Today’s environmental share is an action alert from the Wilderness Committee:
Have your say on BC’s new Water Sustainability Act!
Did you know that British Columbia is updating its 104-year-old Water Act?
This is good news – or has the potential to be good news – if we get it right.
On October 18th, the BC Government released the legislative proposal for the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) for BC. The new Act is scheduled to be introduced in the spring of 2014. The WSA will regulate groundwater use and contains important goals, including addressing water scarcity, providing for environmental flows and increasing public participation. But unfortunately, as it stands now it does not contain the tools or language required to meet these goals.
This is where you come in.
The public has until November 15, 2013 to provide comment on this essential legislative proposal, and to request changes that will make the new Water Sustainability Act meaningful.
This is a golden opportunity. We have the ability to create new freshwater legislation in BC, and we could lead the nation in developing a smart, modern Act that recognizes freshwater as a public good and provides for real protection of this precious resource.
The BC government has been heavily criticized for taking so long to update its antiquated Water Act. BC is still one of the only jurisdictions in North America that doesn’t regulate groundwater – which allowed Nestlé, one of the largest corporations in the world, to extract 265 million litres of ground water annually from an aquifer in the Fraser Valley for free. Astoundingly, Nestlé was not even required to measure or report the amount of water it used.
The criticism didn’t stop there. Last week the Wilderness Committee revealed that oil and gas corporations, which use a huge amount of freshwater for fracking, were paying the provincial government just $2.20 for the equivalent of 132 truckloads of water.
It is high time we properly protected freshwater in BC. Let’s make sure that we do it right when we update our Water Act.
Some of the most important things the BC government can do in the proposed Water Sustainability Act are to:
- enact strong legal protection of “environmental flows,” (the flows that are critical to healthy functioning rivers and water bodies),
- ensure water remains protected as a public good,
- provide for meaningful public participation in decisions on water governance, and
- ensure that water pricing for commercial use reflects the inherent value of freshwater to British Columbians.
We need you to chime in on the government’s new plans in order to make sure BC leads the nation in protecting freshwater.
Until next time,
Gwen Barlee | Policy Director
Photo: Hellroaring Creek, BC (Paul Morgan)
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This is the content of the letter that I sent through the Wilderness Committee website:
The most important things the BC government can do in the proposed Water Sustainability Act would be to:
- enact strong legal protection of “environmental flows,” the flows that are critical to healthy functioning rivers and water bodies
- ensure water remains protected as a public good,
- provide for meaningful public participation in decisions regarding water governance approaches,
- define environmental flows and essential household needs as a “beneficial use, ” rather than the narrow and private-use oriented definition currently proposed,
- ensure that water pricing for commercial use reflects the inherent value of freshwater to British Columbians; fees should be set high enough to fund a comprehensive approach to fresh water management in BC,
- include a public trust doctrine which ensures that any private rights granted under water licences are subject to be managed in the interest of present and future generations,
- ensure that no industry is exempt from the WSA – particularly with regard to the oil and gas, and timber industries, and
- ensure that the WSA, especially environmental flow provisions, applies to existing water licences – not just new licences.
Water is BC’s most important natural resource. Given the pressures of a growing population, changing climate and expanding development pressures, steps must be taken to ensure that BC’s use of freshwater is sustainable. A new WSA must ensure that private rights to water do not take precedence over this the sustainable management of this public resource.
Thank you for taking the time to carefully consider these valid and important points which I strongly agree will improve the sustainability of our amazing water resource in British Columbia.
The following is a more detailed list prepared by the Wilderness Committee regarding this issue:
Detailed Comments on the BC Water Sustainability Act Proposal
The Wilderness Committee has assessed the BC government’s legislative proposal for the new Water Sustainability Act, which is open for public comment until November 15, 2013.
See below for a detailed list of our comments related to various aspects of the proposal.
Protection of environmental flows:
- Environmental flows are critical to healthy rivers and watersheds. The WSA must specifically set aside an “ecological reserve” of water that is not available for any other use than the conservation and maintenance of fish habitat and the preservation of the natural ecosystem;
- The WSA must define environmental flows and abide by a scientifically defensible method of determining these flows;
- The protection of environmental flows must be a clear requirement of all licensees and a central part of all water allocation decision, including licence reviews;
- Environmental flows must be included as a “purpose” in all water licences.
- Any advisory committee created under the WSA should have public representation, and the proceedings and recommendations of these committees should be made public;
- Licence reviews, setting of water objectives, creation of area-based regulation and water efficiency standards must include public consultation;
- Applications for new water licences should be made public and members of the public should be allowed to object to water licences or appeal licences to the Environmental Appeal Board (with leave);
- Delegation of decision-making authority to persons outside of the provincial government should be limited to local government officials, First Nations representatives or an established local watershed council, and any decisions may only be exercised after appropriate public notice and comments.
- Provisions must be enshrined in the WSA to protect the “public interest;”
- The WSA must recognize the crucial public interest role for government to manage freshwater and affirm that licences are only temporary rights to use the resource and are not permanent or property rights;
- Water in all its forms is owned as a public resource and must be sustainably managed for the benefit of the public. Private rights to water must be limited, temporary and subject to conditions that protect the public interest.
- Fees must meet administrative costs but also provide enough resources for robust water management and governance-related activities;
- The WSA must ensure that collected fees go to a designated freshwater management fund rather than general revenues;
- The price of water should reflect the inherent value of freshwater to British Columbians.
Public Trust Doctrine:
- Water is BC’s most important natural resource. Given the pressures of a growing population, changing climate and expanding development pressures, steps must be taken to ensure that BC’s use of freshwater is sustainable. A new WSA must ensure that private rights to water do not take precedence over this the sustainable management of this public resource;
- Any private water rights established under licences issued or approvals given should be sustainably managed in the interest of present and future generations.
- Beneficial use is currently too narrowly focused on private use. The WSA must define beneficial use to encompass a broader set of community, social and environmental benefits so licence holders understand they are stewarding a public resource and not gaining a property right;
- The WSA must, at a minimum, define environmental flows and essential household needs as being prerequisites to beneficial use;
- In addition, the aforementioned values must be included in allocation decisions, licence reviews and other key government decisions.
First in Time, First in Rights (FITFIR):
- The WSA must create a progressive water allocation system that recognizes rivers, lakes, wetland and groundwater as “legitimate priority users,” move beyond a prior allocation (First in Time, First in Right) system and codify a system based on the principle of equitable sharing amongst all identified water users.
Water Licence Reviews:
- The WSA should ensure that water licences are reviewed in a shorter timeframe than currently proposed. A tiered process should be used: within the next five years, licences 50 years and older should be reviewed; within the next 10 years water licences 30 years and older should be reviewed, and all other existing and new licences should be reviewed 20 years from their priority or issuance date.
- The WSA must apply to all commercial freshwater uses in the province including the oil and gas, and timber industries.
- A WSA needs to require legally binding watershed plans, developed at the local level with public consultation in accordance with strong provincial standards, to address threat to water quality and quantity, and ecosystem protection;
- Licences must be subject to legally enforceable Water Objectives;
- The Act must require ongoing public engagement in monitoring, implementation and updating of watershed plans.
- Current groundwater users should not receive final licences, or those licences should be fully reviewable, until at least five years of monitoring data for the aquifer obtained under the new monitoring requirements is available and any constitutional requirement to consult First Nations regarding specific licences be addressed;
- Licences must ensure that the use of the aquifer does not exceed recharge rates and does not negatively impact the health of the aquifer or nearby streams;
- If current water withdrawal levels are not sustainable, licences must be adjusted to ensure that the water use rates are sustainable and do not negatively impact the health of nearby streams;
- The rights of domestic well owners to the continued flow of water in their wells, as against licenced well owners, should be protected and clarified.
- Updated B.C. water act means large-scale users like Nestle will have to pay (vancouversun.com)
- 104-year-old act governing B.C.s water supply will be updated, environment minister vows (theprovince.com)
- Water prices a fracking big deal (theprovince.com)
- B.C. government proposes making water-bottling companies pay for groundwater: 85 cents per 1,000 cubic metres (theprovince.com)
- Lax regulations allows Nestlé free B.C. water to sell back to consumers (globalnews.ca)