Licence it or lose it: Time running out for Kamloops, Okanagan users to licence their wells | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Licence it or lose it: Time running out for Kamloops, Okanagan users to licence their wells

More will be known about how much water is being drained from streams like Mission Creek once all non-domestic wells are licensed, which is supposed to happen by March 1, 2022
September 13, 2021 - 5:32 AM

There are an estimated 20,000 non-domestic wells in B.C. that are supposed to be licenced by March 1, 2022.

While owners have had almost six years to apply for a licence, only about 4,000 have done so. If the other 16,000 don’t bother, that could lead to severe consequences.

“My fear is that hard working people are going to turn the corner on this thing and go: ‘What just happened to me?’” Mike Wei, a former government employee who helped draft B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act, told

The Act came into effect on Feb. 29, 2016 and included a requirement for owners of non-domestic wells to get them licenced and pay to use the water.

Non-domestic wells are used for everything from small RV sites or rural gas stations to water bottlers, cities and irrigation districts.

There are another 100,000 domestic wells used for individual homes that don’t have to be licenced under this legislation.

Up until 2016 most, but not all, well diggers registered wells with the province. That’s why there’s only an estimate that there are 20,000 non-domestic wells.

There is no way of knowing how much water is being drawn from most of those wells. A recent case of water going “missing” from Kelowna’s Mission Creek is an indication of how little is known about many of these wells.

READ MORE: Recharging wells the culprit in the mystery of missing water in Kelowna's Mission Creek

One of the intents of the licencing system is to collect fees for water so there will be more data on how much is actually being used.

Wei’s concern is that the government has not done enough to make well owners understand the importance of licencing, which is why only 4,000 have done so.

People haven’t held off because they don’t want to pay the water user fees until the last minute because any such charges are retroactive to 2016.

Besides, the water is cheap. The province is charging 85 cents per 1,000 cubic metres for irrigation, with a minimum fee of $50 a year. Commercial users have to pay $2.25 per 1,000 cubic metres with a minimum of $200.

The government has only sent out the odd brochure over the years or held some workshops so many owners, especially if they’ve bought the property recently, don’t know about the new rules or understand the implications, Wei said.

Technically, if someone doesn’t get a licence by March 1, they have to stop drawing from their wells, which will mean more water will flow into streams.

Wei suspects that many people will figure the government won’t enforce the new rules so they will keep on using the water. But that comes with a real risk.

The licencing system is based on historical use and a right to the water. Anyone who waits until after March 1 loses their rights to the water and will be considered a new user. They will have to wait in line to get water, if any is even available.

“If you come to your senses after the deadline, say in July, while in Mission Creek, you can estimate your chances of getting a licence and the cost it would take to assess your impact on the stream,” Wei said. “You cannot take water until they make a decision, which could take years. Are you prepared to put your business on hold for two, three, four years before you get a return on your investment?”

On the flip side are those who are buying land, even now, who want to put a well on site for commercial use. They can look up a provincial database and see that there are unlicenced users of the water and demand that government enforce the new rules and take the water away from unlicenced users so there will be enough for new wells.

There’s also large users, like water bottlers, mines, mills and water suppliers, which have already done the right thing and licenced their wells. They too are likely to object to unlicenced users, Wei said.

That’s going to create conflict.

Wei doesn’t believe the province has the resources or the will to enforce the new rules.

“Dealing with enforcement is a capacity issue for government,” he said.

While government may be reluctant to enforce all violators, that will likely be different in high demand and sensitive streams, like Mission Creek in Kelowna, where fish are already dying during hot, dry summers.

READ MORE: Okanagan drought killing fish and exposing need for major water management change

Black Mountain Irrigation District ran extra water from its reservoirs down Mission Creek this past summer to help fish survive.

If the government decides more water needs to be released for that purpose, that’s a major expense for the irrigation district. Not only will it look for financial assistance from the province but is likely to be one of those who points to unlicenced wells and argue, if they were cut off, the irrigation district would have to provide less water itself.

To avoid such conflicts, and to avoid people losing rights to water they’ve accessed for generations, the province needs to step up its education campaign, Wei said.

“Licencing of groundwater is probably the biggest endeavor the government’s ever done in water management in its history, other than licencing surface water back in the 1800s,” he said. “I just don’t think they’ve put a similar amount of effort into it in alerting people as the job really requires.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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