The BC government has officially embarked on a process of modernizing the provincial Water Act. The existing Act was brought into force in 1909 and is the primary legislation in BC's water governance framework for regulating the diversion, storage and use of water resources and managing water quality.

The latest changes came into effect in 2004 in response to growing public concern over the protection of drinking water quality, following the drinking water tragedy in 2000 in Walkerton, Ont. Changes included a new Drinking Water Protection Act and, amendments to the Water Act to protect groundwater and water quality and, to provide a new process for watershed management planning.

The modernization process is expected to assist the Province in fulfilling its (year 2010) committments established under the Living Water Smart: B.C's Water Plan by:

  • Protecting stream health and aquatic environments;
  • Improving water governace arrangements;
  • Introducing more flexibility and efficiency in the water allocation system; and,
  • Regulating groundwater use in priority areas and for large groundwater withdrawals.

The process will be completed in four key Phases, as follows, ending with the introduction and approval of a draft Bill by Spring 2011:

Phase 1 - Scoping, jurisdictional review and background research (complete). In this stage wide input on water management issues was gained through a review of science and monitoring information regarding B.C.'s watersheds, a review of literature, and Canadian and international best practices.

Phase 2 - Engagement and policy development (Fall 2009 - Spring 2010). In this phase, proposals for change will be put forward in a public discussion paper for wider input from First Nations, stakeholders and the public. Participants will have a range of avenues to become involved including regional workshops, online discussions through the Living Water Smart Blog and written submissions. Government will report back the results of engagement and undertake a full assessment of costs and benefits, and regulatory and social impacts of recommended policy options.

Phase 3 - Request for legislation and legislative drafting (Summer 2010). Final recommendations will be submitted to government and will be drafted into a legal language for introduction into Parliament.

Phase 4 - Bill introduction (Spring 2011) and approval. After the draft bill is introduced into the Parliament it is debated three times and if approved gets Royal Assent and becomes law.

The government is currenlty undertaking Phase 2 of the process and is expected to release a discussion paper for public review and comment in the coming weeks.

Click here for a list of some of the current and future challenges for the Water Act.