Well users in hot water

Time is running out to meet a provincially-mandated deadline for well licensing, and despite the fact well users have had years to apply, compliance so far has been alarmingly rare. 

"We have a best guess of how many wells there are out there and how many licenses we should be issuing, and we haven't had...well, let's just say the participation has been fairly low," said Ray Reilly with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

On March 1, 2019, all wells that service more than one domestic property or house and all producers that use wells, like farmers, ranchers and grape growers, must have a license for their well. It's part of the Water Sustainability Act put in place in 2016, giving users a three-year transition period to get a license. 

"It helps to protect people's rights. If people have been using the water and they had a right to use the water, this licensing system will continue those rights," Reilly said. "If you're using water out of a surface water source like a lake or river, you've needed a water license for a very long time now. So this brings the groundwater licensing into that same regime."

Reilly said licensing helps protect well users by knowing whose doors to knock on when new wells are proposed. 

"If you're a groundwater user and if you're not licensed, and if you haven't gone ahead and gotten your license, we won't know to contact you to see if there's any potential impacts," Reilly said. "If somebody puts in a new well, we need to be notifying the other users in the are that are also well users. They would have a voice in that process whether they think it's a good idea."

Zoe Kirk with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen estimated there are potentially hundreds of wells in the district region, and the registration process would help them with their work. 

"From a local government perspective, I'm applauding the province because we need to know how many wells are punched into aquifers. Are wells over-allocated already in the aquifer?" Kirk said. "It's a really good process to understand what's being used to know what you have to provide new licenses and provide water for fire fighting and all of that sort of stuff."

Kirk is making one last push to help well-users learn about registration by offering a workshop at the RDOS main office at 101 Martin Street in Penticton from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. with RDOS staff and ministry representatives on hand, all for free. 

Wells that aren't registered by the Mar. 1 deadline face potential ticketing and and enforcement actions, plus potentially give up their rights in the case of a water dispute. 

Fees to register are being waived until Mar. 1, but after that, they will range from $250 to over $1,000 depending on usage. 

Kirk urges all well users and owners to check and make sure they have proper registration. 

"Some hobby farmers that haven't really thought about it that sell horses or, you know, have 30 cows that they do cow-calf but they're not a bonafide rancher, these people do need to register because they're making a commercial venture out of it," Kirk said. "But of course they're small, so it's not going to cost that much."

With less than two months to go, Kirk is hoping more well owners will step forward and join the program for the good of all groundwater users. 

"When you begin something as big as this, it's not easy to get everybody on board," she said. 

Information on how to register your well can be found here. To sign up free of charge for the Jan. 31 information session at the RDOS, email Kirk at [email protected]

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