Public comments invited on Water Sustainability Act

B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act is inching closer to reality, with public consultation on it now underway.

B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act is inching closer to reality, with public consultation on it now underway.

The Water Sustainability Act (Bill 18), when it comes into force in 2016, will replace the old Water Act which dates back to 1909.

According to local Lake Windermere Ambassadors program co-ordinator Megan Peloso, Bill 18 is an important and much-needed piece of legislation.

“B.C. is quite different than it was a century ago when the former Water Act was established,” said Ms. Peloso. “It may come as a surprise to some that B.C. is tailing far behind other Canadian provinces in terms of setting the standard for water management legislation. Although public surveys show the majority of B.C. residents describe water resources as the province’s most important asset, we are also Canada’s biggest water users.”

Ms. Peloso said people don’t need to look far to see the impact of a changing climate on water quality and availability, pointing to record-breaking low snowpacks, receding glaciers, and to how much of the province is currently experiencing reduced water flow and drought conditions.

“Water restrictions may help resolve the issue now, but stronger regulations are going to be essential to protect freshwater in the long-term,” she said. “The new act introduces some important changes to water management, including groundwater regulations, establishing critical environmental flows and sensitive stream protection, and allowing for local, area-based sustainable watershed planning with emphasis on public input.”

In particular, Ms. Peloso was encouraged by how the new Act will initiate new water pricing to reflect the “real value” or “full cost” of providing water services sustainably into the future.

“Some of the most immediate and significant changes provincially have been the introduction of regulations and pricing for groundwater. Under the previous Water Act, free and unregulated withdrawal of groundwater was permitted without licensing or reporting,” she said.

She was also heartened by the stronger role local voices will play in water management under the new act.

“It will enable local governments and community-based organizations (such as the Lake Windermere Ambassadors) to contribute to decision-making in our Columbia Valley homewaters, based on sound science and priorities or challenges specific to our area,” said Ms. Peloso. “In terms of the new Act, strong local knowledge and public interest in watershed issues are key ingredients that will determine the future of watershed planning in the Upper Columbia Basin.”

Although Ms. Peloso said the new Act introduces some exciting new prospects for B.C. water and is certainly a step in the right direction, she cautioned there may still some be some kinks to work out and tools to be created in order to manage B.C. water as wisely as possible.

She encourages citizens to get involved and work together to advocate for the changes they feel are important to protect their watershed.

As part of the government’s phased approach to consultation on the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA), four papers outlining some of the Act’s proposed new policies are now available online for public comment. The proposed policies outlined in the papers address groundwater licensing, groundwater protection, dam safety, and compliance and enforcement. Water pricing is not the focus of these papers, but will be reviewed in a separate process.

The deadline for public comments on these four papers is  September 8th, 2015.

To see and comment on the papers, check out

engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact.

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