Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Climate Change, Commercial Use, Oil & Gas Priorities for B.C. in New Water Rules

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Climate Change, Commercial Use, Oil & Gas Priorities for B.C. in New Water Rules

Article excerpt

Update to century-old water laws announced

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VANCOUVER - Drought due to climate change, shale gas "fracking," commercial water sales.

British Columbia's water systems are under increasing pressure, and the provincial government introduced some major changes Friday as Environment Minister Mary Polak unveiled new water use legislation to replace a statute introduced prior to the Cariboo Gold Rush and the First World War.

The new Water Sustainability Act will replace the 1909 Water Act, and it will mean B.C. will no longer be the only province in the country not regulating groundwater use.

"The (Water Sustainability Act) will update and replace the existing water act, which we know is well over 100 years old," Polak said in Victoria.

Over four years of consultations, industry, communities and First Nations said the priority should be to ensure enough water in streams and rivers to sustain fish, Polak said.

"There's no question that this act will not cover off every single aspect of water protection and water use," the minister said in a telephone interview.

"It's not intended to. It's intended to govern the allocation of water -- who gets how much, who gets to use what and when and the powers of government to deal with issues of scarcity, drought, etc."

Under the new rules, large-scale users now able to use water without limit and without cost will pay an annual fee and 85 cents for every 1,000 cubic metres of groundwater used.

For example, a Nestle Canada plant in Hope, B.C., that bottles an estimated 71 million imperial gallons -- 319.5 million litres -- of water for sale annually, would pay about $265, Polak said.

Overall, the new fees for groundwater are expected to put $5 million annually into the provincial coffers. By comparison, the fee regime for surface water that has been in place for many years, generated about $7 million a year.

Polak said the fees and the legislation have not been finalized. The province is seeking public comment until Nov. 15.

The new rules also attempt to prepare for the changing weather patterns and increased risk of drought in B.C. brought on by climate change.

"Being prepared for climate change means being able to adapt to changes in the water supply and demand over time," said the report released Friday by Polak. …

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