CSRD Director explains Province’s Water Sustainability Act

  • Mar. 1, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Over the past two years the Province has been reviewing and analyzing the existing language contained within the existing Water Act.  A new Act is being proposed and it has been titled the Water Sustainability Act.   In this article I am going to provide you with some information about this new act.  The proposed Water act Modernization is based on the following 4 goals: 1) Protect stream health and aquatic environments. 2) Improve water governance arrangements. 3) Introduce more flexibility and efficiency in the water allocation system; and, 4) Regulate groundwater extraction and use. The Province has introduced a variety of available technical options to support each of the stated goals. However, none of the options discussed really focuses on the central problem with how water, and water related issues are currently dealt with in this Province. Contained within the Technical Background Report is a list of 11 different agencies or Ministries within the Provincial Government that deal, in some form, with various issues regarding water. With the latest cabinet changes this list has again changed, leading to the situation where in most instances these agencies and Ministries are acting independently in reviewing and approving various situations regarding water. In the interest of properly regulating water issues, would it not lead to greater efficiencies to have one authority involved in all aspects affecting water and its use? There is also much discussion of a “shared approach” and a “delegated approach” to water governance. These discussions identify reliance on local governments (like the CSRD and the Town of Golden) to provide some level of support to water governance, although it is difficult to discern from the documentation exactly how, or in what particular circumstances this would work. The danger in either the shared or delegated approach is the introduction of still another regulatory agency into the situation.   Moreover, given the limited expertise available to local government in this area, it is doubtful that the resources actually exist to support any level of delegation. Delegation itself is an issue; if local governments do not have the appropriate tools necessary to enforce any delegated authority. However, with continued Provincial Government cutbacks in the amount of Ministry staff available to deal with “on-the-ground” approvals or enforcements, there often is no local option available within the Ministry to deal with situations adequately. In reviewing the proposed policies and goals we do not see any creative proposals other than the delegation of authority to local government that would address the lack of Ministry staff. We therefore anticipate that Provincial agencies and Ministries will seek to download these issues wherever possible. In general the CSRD is very supportive of all four goals and the following comments are provided by the Environment and Engineering, and the Development Services departments from the perspective of a water utility, and land use authority. 1) The CSRD is very supportive of the protection of stream health and the aquatic environments within and around them, and these should always be considered carefully. Watershed protection plans for existing water systems along with water conservation plans are both good tools that we now have at our disposal to help protect stream health and reduce water diversion from it. However Local Government has very little control over use of crown land which in fact covers most of our watersheds. For effective Watershed protection more input / control regarding crown land use should be considered for local government. Planning tools currently exist to ensure land use does not negatively impact on the aquatic environment. The Fish Protection Act delegates authority to Local Government to regulate issues in the Riparian Area through the Riparian Areas Regulation. However, allocation of water licenses and prioritization of those licenses by the First In Time – First In Right (FITFIR) method does not necessarily result in the best practices for Environmental Health.  CSRD Development Services supports Environmental Flow needs as a priority when examining water licenses and priorities. However, they are concerned that the Province has not devoted sufficient resources to stream and water-body environmental assessments and the science necessary to establish where such minimum flows will be impacted by the issuance of allocations (the right to a volume of water) 2) A governance system involving more local input and direction could result in a more flexible structure that can take into account water issues that change from one region to the next. CSRD Development Services staff urges the Provincial Government to consider carefully the current governance model in regard to the wide-ranging number of Branches, Agencies, Departments and Ministries involved in decisions affecting water governance, particularly in terms of lines of communication. Local Government has a role in whatever new system comes out of the current deliberations, but would prefer to deal with a single body within the government where issues arise with delegated authority or land use planning decisions. 3) Local Government should be more involved with allocation decisions to ensure local issues and needs are taken into account. There certainly needs to be some flexibility built into this process in order to properly deal with allocations in times of scarcity and in these times allocation must be based on need and not solely on the date of your license. There needs to be an ability to alter existing outdated licenses which in some cases were issued 100 years ago and this is not based on modern scientific methods or technology. Priority needs to be given to residential community needs. CSRD Development Services supports a re-prioritization of licensing, provided the resulting regulations can be adapted to a more sustainable model as climate-change affects a limited supply. 4) The CSRD Environment and Engineering Department is a strong supporter of the regulation of groundwater, it is much overdue. There is no difference between surface water and groundwater in respect to the need to protect and regulate use in order to ensure its long term sustainability. Some aquifer water levels are beginning to show signs of overuse, and as the regulation in regard to surface water increases, in more and more instances groundwater will be seen as the easier alternative resulting in increased pressure on this resource. Increased monitoring of groundwater and mandatory well registrations will help gather data that can help protect this important resource. CSRD Development Services supports groundwater regulations, but do not believe that the proposed regulations go far enough, and will not provide the Province with the kind of information that will be necessary in the future to gauge the sustainability of the aquifers affected. We urge the Province to consider mandatory registration of every well, drilled or shallow, within the Province, regardless of whether it is proposed for domestic purposes or for large supply needs. This way, a body of data will be developed that can be modelled to determine long-term sustainability of groundwater as a resource.The CSRD is currently contemplating a new Subdivision Servicing Bylaw that requires mandatory compliance with the Groundwater Protection Regulations. It is hoped that by doing so, the data gleaned from the sheer number of well registrations will advise future policy in this area. It will also provide better data on available aquifers, the nature of these aquifers, as well as the quality of water available. As many of these wells are defined as being Groundwater Under the Direct Influence of surface water (GUDI) this should also help with establishing a baseline of stream health in our area. We also support establishment and enforcement of threshold limits on every well in the Province.So, as you can see, there is much going on in regards to water in our Province and in our community.   In a world where an estimated 3 million people die each year from preventable waterborne diseases, water systems allow us to drink from virtually any public tap with a high assurance of safety.    We must do all that we can to protect this valuable resource. We are truly fortunate. -Ron Oszust,CSRD Director