THE BC Liberals and BC Greens are calling on John Horgan and the NDP to extend the deadline for groundwater users to register for licensing and engage in a comprehensive outreach effort to ensure no British Columbians are left without legal access to groundwater.
“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,” said Shirley Bond, Interim Leader of the Official Opposition, on Tuesday. “The NDP has failed to properly reach out to those impacted by these changes ahead of the March deadline. Unless John Horgan extends the deadline and his government puts in the hard work of locating those who will be impacted by a loss of rights to water use, there will be serious consequences for British Columbians all across the province.”
All wells accessed by non-domestic users are required to have a provincial water license prior to use. However, historical groundwater users, those accessing the approximately 20,000 wells constructed before 2016, have been given until March 1, 2022, to apply for licenses to bring their historical groundwater rights into compliance with the modern regulatory system. To date, more than 16,000 groundwater users have yet to apply.
“Public policy without adequate outreach is a failure of government,” said Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the BC Greens. “The fact that 16,000 British Columbians are about to lose their groundwater rights due to a failure of government communications is egregious. It’s also an equity issue. Large companies with staff devoted to keeping up-to-date with government regulations will be just fine. The people getting left behind are local farms and small businesses, many of whom have been preoccupied with surviving climate disasters and COVID-19.”
If the NDP fails to succeed in registering more historical users by March 1 of next year the government will be forced to act against thousands of British Columbians who will then be deemed illegal groundwater users, the opposition leaders said.