LiveSmart BC

The Water Sustainability Act Framework

New to the Water Act Modernization Discussion? Click here for background

In today’s post, Living Water Smart Team Member Ted White introduces the proposed Water Sustainability Act framework in greater detail. Your previous comments have helped shape this framework.

British Columbia is a geographically large area with a diverse hydrology and climate, and uneven population distribution.

As Ted discusses, the proposed Water Sustainability Act will have three levels of action for water management.  We’ll also go into each of the seven key policy areas that Ted has identified in greater detail in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, please keep your comments and questions coming! We’ll be keeping the conversation here on the Living Water Smart Blog focused on the WSA until February 21, 2010.

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31 comments to The Water Sustainability Act Framework

  • B. Allen

    If there a publicly available data base that reports on actual water useage in the Province of BC?

    • LWSEditor

      Thanks for your question.
      Environmental Reporting BC provides a central location for information on the environment in BC including water. Currently the data on actual water use is limited but will be expanded over time. Improving requirements for measuring and reporting water use is also an important part of BC’s Living Water Smart Plan and the proposed new Water Sustainability Act. The Oil and Gas Commission also publishes quarterly reports on water used by the oil and gas industry.

      You can also generate summaries of licensed water volumes based on various parameters (e.g., source, purpose, region) using a publically accessible web query tool. Although the licensed volume is not the same as actual use, it can provide a general indication of water use for comparison purposes.

  • Steve Henstra

    Wetlands are an essential component of water management, maintenance and regulation of water flows, storage, filtration, etc. However, in BC (and Canada) there is no specific legislation that affords their protection as does Section 404 of the US Clean Water Act.

    The importance of wetlands seems to be recognized in the WAM 2010 Policy Proposal document, which states that “In all areas of the province, province-wide measures will be implemented, including requirements for:… preserving and protecting wetlands.” (Page 7).

    It seems that in reviewing subsequent documents released during the Water Act Modernization, protection for wetlands has been excluded, only being mentioned obtusely when justifying the protection of environmental flows “maintain riparian health and connection to wetlands” (WAM Technical Background Report Page 1).

    BC is undergoing a massive economic shift from forestry (a process that is relatively benign for wetlands as there is rarely merchantable timber within them) to mining (a process that involves the complete removal of overburden for open pits, and/or discharges of effluent which change hydrological regimes/ nutrient + pH balances of receiving wetlands).

    BC has the benefit of a comprehensive wetland classification system and a relatively robust provincial environmental assessment process; integration of wetlands protection through the Water Act seems like a natural and progressive step.

    Protection of wetlands, as well as compensation for wetland losses should be a major focus of the Water Act modernization within BC, and should at the very least bring our legislation in line with what is currently in use in the US.

    • LWSEditor

      Thank you for your comments in support of wetland protection Steve.
      Although the current Water Act provides protection for wetlands, the proposed Water Sustainability Act (WSA) will be more explicit in referencing wetlands and wetland classification.

      The Riparian Area Regulation under the Fish Protection Act, which works in concert with the Water Act, provides protection for wetlands that are fish-bearing or connected to fish-bearing streams. Application of the legislation is geographically limited to those areas of the Province where growth pressures are greatest.

      The Province is working on developing a Mitigation Policy which will provide a means to compensate for impacts to environmental values including wetlands. This policy will help guide implementation of the WSA. Details on the policy are available at

      The Province participates on the Pacific Coast and Intermountain Joint Ventures established under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Wetland Stewardship Partnership. These initiatives focus on wetland conservation and in addition to influencing policy development, have resulted in millions of dollars being spent in BC securing and restoring wetlands in the province.

      Again, thank you for your comments and support for Water Act Modernization.

  • sharon small

    On Vancouver Island over 5000 people and 35 groups, including watershed watchers are opposing the permitting of the Raven coal mine that is marching thru a sham environmental process in this age of self regulation and billions required for AMD cleanup. How does the Water Sustainability Act protect the Baynes Sound and 600 shellfish aquaculure jobs and residences whose domestic wells will be contaminated from ground and surface water from the mine.
    The Auditor General has slammed the EIA for failure to enforce restrictions and for failure to make mining companies responsible for the billions of $$ needed for reclamation. How will this act protect the thousands who will be negatively affected by Raven and poss three others, one directly above the Courtenay watershed.?

    • LWSEditor

      Thank you for your comments Sharon. The proposed Water Sustainability Act will update the current Water Act. Although this is primarily about water allocation and meeting the commitments laid out in Living Water Smart, we also intend to bring in new standards for well siting as part of groundwater regulation.

      The key piece of legislation that may address some of your concerns is the Environmental Management Act (EMA). The EMA regulates waste discharges to the environment. In BC, we assess water quality using provincial water quality guidelines and site-specific objectives. These are often used to establish waste discharge permit levels. The industry is legally bound to follow the conditions of their permit before any waste can be discharged to the environment.

      Check out the Environmental Assessment Office’s website to learn more about British Columbia’s environmental assessment process. The process looks at potential environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects of a proposed project and provides opportunities for public input. The Raven Coal mine proposal is currently in the pre-application phase.

      You also bring up the Auditor General’s recommendations – the EAO have addressed four of these recommendations and the remaining two will be addressed by April 2013. More detail is provided in this report on the EAO’s progress.

  • Sam Sommer

    I was just wondering if the act would cover any regulations to guide the bottled water industry. As one of our society’s biggest polluters I am interested to see whether they will continue to run amok or if we will take this opportunity to bull back the reins. Do we all still believe that a 5 cent deposit is enough to ensure the responsible reuse of containers? 30 years ago this may have worked, but not in today’s age. How do we introduce policy to increase deposits to say 25 cents a bottle? In my mind it falls into the sustainability of water use.

  • Hans Kratz,Parksville/Qualicum KAIROS

    I am strongly opposed to the proposed Water Sustainability Act. It appears that this proposed ‘modernization’ of the Water Act is being exploited as an opportunity to do two things that are fundamentally against the public interest.

    Firstly, by creating water markets that essentially gift a public good (water) to a private corporation or individual and then make it a tradeable commodity, the BC government would be PRIVATIZING WATER and turning it into a commodity that can then be sold to the highest bidder. Since water is essential to life and many users depend on it, there’s no justification for gifting ownership of water to a privileged few (such as Independent Power Producers or mining companies) and then making other users pay whatever price the lucky new ‘owners’ of the water decide to charge. Since water is so essential, there would of course be virtually no limit to what the private ‘owners’ could charge. This is an affront to any concept of natural justice or democracy. Because of its uniquely essential nature, water has always been and must continue to be a public good that is publicly controlled by the BC government and managed for the benefit of all users and the environment.

    Secondly, the proposed Water Sustainability Act would gut strong legal protections for environmental flows (rules that ensure water takings do not compromise the health of the river/stream ecosystem) and replace them with ‘guidelines’ that merely have to be ‘considered’ when water is being taken from a river/stream. This is clearly a move to de-regulation that will allow private corporations or individuals to exploit water resources for maximum economic benefit while ignoring the health of the ecosystem. How can this possibly be sustainable? One can easily imagine a scenario where a bottled water company would have an economic incentive to squeeze as much water out of a stream as possible, with a passing nod to the environmental flow ‘guidelines’. To de-regulate a public good like water in such a way is grossly irresponsible.

    Because the privatization and de-regulation of water are so clearly against the public interest, I demand that: the BC government immediately drop its water markets concept (including the long term/permanent gifting of water rights to certain corporations/individuals and all measures that would facilitate making water a tradeable commodity); the BC government abandon its plan to downgrade legal protections for environmental flows to ‘guidelines’.

    The citizens of BC deserve a much better ‘modernization’ of the Water Act than is being offered in the new Water Sustainability Act. For any Water Sustainability Act to be ‘sustainable’, it must be re-written (as I’ve suggested above) in a way that affirms public, democratic control over water and rigorous environmental protections for water that are based on the needs of the eco-system and all water users, not just the narrow interests of a few privileged ‘owners’.

    I want your assurance that you will assure the cancellation of those components in the Water Sustainability Act

  • Hans Buchler, BC Wine Grape Council

    Water rights trading and economic instruments from the perspective of agriculture:
    The agriculture sectors in BC provide a critical public service by securing access to food for BC’s inhabitants and by preserving the production capacity for future generations faced with impacts of climate change and uncertainty in some of the principal food baskets around the globe.
    Most agriculture producers in the Province typically operate on low to non-existant profit margins and are under constant threat from ever increasing input costs. In addition to the rising price of land, fuel, fertilizer and pest control products, the cost of water for irrigation, livestock and processing can have considerable impact on a producer’s bottom line.
    Water markets (the trading or selling of water rights) can seriously threaten the long term viability of many agriculture sectors by
    a) providing an incentive to sell off water allocations to other interests (e.g. domestic, industrial, etc.) and thereby taking agriculture land out of production and
    b) by making the acquisition of new or expanded licences unaffordable to existing and new producers.

    Ideally, unused allocations and excess water available on a specific watershed should be placed into an Agriculture Water Reserve, where it can be held and distributed where the need arises. At the very least the proposed Water Sustainability Act should prohibit the trading of agriculture water to other, non agricultural interests.

    Economic instruments such as progressively increasing the price per volume the more water is being consumed (block pricing) can be an effective means to curb consumption, but affects those with limited or no disposable income much more significantly than the affluent. It could also negatively affect the ethics of water conservation through it’s inherent social inequity. Agriculture producers of “thirsty” crops (corn, forage, tree fruits, etc.) would see huge effects on their bottom line; this type of pricing regime would also be extremely difficult to implement for private wells. It may be best to reject the use of these tools or to limit their implementation to times of extreme water shortage!

  • Linda D.Morris Small license holder

    I appreciate all the thoughtful and informed discourse on this blog, and especially support the concept that Nelle Maxey puts forth as water as a Public Trust. I also agree with Fred’s heirarchy of rights, putting recreation last. I am concerned that skiers, snowmobilers, and ATV enthusiasts always seem to want access to the most “pristine” environments…our watersheds. Our legislation should give us the right to “just say no”, when it comes to protection of watersheds over fun and frolic. This should include “no-go” zones where there are domestic licensees, similar to closed areas for hunting and fishing.

  • Nelle Maxey

    Only 6% of the land base in BC is privately owned. 94% is crown land on which many resource extraction activities take place. On the above map, it is obvious that North East BC is not a problem area due to population demand, but rather due to oil and gas activities, especially fracking which uses tremendous amounts of unmonitored, uncharged for (ie, free by permit) water.

    While it is clear the government intends to charge citizens more for their water use through various “economic incentives” as a “conservation” measure, there are no details how watershed degradation, aquifer and surface water degradation and contamination generated by resource extraction activities will be dealt with. What are your “conservation” plans for this huge burden on our water supplies?

    Please give some details on how you are going to “integrate” water protection “across jurisdictions”?

    Will the Oil & Gas Activities Act, the Mines Act, the Forest & Range Practices Act and other acts pertaining to water use and misuse be amended? Will the Oil & Gas Commission still be issuing water permits and licenses? Will our degraded watersheds for municipal and community water use somehow be restored and protected? Will watershed reserves for public water use be re-instituted? How will ecosystem needs be determined and protected on 94% of the land in BC? Details, please.

    And I ask again, as I asked a month ago, when and where will the Water Science Strategy (WSS) Report be released. The actual collection of water supply data is the basis for everything in the WSA. If we don’t know what the water supply is and if we aren’t monitoring the risks, then we can hardly “sustain” it, can we?

  • BC Cattlemen's Association on behlaf of BC producers

    Water is an important resource for the sustainability of BC’s beef industry and vital in the Province’s food security. As such, it is important that the beef industry is properly addressed in the new water policy changes to ensure that water rights and volumes continue to be available to agriculture in the future.
    The following are concerns that have been brought forward by the beef cattle sector that have not been addressed by the new framework:
    1. There is no mention of Food Security in the Policy Directions (Pg 3).
    2. Agriculture and future food security must be a top priority, currently there is no mention of agriculture in the top seven priorities; Agriculture land must be supplied by Agriculture water. The continued primary priority remains the protection of streams and ecosystems; however bodies of water are the important source in maintaining the streams and surrounding ecosystems.
    3. Streams act as the pathway for water between the bodies and can appear and disappear tomorrow. Ranchers should not have to augment or maintain flows in streams which under normal conditions would dry for certain periods (Pg 4).
    4. Ranchers should receive compensation for water rights (licences) that are taken away, as well as offsets for a loss of volume or when required to supply water for other users.
    5. Ranchers should be recognized and compensated for developing and building infrastructure that contributes to improved/increased fish habitat or ecological flow (Pg 4).
    6. The province must allocate financial resources for water storage and infrastructure; government needs to take responsibility for regular maintenance and inspection of water storage and infrastructure (Pg 9).
    7. There is still no provision for recognizing direct and in-stream access for livestock watering in the framework. As stated in the Ranching Task Force document, “WAM needs to secure access to water that will meet the needs of livestock on range and private land”, as well as “develop regulations under the Water Act that facilitate off-stream livestock watering and help secure stream health”. The Province needs to recognize the need for livestock producers to have access to historic volumes of water and to allow cattle access to water in-stream on crown range and private lands (in most locations it is not always feasible to construct “off stream” watering troughs, in particular on cattle ranges).
    8. Water in agriculture needs to remain in agriculture in order to secure access to water to meet the needs of livestock on range and private land. The First in Time, First in Right allocation system is the only viable option presented that ensures that water previously allocated for agriculture use remains in agriculture. In addition, it is the only option that insures water is not turned into a commodity.
    9. An increase in water fees or rentals must not make it impossible for B.C ranchers to compete with our Alberta counterparts or with supply managed sectors. Many farmers cannot afford to pay more for water.
    10. If the Province is going to regulate groundwater, existing agriculture wells must be grandfathered (Pg 10). The threshold level needs to be set at a point where most farms will fall below, and therefore will not be considered a large water user.
    11. A framework must be developed to deal with conflicts arising from various water users, such as a conflict between fish and livestock/forage during periods of drought.
    12. Water is a public trust and therefore should not be segregated or accommodated to specific cultural groups.
    13. The Province must consult with agriculture users and groups when establishing Provincial Water Objectives.

    The BC Cattlemen’s Association continues to be supportive of the modernization of the Water Act, however the Province must address our concerns to ensure that water is made available for the beef industry today and in the future. Water is an essential element to food production. Growing food is equally as important as providing safe drinking water in achieving food security for British Columbians.

  • Nelle Maxey, water license holder

    This government post is a well-structured end run around the real issue of commodification of our water.

    As I pointed out in my last post, the government is not “privatizing” water since they don’t want to lose control, and furthermore they can’t. They do not own it. Water is a COMMONS protected by the Crown to be managed in the public interest by the government (of the day).

    What the policy framework IS doing however is COMMODIFYING water. And Commodification paves the way to privatization of public infrastructure among other negative outcomes.

    The COMMONS or COMMODITY debate is on going in many jurisdictions around the world. When a manager of water places an economic value on water with a framework for license trading and water markets (no matter how limited), this opens the door to commodification, as a number of those posting comments here have stated.

    Commodification is not in the public interest as it is socially unjust placing water use in the hands of those who can afford to pay, as others have also pointed out.

    There are many other approaches in the policy framework aside from water markets that also express the government’s move toward the commodification of our water.

    The book Eau Canada says this about the Commons view on water: The real “water crisis” arises from socially produced scarcity, in which short-term logic of economic growth twinned with the rise of corporate power…has “converted abundance into scarcity. Accordingly private companies should be excluded from water management, which should be organized as a “water democracy [with]…Decentralized, community based, democratic management… Water conservation is politically, socio-economically and culturally inspired rather than economically motivated (through “incentives”).
    –Eau Canada, page197

    There is also a wonderfully useful chart in Eau Canada that breaks down the two sides of the Commons or Commodity debate. In a nutshell it says that if water is considered a COMMONS the following approaches are taken:
    – Water is defined as a human right
    – Pricing for public use remains low and terms of water use licenses are issued in perpetuity
    – The goals of water management are social equity and livelihoods
    – Manager (governance) is decentralized and democratic
    – Management process is conservation
    – Access is a human right
    – Problem solving is by the soft path (more about this below)

    Contrast this to the Commodity approach in the chart:
    – Water is defined as an economic good
    – Pricing is full-cost and license terms are limited
    – Goal is for an investment market
    – Manager is the “market”
    – Management process is supply and demand
    – Access is human need
    – Problem solving is by the hard path.

    So what are the HARD PATH solutions supported by the commodity side of the debate?
    – Large-scale technology— dams and diversions
    – Privatization of public distribution systems,
    – Complicated/expensive technologies,
    – Water trading, water markets, waste water credit market [like carbon trading markets!]
    – Conservation “incentives” and metering

    Contrast this to the SOFT PATH solutions
    – Conservation as a social responsibility
    -Rainwater, grey water and storm water harvesting,
    – Water recycling
    – Municipal [and Regional District] infrastructure investment
    – Local, sustainable food production
    I would add to this list
    – The protection and restoration of our watersheds.

    As Maude Barlow stated in her address to the United Nations in 2009, “…watersheds must be protected from plunder and we must revitalize wounded water systems with widespread watershed restoration programs. Simply put, we must leave enough water in aquifers, rivers and lakes for their ecological health. This must be the priority: the precautionary principle of ecosystem protection must take precedence over commercial demands on these waters.”

    In terms of water conservation through proper watershed protection and restoration, clear cuts in forests, road building and resource extraction activities and any other economic development in watersheds that expose bare soil destroy the water holding capacity of the soils and the stability of soil resulting in landslides, flooding and siltation of our water supplies. As Thompson King explains in Water: Miracle of Nature, the absorption ability of soils depends on their cover:
    • Bare Soil—5,500 gallons/acre/hour of rainfall
    • Bush & Grass—25,000 gal/ac/hr
    • Forest—100,000 gal/ac/hr
    He goes on to explain, “If rainfall does not exceed 0.4 inches per hour, good forest land will continue to absorb and store up to 17 inches of rain, more than 400,00 gallons per hour. “ Talk about conservation of our water supplies, not to mention landslides and flooding problems!

    Reading the WSA policy framework, it is quite easy to see that the government has adopted a COMMODIFICATION approach to our water. It is equally apparent that the public has a COMMONS approach to our water. Note that many of the soft path solutions are contained in public comments on this blog.

    Now it is the job of the public to demand that the government enshrine in the new WSA legislation the values and solutions that are in the public interest, that is, when water is treated as a commons, not a commodity.

  • Bonnie Dawe

    What does the minister mean when he talks about licensing? Is there a plan afoot to privatize our water?
    Is there a plan to lobby the federal government to discontinue talks with the EU regarding CETA. I do not agree with the direction in which privatization of water will take us. Can he guarantee that mining companies will NOT be allowed to dump their tailings into lakes? Once regulation is given away it is very difficult to take it back.

  • Randy Christensen, Ecojustice

    Thank you to the Ministry staff for your continued work on WAM and making it an open process with the opportunity for interaction.

    I have some questions for MOE staff about the proposal in the Framework to introduce water rights trading (water markets)in British Columbia.

    When I was reviewing and commenting on the documents, I didn’t pick up on an intention to go in this direction. There may be some confusion because trading was grouped with other “economic instruments”.

    Many economic instruments – such as full cost accounting, conservation oriented pricing, water rentals that incorporate a reasonable return to the public for public resources – could be valuable and of real benefit.

    Water rights trading, on the other hand, is highly contentious and has been problematic in many areas of the world.

    Thus, many people (including me) might potentially support “economic instruments” but oppose trading.

    So my questions are:

    1) To what extent and in what circumstances is water rights trading being contemplated; and

    2) Was there explicit support for water rights trading in the consultation (separated from general support for economic instruments)? If so, how much support and which sectors advocated that position.

    Thanks again,


    • LWSEditor

      Good questions Randy,

      The Policy Proposal for British Columbia’s new Water Sustainability Act is intended to facilitate discussion and feedback. Thanks for your comments. We are exploring water markets as one of number of economic tools.

      Here’s what our research is telling us so far:

      Water markets are emerging in a number of jurisdictions (e.g., Australia’s Murray‐Darling Basin) as a means to address water scarcity, improve efficiency and promote conservation. Water markets are generally in place to facilitate short-term, or seasonal, trading of rights among users where water is in very short supply. We acknowledge that to be successful they need to be supported with a robust system of water rights administration, effective measuring and reporting, water use planning and clear ground rules.

      If we go there, water markets would not be established immediately or across the entire province. They would only be used when all other water conservation and efficiency measures have been implemented and would be carefully controlled and regulated. Drier areas of the province prone to periodic drought would be more likely to realize the benefits of water markets.

      Much of the literature, including this informative piece from the Conference Board of Canada and Polis point out that water rights trading and water markets – with the right ground rules – can free up more water for ecological protections by building flexibility into how particular sectors use water.

      As you also point out in Eau Canada, “…the need to sustainably manage uses of fresh water is simply too important to preclude the use of any potential tool on ideological grounds. Canadian jurisdictions should remain open to the possibility of employing economic instruments for water use management, including water rights transfers” (pp 236).

      Regarding your second question, we included a section on water rights and trading in the Technical Background Report beginning on page 48. We’ll follow up with a short summary of what we heard very shortly.

  • Ryan Bayes Western Canoeing and Kayaking

    As a bussiness owner that sells and rents Canoes and Kayaks for recreational navigation of BC water ways Im very concerned about the privitization of BC’s waterways for private companies hydro projects.

    The Provincal Sports Organization for canoeing and kayaking (CKBC) has largly been left out of the process. Companies that have been granted water use liscances have not held up there end of the agreement in many cases. The IPP on the Rutherford Creek near Pemberton is a perfect example of this.

    Please give recreation the attention it diserves in the new water managment plan.

  • Eric Faulks

    1. This is not a friendly “dial up” site: Why not just use print?

    2. Fred Marshal’s allowance for IPP’s will allow them to “trump” all other uses as the Province races for the resultant revenue.
    Government’s stated intention to reduce resouce road degredation of streams is entrusted to practically unpoliced contractors. Forestry is a jurisdiction for Provincial Revenue, and as years of protests by those of us who live in forested environments, we have found only broken promises and more devestation. Don’t expect any retractive, or significant changes to get in Forestry’s way!

    3. kim Stephens of Partnerships for Water Sustainability has unbridled enthusiasm for the WSA, making me question where hs is looking for profit: Is it in the IPP’s?

    4. April Reeves shares my mistrust, and her take on “water use” as opposed to “water management” should be taken very seriously if WSA is to be more than a simple excuse for a revenue gouging and privitization.

    5. Dr. John Janmaat’s is well aware that the “devil is in the details”. Loftly principles committed to law certain are not the practice by our governments in these times of privitization.

    6. WSA must definitively answer to Nelle Maxey concerns regarding Part 2, Section 2: Vesting Water in Government, item 1 of the Water Act. Failure to do so only underlines distrust.

    7.Ted’s point #7 “Enabling Variety of Governance Approaches” is a wide open permission statement that can negate any other considerations, and the fact that this is not “fleshed out” is unprincipled.

    Eric Faulks

  • Fred Marshall

    Generally, the direction proposed in BC’s Water Act Modernization Policy Proposal for a new Water Sustainability Act of Dec. 2010 is an excellent one. Some aspects however, require changes as per the comments below:

     All ground-water withdrawals should be licensed; or, failing that, the threshold levels should be reduced to a very low level (i.e. 50M3/day in unconsolidated aquifers and 25M3/day in bedrock) before any are exempted. Any aquifer can be drained by a few big holes or via many small holes; the result is ultimately the same. Also, if the decision is to license only those groundwater withdrawals above a certain threshold, then some regulations need to be made that restrict the number of “small, below-the-threshold” withdrawals any one person or entity can make. This type of legislation would be very complex and compliance extremely difficult to achieve; hence the option of licensing all ground-water withdrawals is strongly recommended.

     The quality, location and volume of water present in any aquifer should be determined before any rights are granted to it; and a maximum draw-down level must be established and enforced that accompany and are a condition of any ground-water license issued.

     Groundwater extraction should not be allowed that diminishes existing surface rights nor that diminish or threaten the health of those ecosystems present on the surface areas located above the aquifer.

     Groundwater extraction wells should be restricted from encroaching onto any lands situated directly below but within another’s private property boundaries. With new drilling capabilities directional drilling is capable of tapping water resources located well away from the location of the surface extraction point and hence, from under (and therefore within) the bounds of a neighbor’s property. This should not be allowed.

     All existing water licenses, especially older ones, that are not being beneficially utilized should be cancelled with the “new” water being allocated to the highest and best use as determined by the applicable water authority guided by the Ranking listed below. High priority for doing this should be in those areas where water supply and quality issues are critical. For example, the Village of Midway has an old water license on the Kettle River (Currently ranked as # 1 on BC’s Endangered River’s List which has significant quantity and quality issues) that has not been used for many years as the Village has long obtained their water from wells that tap the local aquifer. Compensation should be made to the licensees for such take-back but often a trade for the old surface license can be made for a new ground-water license and this resolves a lot of problems including political, social, economic and ethical ones.

     All Municipalities should be required to provide water to its constituents via metered water with rates escalating beyond a reasonable threshold. A timeline (5 years is suggested) should be allowed over which all municipalities would develop and implement a metering installment program throughout their jurisdictions.

     No new water licenses of any form should be granted within any watershed deemed to be fully allocated under present conditions including estimated or determined minimum low-flow levels or minimum water table levels

     All new water licenses should have a ‘notwithstanding clause’ included in them that allows the Provincial Water Authority to restrict or completely stop current or future water withdrawals and/or revoke the water license permanently with due cause without compensation to or recourse by the licensee.

     The allocation of rights of use for all licenses should be based on determined criteria as initially proposed in the Water Act Discussion Paper. The recommended hierarchy of priority uses should be as per the following:

    1. Ecosystem requirements essential for long-term sustainability with two flow levels being determined—Minimum and Optimum. The objective should always be to achieve and maintain the optimum flow levels. Minimum flow levels should only be accepted and/or allowed in extreme situations such as for human health and survival. This is the wise and most appropriate use of the precautionary principle. If the minimum flows are always used and accepted there is absolutely no margin for dealing with unusual events or crisis situations.

    2. Water for domestic uses and/or essential services: i.e. personal drinking water and growing local food and maintaining health facilities and services, safety as for fire protection, etc.

    3. Agricultural uses:
    A. For human food crops and secondarily for livestock production.
    B. For indirect food crops; e.g. hay for winter feed for meat production.

    4. Power production behind established reservoirs which should be strictly monitored with graduated consumption rates with higher rates of consumption paying a geometrically higher rate than the lower consumption rates.

    5. Industrial uses

    6. Landscape maintenance around houses, in city parks etc.

    7. Withdrawals for IPPs that produce power for export

    The following uses should not be termed “Beneficial” and should not therefore be eligible to acquire or hold a water license. Or, if licenses are granted, their tenure should be for a very limited term and the license fees very high.

    8. Miscellaneous and wasteful uses: e.g. washing cars, houses, driveways, producing bottled water etc.

    9. Recreational uses: such as snow making or watering golf courses.

     The ultimate authority over BC’s water resources which includes jurisdiction over any and all water licenses should remain in the hands of the Provincial Government. Some authority may, and likely should, be delegated to more local levels (See below). Ultimately, all water and the rights thereto must remain in the hands of British Columbia residents and citizens or—at least Canadians and/or Canadian-owned companies. The proposal to develop and allow “Tradable Permits” should be cautiously developed. Water rights must never be allowed to be wholly owned and/or controlled by private interests and the private trading of water licenses supports such paradigm.

     A new independent Water Authority should be established within the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations to administer all fresh water in BC. Water is BC’s # 1 natural resource and the new Water Sustainability Act will require a well-organized and well- funded body to ensure its successful enactment, ongoing administration and enforcement. Provision should be made to facilitate delegation of significant aspects of water management and allocation authority to local, well recognized and respected bodies such as the Okanagan Basin Water Board and other Boards or entities established similar to them.

     Legislation and operational procedures for all resource-related activities must complement and support all aspects of the Water Sustainability Act and the Living Water Smart program. For example, there are over 500,000 Km of “bush” roads in BC with more being built each day. Roads are the cause and/or source of 95% of stream degradation. Improved regulations relative to all aspects of resource roads must be developed that reduce this percentage. The BC Government has indicated their intentions to do this and this endeavor must be completed.

    Most all resource-related legislation, policies and procedures need revision to ensure all areas are complementary and supportive of both the Living Water Smart program and the Water Sustainability Act. All such legislation should be structured so that it guarantees that the objectives of achieving a continuous, sustainable flow of clean, cold, abundant water from BC’s forests are attained.

    Summary Statements: BC has long misused, abused and, for all practically purposes, freely allocated as much water as anyone wanted for nearly any use. Unfortunately this practice continues, largely unabated to this day. This must stop–now. BC’s Living Water Smart program is an excellent undertaking to change our modus operandi relative to water. It warrants strong support to ensure the proposals contained therein are implemented and realized. This program provides a strong and complementary basis upon and with which a new Water Sustainability Act can be developed and implemented.

    BC’s proposed new Water Sustainability Act—is perhaps the most important piece of legislation that BC has ever proposed and undertaken to implement. However, we are already past “peak” water and yet BC’s water continues to be given away at an unprecedented rate via IPPs and other water licenses as if nothing has or will change relative to water availability in the future. And another huge dam (Site C) is on the horizon. We must change and stop doing what we have done in the past and, unfortunately, continue to do today as per the following:
    • Drain—the wetlands
    • Divert—water courses (often from one watershed into another)
    • Dike—other water courses
    • Dam—them all—-the Peace River with Site C Dam is next; several others are on the list!
    • Divest—water rights to private entities (mainly foreign-owned companies) for long periods of time via IPPs.
    • Dig or Drill more wells (ground water is free and first-come, first-served!)
    • Develop whatever water one can find as long as it’s profitable.
    • Damage, Degrade, Devalue and misuse most of what’s left via pollution and/or wasteful practices including the application of fertilizers, pesticides, sewage, storm drains, snow making, car washing or watering the never-ending plethora of new golf courses etc.
    Virtually all of these processes continue, nearly unabated, many with government support with more planned for the future! Last year Alberta placed a moratorium on new water licenses because they realized they were out of water. BC should do the same, at least in the interior dry belt, until the Living Water Smart strategy and the new Water Sustainability Act are completed and well in place.

  • Christina Postnikoff

    Re: Water Sustainability Act

    As an average domestic rural water licence holder I am concerned about what the Water Sustainability Act may mean to me in terms of increasing water costs, monitoring of water use and any changes to licences regarding FITFIR and perpetuity, change to permits (I especially do not support change to permits) I do not think this has been explained well enough to the average domestic water consumer, nor have water markets.

    I think the Living Water Smart blog and comments have been a good idea. I have learned a lot about water issues from different perspectives and different parts of the province. I would like to see the comment page continue in some form.

    There should be more details on how resource extraction activities and the legislation governing those activities interface with the new Water Act. I was shocked to learn that fracking involves forcing toxic chemicals with water underground. In B.C., the Water Act, which prohibits dumping contaminants or substances that would adversely affect groundwater quality, does not apply to any wells drilled for oil and gas. Under the Oil and Gas Activities Act, companies need to obtain permits to frack, but they are not required to disclose the secret ingredient list. The Oil and Gas Commission, the agency that oversees oil and gas industry in British Columbia, has said that future amendments to the Oil and Gas Activities Act may require companies to list fracking fluids. Organizations like have stated that WAM would be incomplete without including monitoring of the large amounts of water used in shale gas extraction and details of where the toxic water is stored. Energy companies involved in fracking in NE BC should be REQUIRED by the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA) to treat all the water they use, to remove all toxins. I support more studies on fracking to ensure there is no contamination of aquifers.

    I do not support the commodification and privatization of water (CETA). We do need discussion of the best ways to keep the water supply clean and plentiful and how to deal with shortages, but we should never forget how lucky we are now to have access to good water inexpensively. It is critical that water is enshrined in the modernized legislation as the most important natural resource of this province, as a human right of citizens of this province, as a public trust to be managed in the public interest. This will assist government in clarifying its role in the management of our water resources.

    I would like to ask for a third round of public consultation specifically on the draft legislation. I support all British Columbians who have asked for a referendum on the legislation after it is drafted.

    Christina Postnikoff

  • david riley, little campbell watershed society

    The little Campbell River [running through Semiahmoo First Nations land&territory, Surrey, White Rock, Langley and Whatcom CountyUSA has extraction licences in excess of its summer flows not to mention “illegal” extraction. Much of this water flows back into the river and possibly provides a positive flyweel effect in supporting summer flows. But we don’t know, we do know that every year more water is used and more fish die due to stranding in parts of the river drying to samll pools in the river. Pollution of course is an ongoing and everchanging factor in the life of the river [a river the health of which impacts our US neighbours in the marine environment]Hopefully this initiative will have some effect in understanding and addressing these issues.


    I am a professional landscape gardener. The most common mistake with clients I run across is the usage of water. Generally I find people don’t have hands-on wisdom of water use.
    Erosion is a top water-use concern of mine. If erosion is occurring, water sustainability is not.All over B.C. there are forestry cut blocks, road construction and building sites, with exposed and unprotected mineral soil.Rain falling on the mineral soil is unable to soak in, there is nothing to slow down the water flow and the eroding of the soil, will continue to play havoc downstream.
    If we are going to have sustainable water use, then we need soil cover conducive to holding the water like a sponge, so that the water may be released slowly over time.
    Therefore, for the sustainable water goal, we as a culture must sustain our soils. No more should bare dirt be a normal acceptable situation.Creeks and rivers running brown are cause for alarm.
    If we do not learn and enforce this primary action, B.C. will find itself in the same situation suffered in Greece, the Middle east,China and the majority of the world.Truly, there will be water wars, and it would be unnecessary suffering and so preventable.
    Always, there is a talk of water scarcity.
    Where is the discussion of “how to increase water abundance”? As a gardener, I know this is possible.
    In these places that don’t have enough water -let’s examine what the cultural habits are. How has water been lost? Water in my opinion is best when it has a local source -the taste of water sublime. So how does one increase the occurrence of water locally? How does one keep the water locally, so that all needs are met?
    Enormous amounts of water fall on the roofs of cities, only to be piped away as a nuisance.Where is the sustainable use of water in that action? What a tremendous irrigation and electrical- generation opportunity lost.
    Water Sustainability must address rain delivery from the tops of our mountains, to our wastefully entrenched cultural uses of water. Let’s address these concerns of water being an absolute life-sustaining necessity and how we can increase our quantity and quality of water, so we may form educated and innovative sustainable water laws to provide ample water into the future.

  • Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia

    Ministry of Environment staff are to be commended for the success of the Province’s precedent-setting approach to Water Act Modernization. As a member of the Technical Advisory Group, my observation is that the process is proving to be quite effective in tapping into and drawing upon the wisdom and experience of a broad spectrum of interested and knowlegable parties. A notable aspect of the process is the way stakeholders are engaging and coalescing around a shared vision for water sustainability in British Columbia. Of particular significance is that people are at last connecting the dots between our land ethic and the consequences for water, good and bad, and how we can do business differently. In this regard, the Living Water Smart book is a great document because it speaks to the vision in everyday language.

  • A Midgley

    I beleive you have put together a very complex upgrade that has covered our greatest concerns. Now it needs to be commented on by those who see an error, so it can be tweaked for the good of all. Remembering at all times that the health of our aquatic life is the eyes the health of our society for better or worse. Lets try to leave our watersheds as good or better than we found them by putting a workable living water modernization act in place. Leave room to update it as needed.

  • April Reeves

    Glad to see someone taking our water seriously. Only, I’m concerned that it’s the government. I’m having trouble with trusting this. Several things emerge for me:
    1. the words used are “water use”, not water management.
    2. We know BC is selling out to the US: this video is a good description of how that is going to be accomplished.

    We want to believe the BC government is taking this seriously, but water belongs to the people, not the Province.

    Should this post not appear, we will all know, for sure, what the agenda is here.

  • susan croskery

    I would like to underline Nelle’s last paragraph. Water is our most important natural resource, it is a public asset which must be managed in the best interest of the public – not in the best interest of private profit. In some countries clean fresh water is a paid for commodity, and not available to a segment of the population. This is not where we need to go in this country, but unless we tightly manage this resource it will be exploited by the corporate sector.

  • John Janmaat, UBC Okanagan

    Overall, the suggestions seem to reflect many of the things that were said. It generally sounds pretty good. However, at this point it seems to be more a matter of principles than actual law, so I guess it will depend on what happens when the detail is written in.

    The very broad generalities about additional restrictions on new licences and possibly restrictions on existing licences certainly needs to be fleshed out. I think this is particularly important when it comes to the relationship of existing licences to more participatory or collaborative solutions to local water issues. Will a locally agreed on water use plan be vulnerable to a more senior downstream licence holder who demands her licence volume be available? Will FITFIR be made second in right relative to water use plans, even where those water use plans do not include the impacted licence holder? If water use plans trump senior downstream licences, then it creates an incentive for upstream junior licence holders to get together and develop a water use plan, as a way of claiming greater seniority in their water licences.

    I like the mention throughout of the use of economic incentives, and leaving open the possibility of a water market. I do not think that there are many in BC who are yet ready for a water market. However, most people in Australia didn’t want it either, until after there was a really big drought and they saw that it actually worked. So, I do think it important to leave water trading available as a tool, even if it is not a tool that is soon to be taken out of the toolbox.

    The recognition of the potential need to suspend FITFIR in times of shortage to supply critical needs like household water is important. However, having this as a fall-back may actually reduce the incentive for cities and typically agricultural users to find arrangements that better reflect their situation. Encouraging community water utilities to enter into voluntary arrangements with agricultural or other users, enabling the utility to call on the other users water if a certain threshold is reached, in exchange for some payment, would provide a level of supply certainty to the utility, and income certainty to the other user. Such arrangements exist elsewhere, and avoid potentially arbitrary and wasteful decisions during a crisis as to who is going to be cut back.

    I think that it is unwise to describe instream flows as aligning with First Nations interests. I think this is a rather simplistic interpretation, as I think that First Nations peoples are entitled to as much variety in their conceptions and desired use as anyone else. I think it better to acknowledge that there are aboriginal title rights that have not yet been clearly defined with respect to water, and these will likely supersede many other rights.

    I think that an agricultural water reserve is something that has to be examined very carefully. It is absolutely true that in some parts of BC, the agricultural land reserve really doesn’t protect agriculture if water is not also provided to the land. However, the ALR has done a rather poor job of protecting the best agricultural land in the province from development, and it isn’t clear that an agricultural water reserve will make it any better. If the amount of water reserved for agriculture is a function of the amount of agricultural land in a particular watershed, then a reserve may actually create an additional incentive to develop agricultural land, as doing so gets water out of the reserve. So, while the idea has the appeal of simplicity, and appears to give farmers some power in the face of the continued development pressures they experience in this province, it isn’t clear to me that it will accomplish what people want it to.

    These are a few thoughts. I appreciate the opportunity to share them, and would certainly be willing to discuss them in greater depth.

    Dr. John Janmaat
    Associate Professor of Economics
    University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus

    • Andre Piver MD/Future of Food in the Kootenay

      I appreciate Dr. Janmaat’s comments about thinking more broadly, in a world approaching “peak everything” and in the context of climate change continuing to occur more rapidly than the most dire of previous predictions. We are in the early stages of a global food crisis with water being the single major variable , (other than demographics and a burgeoning taste for meat and dairy amongst the emerging middle classes in the new leading economies). Please see the Ministry of Agriculture report: “B.C.’s Food Self-Reliance” which points to the pivotal role of access to water based on all the climate modeling to date.

      It therefore behooves us to address the issue of the capacity to feed ourselves as a central part of the process and ensuring that the ALC,the BC Agriculture Council, the BC Food Systems Network, National Farmer’s Union, and Ministry of Agriculture are a central part of the consultation.

      A strategy that will take into account enhancing our ability to feed ourselves and supporting any other mechanisms we have to support this including the effectiveness of the ALR must be part of the new act.

  • Kerry @ Water Canada

    Love this outreach! The Living Water Smart team is doing such a great job with this blog. Keep up the good work!

    Editor, Water Canada

  • Nelle Maxey

    Water is a Public Trust

    As others have commented on this blog, water management is a public trust.

    To clarify this basic principle, which frames the entire discussion of the sustainability of our water resources (and all other natural resources), I note the following:

    1) The government of the day is not the Crown.
    The order of authority in a constitutional monarchy like Canada is as follows:
    • The Crown is the institution that represents the power of the people above government and political parties.

    • The Crown, represented by the head state, retains the powers of government, while the governing party exercises the powers of government.

    • The Crown, however, only allows the government and political parties to exercise powers in trust for use on behalf of the people.

    Thus the government does not “own” the water, rather they manage water as a public trust. This power is vested in them by the Crown on behalf of the people.

    2) The WSA policy paper does not discuss this basic principle that is contained in Part 2, Section 2: Vesting Water in Government , Item 1 of the current Water Act. This clause currently reads as follows:
    (1) The property in and the right to the use and flow of all the water at any time in a stream in British Columbia are for all purposes vested in the government, except only in so far as private rights have been established under licences issued or approvals given under this or a former Act.

    Suggestions were made during the first round of public consultation regarding changes to this part of the act to reflect the responsibility of government to manage water in the public interest. For example, on page 10 of the WAM submission by the UVIC Polis Project on Ecological Governance the follows suggestion for modernizing this clause of the act was made (changes noted like this: *-*):
    The property in and the right to the use and flow of all the water at any time in a stream in British Columbia are for all purposes vested in the government *in trust for the public * and any private rights established under licences issued or approvals given under this or a former Act *are subject to be managed in the interest of present and future generations*.

    Polis was hired by the government to draft a number of reports on issues presented in the WAM Discussion Paper. The are very conversant with water governance, water sustainability and other issues that concern the public and the government in this consultation process.

    Many comments were also received regarding the issue of water as a human right since it is the basis of all life. I would therefore like to suggest the following additions to the Polis statement above to clarify the issue discussed here:

    The property in and the right to the use and flow of all the water at any time in a stream in British Columbia are for all purposes vested in the government in trust for the public and any private rights established under licences issued or approvals given under this or a former Act are subject to be managed as *a human right in an ecologically sustainable manner * in the interest of present and future generations.

    It is critical that water is enshrined in the modernized legislation as the most important natural resource of this province, as a human right of citizens of this province, as a public trust to be managed in the public interest and as the basis of ecosystem health. This will assist government in clarifying its role in the management of our water resources.

    this is my second attempt to post this comment. I hope it will appear on the bog this time.