The Quebec government plans to adopt new regulation in early 2009 in order to collect information on the impact of water withdrawals and to allow for better management of conflicting uses of water resources, all in accordance with the Quebec Water Policy. The draft Regulation respecting the mandatory declaration of water withdrawals (hereinafter the "Regulation") will require industries, businesses, municipalities and institutions to communicate various data to the government on the water they withdraw from the natural environment.
1. Requirement to evaluate volumes of water withdrawal
Annually, water withdrawers will be required to evaluate and declare the volume of water withdrawn from surface and groundwater and the methods used to do so, except for water diverted for hydroelectric projects.
The Regulation will only apply to withdrawals of 75 cubic meters or more per day for industrial, commercial, institutional, recreational or wildlife purposes, or for supplying a public or private water distribution, storage or treatment system. However, the Regulation does not apply to (1) withdrawals intended for domestic use of one household only, (2) withdrawals to supply vehicles, such as vessels and aircrafts, (3) withdrawals to supply an aircraft or tank vehicle used as firefighting equipment, (4) withdrawals from a water distribution or supply system and (5) withdrawals intended for agricultural or fish-breeding purposes.
2. Measuring the volume of water withdrawn
In order to evaluate the water volume withdrawn, withdrawers will be required to either use measuring equipment that meet specifications set out in the Regulation or obtain an estimate from a government certified professional, such as an engineer. In the event that neither of these methods is used, the withdrawer holding an environmental certificate of authorization will be obliged to declare the water volume authorized by said certificate. However, use of measuring equipment meeting regulatory specifications will be mandatory for new water withdrawal projects.
The Regulation also provides technical requirements relating to the measuring equipment and making measurements.
3. Declaration of withdrawal activities and keeping of a register
Every person who withdraws water will be required to submit an annual declaration no later than March 31 for all withdrawals that were made in the preceding calendar year. Declarations will include, amongst other things, the number of days and the dates of withdrawals, the water’s uses as well as the volume of water related to each use. In addition, the declarant will have to keep for a period of five years all documents in support of the declaration. The withdrawers should also keep an up to date register with the descriptions of the various water withdrawal equipment, the measuring equipment, the maintenance or repairs to the measuring equipment as well as the volume withdrawn, amongst other things.
The obligation to declare water withdrawals will apply in 2009, subject to the adoption of the proposed Regulation. The first declaration should therefore be required to be submitted no later than March 31, 2010. Businesses will thus be required to declare water withdrawals made in 2009. Moreover, persons subject to the Regulation will, no later than September 30, 2009, be required to provide a declaration containing certain information on all water withdrawal sites that are subject to the Regulation.
4. Water information office and new withdrawal authorization regime
This Regulation falls on the heels of bill 92, An Act to affirm the collective nature of water resources and provide for increased water resources protection (the "Bill"), presented in the National Assembly last June.
Bill 92 provides for the creation of the Bureau des connaissances sur l'eau within the Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs (the "Office"). The Office’s mission will be to set up and coordinate an information system for the collection of data on water resources, aquatic ecosystems and water uses. The new Regulation will support this information system.
Bill 92 will also establish a new water management scheme whereby surface and groundwater withdrawals greater than 75 cubic meters per day will be subject to government authorization. According to the Bill, this new scheme will prioritize fulfilling the water needs of the Quebec population, but will also balance business related uses and the needs of ecosystems.
5. Water fee system
Although for the time being the government’s intention with this Regulation is to increase its knowledge of the use of water resources in Quebec, it may nevertheless pave the way for the creation of a water fee system. Article 31 of the Environment Quality Act authorizes the government to adopt regulations in order to establish fees or royalties for the use, management or treatment of water. Charging fees for water withdrawals would also be in compliance with the principles established by Bill 92. Even though Bill 92 does not go so far as setting up a water fee system, its preamble hints at the establishment of fees or royalties for water management, use and sanitation. Section 4 of Bill 92 also provides that water resources will be managed according to the user pays principle:
"The costs related to water resource use, including protection, restoration, improvement and management costs, are to be borne by users under the conditions defined by law and on the basis of environmental, social and economic consequences and the polluter pays principle."
In consequence, the adoption of the Regulation will provide the government with the necessary means to eventually impose fees for water withdrawals of 75 cubic meters or more per day.