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Less than 25% of users have applied for groundwater licence as B.C.’s deadline nears

Those without a licence could face fines, penalties and lose water rights
The province of B.C. is requiring irrigators, industries, waterworks and others who use groundwater from a well or dugout for non-domestic use to apply for a water license by March of 2022. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman)

The deadline is approaching for groundwater licences in B.C., and less than one-quarter of estimated users have applied as of the end of November.

To date, there have been 4243 applications submitted, according to a spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD). That’s less than one-quarter of estimated users.

“We estimate that there are approximately 20,000 wells that require licensing,” said the Ministry spokesperson in an email to the Townsman. “We are still in the process of finalizing our estimates on regional numbers for groundwater users.”

Those using groundwater for irrigation or commercial purposes must register their water via a groundwater licence by March 1, 2022, or face penalties and fees. Domestic groundwater use is exempt from licensing.

The province of B.C. is requiring irrigators, industries, waterworks and others who use groundwater from a well or dugout for non-domestic use to apply for a water licence.

The requirement was brought in by the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) on February 29, 2016.

A licence is not required for domestic users. This includes water for household use by the occupants of a private dwelling, fire prevention, private lawn and garden watering (up to 1,000 square metres) and domestic animals, says the WSA. However, it is encouraged that domestic wells are registered to the provincial database in order to track use and protect water rights.

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

Those who don’t apply for licencing will “be committing an offence under the WSA” if they continue to use water without a licence. They’ll face penalties, fines, and could be ordered to cease using the water.

The WSA explains that the reasoning behind the licencing is to ensure a fair and transparent mechanism is in place for determining who uses water.

The licence is tied to the land, giving users a right to a specific volume of water. It also provides protection from new users and future developments, provides a fair system for managing use in times of water scarcity, and enhances property value, according to the province’s fact sheet.

There is a one-time application fee of a minimum of $250, which is waived for existing users who apply by the deadline.

Those who do not apply by the deadline will be considered a new applicant, and the application could be refused if there is not enough water. For those who apply by the March 1 deadline, the government will consider when you first used the water to establish a ‘fist-in-time, first-in-right’ priority date. This gives your water use precedence over newer users when they apply, and during times of scarcity.

Those applying will need to gather information on their well, property and water use. This includes, but is not limited to, the Parcel ID number, well pump tests, estimated water use, purpose for which the water is used, property boundaries and so-forth.

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