Water Sustainability Act introduced in British Columbia

The provincial government of Christy Clark in British Columbia has introduced its Water Sustainability Act to replace the current 105-year-old Water Act.

The Globe and Mail reports, "(The new Act) promises to regulate groundwater, to manage water use during droughts, and to measure large-scale water use. ...The act will allow the province to limit water use if a significant water shortage is declared. That means all users could face potential curtailment during periods of scarcity. Under the proposed law, critical environmental flows will have priority over licensed rights on streams and connected groundwater users, meaning that companies such as Nestlé could see the taps turned off in some circumstances."

"But (Environment Minister Mary Polak) has launched another round of public consultation before she’ll ink in fees for water use by major industrial users, including natural-gas companies that use large volumes of water for fracking. ...After a 30-day consultation period, Ms. Polak said she will bring proposed fees to the Treasury Board, and hopes to have the whole package ready to implement by next year." The situation of fees for water use has come up because, "this year Nestlé Waters Canada will draw an estimated 300 million litres of groundwater for its bottling plant in Hope, producing truckloads of 500-millilitre plastic bottles of 'pure, natural spring water'. Like other water-bottling companies using B.C. groundwater, it pays nothing for the resource."

The Province notes, "One important weakness of the Water Act, critics said, is that it has left B.C. as the only province in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use. This allows corporations and industries in B.C. to withdraw fresh water without paying the government for it, or measuring or reporting how much they take. ...Critics have expressed concern that the new legislation won’t charge enough to large-scale water users. In a legislative proposal released in the fall, the proposed fee amounted to a dollar for more than a million litres of groundwater."

The Council of Canadians has demanded that the new Water Sustainability Act:

- recognizes water as a human right
- reaffirms water as a public trust that belongs to people and cannot be privately owned or controlled
- creates an approval process for groundwater withdrawals that includes public consultation, incorporates community input into the final decision, and respects a community’s right to say “no” to projects that abuse or pollute water
- includes strict pollution controls, strong conservation regulations and stringent monitoring
- ensures a process to revoke permits where industries are polluting or abusing water
- charges industry proper fees for their use of raw and municipal water takings
- recognize Indigenous title and jurisdiction to watersheds as well as secure free, prior and informed consent protocols within the Water Act alongside policies to monitor and sustain groundwater.

The Times Colonist reports, "NDP critic Spencer Chandra Herbert expressed concern that the law appears to be 'watered down' and that it still leaves the province’s water at risk. He said the government needs to charge sufficient fees so that it can enforce the law and protect the resource." In the Globe and Mail article, "(He says) it is not clear whether the ministry has enough staff to monitor the new regulations spelled out in the 148-page law." 24 Hours Vancouver adds, "He said another concern is the act doesn’t have enough teeth to protect water reserves, which could hasten the draining of water from streams and lakes, and affect fish habitat."

We'll have additional analysis on the Act introduced yesterday in the coming days.

Further reading

ACTION ALERT: Protect B.C.’s water from corporate freeloaders

ACTION ALERT: Rewrite B.C.’s new water legislation