The concerns over B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act

Share of Okanagan water used for agriculture

Share used to maintain golf courses

Estimated cost to California’s economy due to drought last year

18,000 That’s how many groundwater wells must be licensed under B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act, in effect this month. Under the old system, water users—farmers, frackers, bottlers, cities—who drew from lakes or rivers were regulated but not those who drew from underground, even a few metres away. The act closes that loophole but creates new complexities, including giving priority rights to whoever has the oldest well, which must be modified to prevent residential users from ever being left dry—as happened in California, where some towns are parched as farms with older licences drain supplies. Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, which represents the region’s three water districts, says the rule is designed to avoid conflict but may actually create it as farms with existing surface licences are forced to cede water to those with newly licensed but older wells. “It has to get a lot more elaborate,” she says. “This is probably going to take 10 years to unfold.”