Parties engaged in the non-domestic use of groundwater in British Columbia should be advised that March 1, 2022 is the deadline to apply for a water licence. If an existing user has not applied for a licence by this deadline, their groundwater use will be deemed unauthorized. Unauthorized users must either cease all groundwater use immediately or risk provincial fines for unlicensed water use.
Why do you need to apply for a water licence?
On February 29, 2016, the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) came into effect. The WSA imposed many changes on the regulation of water use in British Columbia, including a requirement that anyone using groundwater for non-domestic purposes must apply for a licence to do so. The WSA provided a six year transitionary period in which existing commercial groundwater users could apply for a water licence.
Any party who was using groundwater prior to February 29, 2016 is considered an “existing user” under the WSA. Those who began using groundwater after March 1, 2016 are considered “new users.” Anyone using groundwater for a purely domestic purpose is exempt from licensing requirements under the WSA.
Existing users who apply for a water licence before the deadline will receive an exemption from paying the one-time license application fee and be entitled to maintain their first-in-time, first-in-right priority status. In determining their priority status, the government will honour the historic first use date of all existing users who apply by the deadline. Any existing users who miss the deadline will be considered new users. New users are not entitled to the fee waiver, and the government will consider their application date, not their historic first use date, to determine their status. Maintaining priority status can be crucial to obtaining necessary groundwater amounts during water shortages.
While the above advantages are not available to those who started using groundwater after March 1, 2016, those parties must still apply for a water licence by the deadline or their use will be deemed unauthorized.
Parties can apply for a water licence through the Province of British Columbia’s Natural Resource Online Services website.
Additional considerations for existing users
Groundwater extraction projects with a design capacity of 75 liters per second or greater may require an Environmental Assessment Certificate or a certificate exemption.
If an existing well or related work occupies crown land, the party is required to provide that they have been granted authorization for their use of crown land or that an application for an authorization to use crown land has been made.
Existing users may continue their groundwater use so long as they have applied for a water licence by the March 1, 2022 deadline. You do not need to have received a licence by that deadline.
Laura Duke is a partner in our Vancouver office and has experience in environmental law, Indigenous law, civil litigation, administrative and constitutional law. She represents clients with environmental assessments ...
Krystal is an associate in Lawson Lundell’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group, where she practices litigation and administrative law with a particular emphasis on environmental, Indigenous, and regulatory matters.
Lawson Lundell's Environmental, Indigenous and Natural Resources Blog focuses on environmental, indigenous and natural resources law, as well as related litigation. Included are summaries of significant cases from Canadian appellate courts, changes in the legal framework governing resource development including energy and climate change policy, and key decisions from the more influential regulatory bodies in Canada.
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