Closing the tap on free water
Oct 22, 2013 / 4:30 pm
Unlike many other provinces in Canada, British Columbia does not currently regulate its groundwater and thus anyone or any company can take as much water as they want, when they want, at no cost. This is something the BC Government wants to change.
Environment Minister Mary Polak released her government’s legislative proposal for a new Water Sustainability Act in Kelowna Tuesday morning.
“Up until now we have only managed surface water in BC, and done so with a very old piece of legislation. So this new Water Sustainability Act will treat surface water and ground water similarly, so for the first time we will be able adequately monitor and control what happens with ground water in BC,” says Polak.
Many British Columbians were furious to learn that companies like Nestle were able to take as much water as they wanted without any regulation or cost to them and it prompted a whole discussion on water rules in our province.
“[The new legislation] will take us from being last place in the country, in terms of ground water, to what we believe will be a real leadership position in terms of how we manage water compared to other provinces,” says Polak.
Since 2009, the BC government has received suggestions and ideas on an unprecedented scale, more than 2,250 written submissions from individual citizens, First Nations organizations and stakeholder groups. This is the third time the government has invited British Columbians to comment on its proposals for a new Water Sustainability Act.
“Water is something British Columbians really value and we want people to go online and give us their feedback before we take this into the legislature in the Spring,” says Polak.
Some have shared fears that a new fee structure on ground water would hurt local businesses and agriculture while pushing big employers, like Nestle, out of the province by charging too much; something Polak says will not happen.
“We want to see the careful and appropriate management of water. It is a resource that all sorts of industries utilize in their businesses, from farmers to the bottle water business to local municipalities. We want to ensure everyone has appropriate access to water and that it is fair and that at the end of the day we can control it in an environmentally responsible way.”
Our purpose with charging fees and rentals isn’t to make money or profit for government, our purpose is to manage the resource,” says Polak.
She adds that in times of strife the legislation will allow the government to step in where they could not before.
“We now have the power as government to step in when we have emergency situations, such as an extended drought, or some other catastrophe where we need to protect stream health, but at the same time prioritize water usage for things such as livestock health and domestic users.”
Polak also wanted to ensure small domestic users understood that they will remain exempt from any rental fees and charges.
“We learnt from other jurisdictions that the administrative burden of that is not worthwhile when you consider the very minimal environmental return. We will be registering new ground water wells and we encourage existing users to register them, but it is to ensure their access to water not to charge them.”
To provide your feedback on the Water Sustainability Act click here.
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