While the pricing of BC’s water has attracted lots of attention, another topic that has come up is the small groundwater user. While some people support the proposal, others have concerns about how the small user is protected. This post clarifies what’s being proposed and why. More information is available in Section 2.3.4 of the Legislative Proposal.
What is being proposed?
- Individual domestic users would generally be exempted from the requirement to obtain a licence and pay fees and rentals to use groundwater.
- Exemptions may be removed where an area-based regulation is put in place or Water Sustainability Plan has been developed, for example in areas of chronic water scarcity.
- Individual domestic groundwater users would be required to make beneficial use of the water and could also be regulated during times of scarcity.
Why take this approach?
- Of the estimated 98,000 groundwater wells in B.C., about 80,000 wells are for domestic use.
- Under the proposed new Act, about 18,000 wells would be subject to licence requirements.
- On a volume basis, municipal waterworks currently use the largest volume of groundwater in B.C. (2.5 million m3/day), followed by commercial/industrial (2.2 million m3/day), irrigation (1.1 million m3/day) and domestic uses (0.5 million m3/day).
- Households with a domestic well would be exempt from the requirement to obtain a licence and pay water fees and rentals. Individual domestic wells typically have a small environmental impact. Exempting the requirement will help ensure resources can be directed towards regulation of higher priority large- and medium-sized wells. Where the cumulative impact of individual domestic users is a concern, an area-based regulation can be developed.
How will my domestic groundwater supply be protected from larger users?
- If domestic users have registered their well in the provincial WELLS database, applicants for new water licences for groundwater extraction would be required to assess the impact of their proposed withdrawal and use on known exempted users.
- Currently, submission of well records is voluntary. Under the proposed Water Sustainability Act, submission of well records would be mandatory for all new wells (including exempted wells).
- Existing wells owners would be encouraged to self-identify so their use could be established and considered in future decision-making.
- Existing and new groundwater users, licensed or not, could be regulated during times of scarcity.
- The process for transitioning large users into the licensing system is still being developed. Existing users may have terms and conditions associated with their licence where there are known conflicts with exempted (individual domestic) users.
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