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More time needed for B.C. groundwater registration, opposition says

B.C. Liberals, Greens says most well owners unaware
Agriculture depends on irrigation in many parts of B.C., and licences are required for using groundwater sources such as wells for agricultural or industrial use. Farm irrigation in Abbotsford. (B.C. government)

B.C. Liberal and B.C. Green leaders have united in calling for the NDP government to extend its March 1 deadline for an estimated 16,000 B.C. commercial groundwater users who haven’t applied for a licence.

The licences are required under a 2016 provincial law to regulate non-domestic water use by farmers and other commercial well water users. There are an estimated 20,000 wells constructed before 2016, and more than 16,000 owners have not yet applied, the two party leaders say.

“With only one in five historical groundwater users having applied for continued use, there are thousands of farmers, ranchers, and small business owners currently at risk of losing their access to groundwater,” B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond said in a joint statement Dec. 14. “The NDP has failed to properly reach out to those impacted by these changes ahead of the March deadline.”

B.C. Green leader Sonia Furstenau said small farmers and businesses are most in need of more time and information from the province.

“Large companies with staff devoted to keeping up-to-date with government regulations will be just fine,” Furstenau said. “The people getting left behind are local farms and small businesses, many of whom have been preoccupied with surviving climate disasters and COVID-19.”

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The law does not apply to people who use wells or dugouts for residential purposes, including watering lawns and gardens of a quarter acre or less and fire protection, but the province is encouraging them to register their wells at no cost. As with the farming and industrial licences, the date of use is included in calculations to determine whether new licences can be issued, or when groundwater use is being restricted due to water shortages.

Domestic well users can search the province’s groundwater database to see if their well is registered.

The deadline for applying for a water licence is March 1, 2022. It is required for non-domestic groundwater use that began on or before Feb. 29, 2016, the date the B.C. Water Sustainability Act took effect, and fees are waived for users who apply before the deadline. Municipal and surface water sources are not affected, but dugouts may be considered a groundwater source depending on circumstances.