British Columbia’s new Water Sustainability Act (WSA) establishes the broad legal framework for managing water in British Columbia. Much of the detail about how the general principles laid out in the WSA are to be applied will be provided in regulations. Due to the complexity of the WSA and the number of proposed regulations, government is taking a phased approach to implementation.

The Relationship Between an Act and a Regulation

An Act is a law that has been introduced in the Legislative Assembly as a Bill, has passed three readings and committee-study by the Legislative Assembly, and has received Royal Assent. Acts typically state legal requirements to advance the Act’s intent and objectives and establish the overall framework within which the government is expected to act.

A Regulation is “subordinate legislation” (made under the authority of an Act) that provides the details of how the general principles laid out in legislation are to be applied, and must remain inside the boundaries established by the Act.

Regulations that Came Into Force in 2016

The following regulations are associated with the WSA and came into force at the same time as the WSA.

  • Water Sustainability Regulation  – This regulation addresses the requirements to allocate both ground and surface water (e.g., application requirements) and identifies the requirements for using water or making changes to a stream in accordance with the regulation. This regulation replaces Parts 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 and Schedules C and D of the former Water Regulation under the old Water Act – which described the procedures related to the acquisition of a water right, the calculation and payment of water fees and rentals to government, and activities conducted within a stream or a stream channel.
  • Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff Regulation – This regulation specifies the water-related fees for all water uses, including water power. This regulation replaces Parts 3 and 4 and Schedules A and B of the former Water Regulation under the old Water Act.
  • Groundwater Protection Regulation – This regulation addresses protection of the groundwater resource and identifies requirements for the construction of wells. This regulation replaces the historic Ground Water Protection Regulation under the old Water Act, and sets out standards to safeguard and maintain the integrity and efficient use of groundwater and to ensure activities related to wells are undertaken in an environmentally safe manner.
  • Dam Safety Regulation – This regulation identifies what dams are regulated and the requirements which must be met by dam owners. This regulation replaces the former Dam Safety Regulation under the old Water Act.
  • Water District Regulation – This regulation establishes Water Districts administrative units used in licensing and management. It was a schedule in the former Water Regulation and is now a separate regulation under the WSA.
  • Violation Ticket and Fines Regulation (under the Offence Act) – This administrative regulation prescribes fines, victim surcharge levies and maximum amounts for violation tickets issued by enforcement officers for offences under a number of provincial statutes Government updated this regulation to align language with the Water Sustainability Act, to change fine amounts for some offences, and to introduce new offences identified in the WSA and its regulations.

Government also introduced ‘consequential amendments’ to other regulations under other legislation. These amendments ensure consistency between the WSA and these other regulations. Consequential changes to the other legislation were completed with the WSA Bill in 2014.

In general, the new WSA regulations:

  • maintain many elements of the historic Water Act regulations;
  • contain updated legal language;
  • include section references and terminology aligned with the WSA;
  • revise some historic policies; and
  • introduce new policies authorized by the WSA (e.g., groundwater licensing).

Regulation Development from 2016 Onwards

Now that work on regulations related to essential water management functions is completed, government will initiate work on other policies and regulatory components required to fully implement the Water Sustainability Act, including those related to:

  • Water Objectives
  • Water Sustainability Plans
  • Measuring and reporting
  • Licence reviews
  • Designated areas
  • Dedicated agricultural water; and
  • Alternative governance approaches.