The Water Sustainability Act will provide new tools to help ensure water stays healthy and secure for future generations of British Columbians. It will allow government to manage surface water and groundwater as one resource, provide water users with greater certainty regarding their water rights, and establish clear rules about managing water during times of scarcity. To support B.C.’s modernized water legislation a new fee and rental schedule for non- domestic users is being introduced. What does this mean for Farmers?

Beginning in early 2016, users of groundwater will require a water license and be required to pay water fees and rentals. The exception is that individual household wells throughout the province will not be licensed or charged. The new fee and rental rates will only recover the costs of implementing the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA), including groundwater regulation.

Existing groundwater users will have a three year window to apply for a license. Licenses will also be required for any newly constructed wells from 2016 onward, with the exception of wells used only for domestic purposes. Existing well owners that apply for a license in the first year will be exempted from application fees. Applications received from January of 2017 and onward will need to pay the additional application.

New Requirements for Groundwater Users

If you divert and use groundwater for non-domestic purposes, you must now obtain a water license and pay water fees and rentals. This change came into force with the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) on February 29, 2016.

Groundwater licensing establishes equity between stream water and groundwater users, and provides additional benefits.

If you are a groundwater user, licensing clarifies how much water you can legally use, and increases the security of your access to that water. Licensing establishes rights to groundwater based on the same priority scheme that currently exists for surface water, and will help to reduce conflicts between water users in times of scarcity.

Excluded Users

If you are a well owner and you use water for domestic purposes, you are exempt from licensing and paying provincial water fees and rentals. However, domestic groundwater users are deemed to have rights to the water they use for domestic purposes. Domestic groundwater users are encouraged to register their well. Registering your well creates a record of your water use and helps to ensure that your use is considered by the decision makers dealing with other license applications. Contact FrontCounter BC to determine if your well records already exists in the provincial database. If no record exists, complete a Well Registration Form and email it to or mail it to the address provided.

All users must use the water beneficially and comply with the regulations for protecting groundwater.

Groundwater Protection Regulation

The Groundwater Protection Regulation sets guidelines for constructing and maintaining wells in order to prevent contamination and waste of groundwater, and to make sure that well construction is safe for the environment.

Transitioning to Groundwater Licensing

The first three years of the WSA are a transition period to bring in approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users into the current water licensing scheme and its first-in-time, first-in-right (FITFIR) priority system. If you are an existing non-domestic groundwater user, you are encouraged to apply within the three-year transition period to maintain your date of precedence. If you submit your application on or before March 1, 2017, your application fees will be waived.

Date of precedence

Senior licensees are given priority over junior licensees when it comes to exercising their full rights to water. If you are an existing user and you apply for a water license during the first three years of the WSA (February 29, 2016 to March 1, 2019), you will be granted a date of precedence based on the date you began using groundwater, as determined by evidence submitted with the application. If you wait to apply until after March 1, 2019, you will be treated as a new applicant and given a junior priority date based on the date of your application.

Establishing Date of First Use

You will be asked to provide evidence of the date of first use in order to set the date of precedence. Evidence can include:

  • Records and invoices related to the construction of wells and other works
  • Environmental Assessment certificates
  • Well maintenance records
  • Photographs
  • Other corroborating information that would be recognized as evidence of historic use

Section 15 of the Water Sustainability Regulation provides the complete list of information and evidence required to support date of first use.

Application fees

If you apply for a license as an existing non-domestic groundwater user within the first 12 months of the WSA (on or before March 1, 2017), your water license application fees will be waived. After March 1, 2017, regular application fees apply. New applicants for non-domestic groundwater must pay application fees.

Water rentals

Annual water rental fees will accrue from when the WSA was brought into effect February 29, 2016 for existing non-domestic groundwater users. Rental fees for new non-domestic groundwater users apply from the date the license is issued.

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