WATER MANAGEMENT IN BRITISH COLUMBIA

California’s Oranges and B.C.’s Apples? Lessons for B.C. from California Groundwater Reform  was released in June by the Water Sustainability project of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria. Regulations under the 2014 Water Sustainability Act are currently under development. This report looks to the legislation in drought-wracked California., and based on that analysis, argues that there is an urgent need to begin piloting groundwater sustainability plans in critical watersheds in B.C.. It also recommends clear performance standards, timelines, and accountability for local decision-making bodies to ensure successful watershed or aquifer plans; and points to the importance of shared responsibility between senior government and local decision-makers.

Controversial New Water Legislation Introduced in B.C.

The B.C. Government introduced Bill 18, the Water Sustainability Act, on March 11th. It updates the current legislation passed in 1909, and “will bring groundwater into the licensing system, and will expand government’s ability to protect fish and aquatic environments “. See http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/ for the legislation and all supporting documents.

In a November 2013 posting during the lengthy consultation phase, the government had outlined how the proposed changes would impact oil and gas development, including a pledge that “in completing the new Act we are looking closely at the Oil and Gas Activities Act and the Environmental Management Act to ensure that surface and groundwater are protected during hydraulic fracturing operations” (see http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/2013/11/14/blog-post-6-water-and-oil-gas-development/). Yet on March 19, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of B.C. went before the Supreme Court of B.C., alleging that Encana has systematically avoided the current water licensing regulations by applying to the provincial Oil and Gas Commission for repeated “short term” water permits for fracking (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/encana-s-water-permits-for-b-c-fracking-illegal-lawsuit-alleges-1.2578788).

The aspect of pricing commercial and industrial water use has been deferred by a period of further consultations; see the consultation paper, Pricing B.C.’s Water, at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/files/2014/03/Pricing-B.C.s-Water.pdf. Public comments will be accepted until April 8th.