The British Columbia Government has finally brought into effect portions of the long awaited Water Sustainability Act (WSA). The WSA, which was passed by the British Columbia Legislature in April 2014, came into effect on February 29, 2016. The WSA replaces many parts of the old Water Act and creates a new regulatory regime for water management within British Columbia.

The Province is taking a phased approach to the enactment of the WSA. While the majority of the WSA came into effect at the end of February, Part 18, which provides for quick licensing procedures, has yet to be brought into force. The Province predicts the next phase of the regulations and policies will be brought into effect in late 2016. This phase will include regulations relating to measuring and reporting, livestock watering, water objectives, planning and governance.

As a part of the WSA coming into force, a number of related regulations were amended, repealed and enacted. In particular:

  • the Water Regulation under the Water Act was repealed and the Water Sustainability Regulation (found here) was enacted under the WSA;
  • the Ground Water Protection Regulation under the Water Act was repealed and a new Groundwater Protection Regulation (found here) was enacted under the WSA;
  • the British Columbia Dam Safety Regulation under the Water Act was repealed and a new Dam Safety Regulation (found here) was enacted under the WSA;
  • the Water District Regulation (found here) was enacted under the WSA;
  • the Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff Regulation (found here) was enacted under the WSA;
  • the Sensitive Streams Designation and Licencing Regulation under the Fish Protection Act was repealed;
  • and the Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation under the Offence Act was amended to add offences and fines under the WSA.

One of the biggest changes that the WSA makes is to the regulation of groundwater. Under the WSA, all groundwater users (except domestic wells) will require a water licence to divert water from an aquifer (unless the diversion is otherwise authorized under the regulations).

Groundwater licence applications can be submitted through FrontCounter BC. The new Ground Water Protection Regulation provides for a comprehensive framework respecting groundwater and deals with: well drillers and well pump installers; well construction; well caps and covers; well pumps and related works; well identification; well operation and maintenance; artesian flow; well deactivating and decommissioning; and well reports.

The Water Sustainability Regulation is also significant as it sets the scope and requirements for the new WSA regimes surrounding: licensing, diversion and use of water; changes in and about a stream; short term diversion of use of water for well drilling; and use of deep groundwater.

While it is unclear exactly how this new water management regime will be implemented by the Province, project proponents requiring water approvals, should seek advice on how the regulations will affect their operations.