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BCGWA urges B.C. to prioritize groundwater licensing


October 5, 2020
By Ground Water Canada

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Abbotsford, B.C. – The British Columbia Ground Water Association has written an open letter to the province’s political parties urging them to make groundwater licensing a policy and operational priority for the upcoming election and for the next government.

Groundwater licensing has been a focal point of many BCGWA discussions, general manager Dave Mercer PGeo, in an open letter to the NDP, Liberal and Green parties on Oct. 1. Copies were also sent to the three legislative members who discussed groundwater licensing on the floor on July 30, 2020.

The letter, entitled “Groundwater Licensing Must Be a Policy and Operational Priority in BC,” reads in part:

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The British Columbia Ground Water Association (BCGWA) is dedicated to the protection, promotion and responsible development of groundwater resources in BC. We work closely with FLNRORD and ENV to advance the interests of those engaged in the groundwater industry for their own and public interest.

We are writing on behalf of our members, as well as the public, to express our concerns with respect to groundwater licensing in BC. In particular, we are concerned by:

  • a continuing lack of licensing applications from existing groundwater users, and
  • unacceptable delays in processing of licence applications that are submitted.

We feel strongly that groundwater licensing needs to be a focus of the upcoming election, and a policy and operational priority moving forward. Simply maintaining the status quo is insufficient and puts the entire licensing program at risk.

Our concern regarding the issue of bringing existing groundwater users into the licensing system was outlined in our letter to the Honourable Doug Donaldson and Honourable George Heyman dated November 21, 2018. In that letter we requested an extension to the deadline for existing users as only about 10 – 15% of the expected applications in BC had been received. We also recommended that the government plan and implement a more vigorous communication strategy to accompany a deadline extension.

. . .

Our second concern is the length of time required to process groundwater licence applications. Processing times of over one year are the norm, and our experience is that two years is not uncommon. Our members work with industry and the public who are unanimous in their belief that these wait times are unacceptable. Businesses, especially new businesses, simply can not survive waiting potentially multiple years to be granted a licence and are being forced to break the law by going ahead with water extraction. As an example, expanding the agrifood sector has been identified as a priority for BC, yet farmers simply cannot survive a two-year gap between their decision to invest in developing groundwater supplies and being able to put that investment to work.

. . .

It is the opinion of the BCGWA that these current measures are not enough to ensure the successful implementation of groundwater licensing in BC. Increased resources need to be assigned to improve communication and outreach, streamline the application review process, and develop compliance enforcement. It is our observation that the public not only doesn’t understand the value of groundwater licensing, they consider it another government program that, like the gun registry, will go away if ignored. The public needs to be convinced of how licensing benefits everyone in BC and needs to understand that there are serious repercussions for not complying. We strongly recommend that groundwater licensing become a policy priority, both for the upcoming election and for the government that follows. As it stands now, the groundwater licensing program is at risk of failure, jeopardizing the Province’s ability to properly regulate groundwater use and to effectively manage water in times of scarcity.

The full letter is posted to the BCGWA website. | READ MORE

Mercer said the BCGWA plans to follow up with the new government as soon as cabinet ministers are announced to request a meeting to further discuss licensing.