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3 February 20223 minute read

Deadline fast approaching for existing users of groundwater in British Columbia to apply for license under the Water ‎Sustainability Act

The British Columbia Water Sustainability Act (the “WSA”) requires that all individuals and businesses currently diverting or using groundwater for non-domestic purposes apply for a water license on or before March 1, 2022. The continued diversion or use of water without a permit after that date may result in the imposition of significant fines.

The licensing scheme

The WSA is the primary legislation that manages the diversion and use of water in British Columbia. In 2016, amendments to the WSA established a water licensing scheme that creates a first-in-time, first-in-right (FITFIR) system for non-domestic groundwater users. When the licensing scheme was introduced, it provided a six-year transition period for existing groundwater users to apply for a license and maintain priority over new groundwater user applicants. The transition period ends on March 1, 2022 (the “Deadline”). Existing non-domestic groundwater users who apply on or before the Deadline can continue to use and divert groundwater, and remain in compliance with the WSA, pending the decision on their applications.

Who must obtain a license prior to March 1, 2022

The WSA requires all individuals and businesses to obtain a water license for groundwater diversion and use. However, if an individual or business began to use groundwater for non-domestic purposes such as irrigation, commercial or industrial use on or before February 29, 2016, they are classified as an existing non-domestic groundwater user and must apply for a water license on or before the Deadline. This means that if groundwater is being diverted and used for anything other than household purposes such as drinking, food preparation, sanitation, and irrigation of small gardens, a license must be obtained.

Consequences of not obtaining a groundwater license

The failure of an existing non-domestic groundwater user to apply for a license on or before the Deadline may result in that user being treated as a new applicant and there is no guarantee that they will subsequently be issued a license.  After the Deadline, priority for licences will be given to new applicants that applied earlier, even if their use and diversion of groundwater commences subsequent to the existing non-domestic user. Maintaining priority for a license is important because it impacts a user’s date of precedence. The date of precedence determines who may be allowed their full allocation of water during times of water scarcity or drought. Section 22 of the WSA provides authority to order the reduction or restriction of water diversion and use based on date of precedence.

Further, section 106(2) of the WSA provides for a number of offences, including diverting water from an underground source without lawful authority. A person who commits an offence under section 106(2) is liable on conviction of a fine of up to $200,000 and in the case of a continuing offence, a fine of up to $200,000 for every day that the offence is continued.

If you have questions about water licenses and compliance with WSA please contact us.