Okanagan domestic use water well sign-up frustration mounts

Province lagging on well application approval process

Okanagan Valley residents reliant on wells for non-domestic water supply could potentially lose their access rights if they don’t register their use with the provincial government.

While frustration over well approval delays are causing some people to opt out of participating in the registration program until the bureaucracy hiccups get ironed out, that attitude could present dire consequences.

“From a legal perspective, all they have to do is register and the protection of their priority use water rights are preserved. If they do not, they lose that status and could find themselves losing those water drilling rights in the face of future groundwater license applications in their area,” said Greg Tyson, a water policy analyst with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

The issue was brought up at last week’s Okanagan Basin Water Board meeting, when director Rick Fairbairn, representing the North Okanagan Regional District, voiced concerns he has heard from groundwater rights holders, telling him the registration process is frustrating and a miserable failure for both water well drillers and their clients to negotiate.

“I am told 19,000 groundwater licensing registrations have been submitted and only about 2,000 have been actually licensed,” Fairbairn said.

Related: Standing up for water

Water board director Toby Pike, representing the Water Association of BC, said a disconnect currently seems to exist between the well registration application and approval process.

“There doesn’t appear to be the resources available relative to the needs of the program,” Pike noted.

The issue dates back to 2016, when the province of B.C. adopted the new Water Sustainability Act, which for the first time enacted groundwater licensing procedures for B.C. residents.

For domestic household well water users, they are encouraged to register their wells, which is a process free of charge. For non-domestic groundwater users such as a ranch, farm, business or municipality, there is now a requirement to obtain a water license and pay water rentals to the government.

As part of that process, existing non-domestic water rights holders were given a three-year grace period, which expires in March 2019, to register their wells to protect their longstanding water rights against future new license applications.

Tyson acknowledged the registration initiative has run into delays, but registration will continue to protect well rights holders while those issues get ironed out.

“The danger is if you don’t register by March 2019, then your priority status is jeopardized. Some people living in rural areas may not feel it’s all worthwhile, but if an inspector is dealing with a groundwater application in your area, your established rights will not be give priority consideration by inspectors dealing with other license applications,” Tyson said.

Tyson, who grew up in Kelowna, said the expectation based on existing historical water well data and other research was about 20,000 applications would be forthcoming.

Extra staff were hired to help administer the registration process, but other staffing demands and a provincial election interrupted that mandate.

“We had up to 80 people in the beginning, hired and brought up to speed with the training, but the initial application uptake was on the slow side and some of those people were drawn into other areas where staffing help was needed,” Tyson said.

He said the last provincial election also proved disruptive in the groundwater use registration public advocacy push.

He acknowledged the application approval delays raise frustration for existing groundwater license holders, but those who haven’t still need to follow through on the registration process.

“They will be allowed to continue to use water as they have done in the past for as long as it takes for their application decision to be made. If you don’t apply within the three-year transition window, you put yourself in the position where down the road you might not be allowed to use the water. This just protects your priority rights.”

Water well users are asked to contact FrontCounter BC to determine if your well record already exists in the provincial database. If no record exists, applicants are asked to complete a well registration form and email it to Groundwater@gov.bc.ca. This registration is for domestic water well use only.

Domestic groundwater use

* Groundwater users with a well that provides water for their own household use are exempt from groundwater licensing requirements

*Under the Water Sustainability Act, domestic groundwater users are deemed to have rights to the water they use

*Domestic groundwater users are encouraged to register their well to ensure the homeowner’s use can be considered by government if a new well is constructed nearby and there is potential for interference between the two wells

Non-domestic groundwater use—water licensing

*Non-domestic groundwater users, such as agricultural irrigators, municipal waterworks, businesses and industries, are required to obtain a water license

*A water license is not the same as registering a well in that it provides a legal right to use the water

*Licenses also set a maximum water quantity that can be used and other terms and conditions to protect the environment and rights of other water users

*Water license holders are also required to pay annual rentals

Just Posted

Ongoing dangers caused by flooding

Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen reminds residents of dangers posed by flooding

B.C. Interior flood risk diminishing

Snowmelt receding but rainfall impact remains a concern

Evacuation alert lifted for hundreds in Tulameen

Water levels receding, but some Tulameen properties still on evacuation order

Blast from the past

Ministry of Transportation shows a neat photo from Highway 3 in the South Okanagan-Similkameen

Interior Health launches water advisory map

Unique program to connect residents to drinking water advisories

Vancouver Island girl scores with winning song for BC Summer Games

‘Colours’ is a perfect theme for 2018 BC Summer Games

B.C. pipeline goes ahead despite scrapped Pacific Northwest LNG

NEB approves amendment for $1.4-billion natural gas North Montney Mainline Project

Update: Wildfire northwest of Kamloops jumps from 60 to 800 hectares

Ground crews and aircraft are responding to an estimated 50 hectare wildfire approximately 55 kilometers northwest of Kamloops, near the Deadman Vidette Road.

Feds limit chinook fishery to help killer whale recovery

Chinook is main food source for only 76 southern residents killer whales left

B.C. mom who died just before daughter’s wedding wanted family to be happy: twin

Ann Wittenberg was pulled into the ocean while on a surf board in Tofino last weekend

Courtenay-Alberni MP calls for lifeguards at popular surf spot near Tofino

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is defending its decision to cancel the surf guard program.

Harvey Weinstein to surrender in sex misconduct probe: officials

Would be first criminal charge against Weinstein since scores of women came forward

Study looking at declining mule deer population

Southern Interior mule deer project tracking deer movement and health

Media are not an arm of the police, Vice lawyer tells Supreme Court hearing

Ben Makuch challenges Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that he must give materials for stories to RCMP

Most Read