BC Green party leader Sonia Furstenau says thousands of farmers and businesses that need access to groundwater may have lost their rights after the deadline passed for the province’s new water licensing system.
Furstenau, the MLA for Cowichan Valley, had urged the NDP government to extend the deadline past March 1, 2022.
She now hopes something can still be done to help farmers and others who use groundwater, but did not apply in time.
Furstenau says constituents have told her “the process has been very complicated, very difficult to navigate, that it’s been hard to get the help and support from service BC to get through that process.”
If they missed the deadline, farms and businesses that use groundwater must now apply as new users, and could be denied a licence under certain conditions.
Furstenau notes that she has heard that being able to file an incomplete application helped.
“I have heard from a number of locals that have gotten an application in, even though it’s not complete, and that’s apparently sufficient to hold them in their position on their water rights.”
She says the policy rollout has been a government failure, and up to 15-thousand farms and businesses may be affected.
Furstenau says “until advocates began calling attention to the issue last fall, there was limited outreach from government.”
She says the NDP refused calls to extend the application deadline, and the Green caucus has urged the province to waive fees for anyone who might end up being non-compliant due to what she calls a “public policy failure.”
Furstenau says groundwater users are in rural ridings and have been significantly impacted by climate disasters over the past two years.
She says the “government needs to recognize where we are at, what went wrong, and what they need to do to fix this.”
In early February, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development issued a news release warning that existing groundwater users who did not apply by the deadline would have to stop using water immediately.
They would be treated as a new user, their date of first use will no longer be recognized and a licence application might be refused in water-stressed areas
The ministry says missing the deadline could be costly and may include fines for unlicensed use of groundwater.
It also warned that water licence applications made after the deadline will not benefit from the waived application fee and may require costly studies to support an application.
The new policy applies to industrial use and does not affect wells that supply water for household domestic purposes.
The provincial government says groundwater licensing will ensure a fair and transparent process for determining who uses the water, including during water shortages, and helps protect the environment, as well as the businesses and livelihoods that depend on reliable access to water.