hillary Davis, Neighbourhood almost loses water service over dispute, Yuma Sun. June 13, 2013, online version

    [2] Ivan Penn, The profits on water are huge, but the raw material is free, Tampa Bay Times, March 15, 2008, online version

    Richard

    Richard Wright
    6900 Egmont St.
    Powell River, British Columbia
    V8A 1T5

    604-485-7338

    April 8, 2014

  27. Wendy Bales

    I am not sure that there is much point in another blog message and but will make a short one. Based on the direction of the current government, I think that the new Act has failed in prioritizing water over industries like fracking that have depleted and polluted water sources in many areas and has been banned in a growing number of places . There are too many easy ways around effective regulating, to realistically protect water. The Water Act needs to prevail over the Mines Act and gas and oil. Changes in protective water management in permits should not be allowed at the discretion of one Chief inspectors of mines, or of gas and oil. There needs to be local input into management.

    Before the currently planned gold rush to approve resource extractions permits whether short or long term, there should at the very least be proper water studies by professionals independent from any stake in the outcome other than sustainable balance for all, with nature as part of the priority.

    Water for drinking should be managed as a human and natures right and not be commercialized for profit. Commercial water bottling is not a good use of dwindling cheap resources other than for humanitarian emergencies where water can’t be filtered or purified.

    Realistic study and management mechanisms need to first be in place to assure water sources are not over allocated.

  28. Coral Brown Secretary to the Lower Nipit Improvement District of Twin Lakes in the S Okanagan

    We agree completely with Shawn Brown’s (not a relative) post of March 30 and many of the other comments, but would like to add that there are areas where Rural BC residents have their own private water wells and this does not seem to have been addressed – domestic private wells may require monitoring but should not be a part of a water charge since they have paid for their wells and pay for the power to pump their water themselves.
    The water act must recognize protection of an aquifer and when it is already over allocated…there is a limit. There must also be protection for watersheds.

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