Use of Groundwater Now Requires a Licence

Summarized by WCTA staff

For many professional sportsturf managers on both golf courses and sportsfields, the new law requiring a licence and the associated fees to use groundwater (well-water) is old news.  Paperwork has been submitted, requirements have been met and an estimate of new water costs have been included in the operating budget.

For others, the subject is a point of confusion and concern.  Requirements are not understood, licence application has not been made and there is no idea of what to expect for fees.

While review is always prudent, this article is directed to those who have not yet made licence application for their well-water use.

After years of public consultation, B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) was brought into force on February 29, 2016 to ensure a sustainable supply of fresh, clean water that meets the needs of B.C. residents today and in the future.

The WSA introduces a number of changes to the way that water is managed in B.C., replacing and modernizing the 100+ year old Water Act.  Key changes under the WSA include:

• Licensing groundwater for non-domestic use
• New fees and rentals for water use
• Stronger protection for aquatic ecosystems
• Expanding protection of groundwater related to well construction and maintenance
• Increasing dam safety and awareness

Licensing Groundwater Use
Under the WSA, anyone who diverts and uses groundwater for anything other than household use is required to obtain a water licence and pay water fees and rentals.

Licensing groundwater use establishes equity between surface water and groundwater users, and gives groundwater users rights to use water based on the priority scheme that currently exists. Licensing groundwater use also helps the B.C. Government to understand how much water is being used in the province.

Tasks related to a Water Licence Application for Groundwater Use between February 29, 2016 and March 1, 2019 (i.e. during the Transition Period)


New Fees and Rentals
Application fees and annual rental rates have changed under the WSA. Existing groundwater users who are now required to apply for a licence will be exempt from paying the application fee until December 31, 2017.  Rental rates for existing groundwater use are the same as those for surface water use. Annual water rentals for existing non-domestic groundwater users began to accrue starting February 29, 2016, regardless of when an application for a licence is submitted within the three-year transition period.

Water Application Fees & Rental Rates
You pay a one-time application fee when you apply for authorization to divert and use water, for a permit over Crown land, for a change approval or for a drilling authorization. Fees for amendments are charged after the new licence or approval is issued and will be based on the new allocation quantity.

Once your water licence or use approval is granted, you will also pay annual water rentals to divert and use the allocated water.

Application Fees
Most application fees vary based on how much water is required and how it is used. However, applications for a few specific water use purposes are charged a flat rate fee.

Fees are charged for applications for new water licences, use approvals, change approvals and drilling authorizations, as well as amendments to existing rights. Fees are also charged on applications for permits over Crown land, and are based on the affected area. You must submit the fees along with your application at FrontCounter BC.

The first three years of the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) are a transition period to bring approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users into the current water licensing scheme. If you use groundwater for any non-domestic purpose, as of February 29, 2016 you are required to apply for a water licence to maintain your right to use groundwater. As an existing non-domestic groundwater user, you do not have to pay application fees if you apply for a licence on or before December 31, 2017.

Water Rental Rates
Generally, rental rates depend on the quantity of water authorized and on the specific water use. For some water use purposes, such as for a conservation purpose, a flat fee is charged regardless of water quantity.

Rental fees apply to surface water and groundwater use, as well as to permits over Crown land. Annual water rentals for existing non-domestic groundwater users began to accrue starting February 29, 2016, regardless of when an application for a licence is submitted within the three-year transition period.

Domestic groundwater users are not required to pay water rentals.


How to Apply
Water licence applications are made through FrontCounter BC.  Only on-line applications are being processed:  Click on “existing” if you used groundwater on or before Feb 29, 2016, and click on “new” if you are planning on using a new water well supply, or have drilled a well after Feb 29, 2016 on the following link .

• The new Water Sustainability Act, aimed at regulating groundwater, came into force February 2016 and requires anyone using well-water to have a licence and pay fees, except households.
• Whether you’re already using well-water or plan to drill a new well, a licence is required and usage fees will apply. 
• If you were using well-water before February 2016, you’re considered an ‘existing user’ and the licence application fee will be waived if submitted before December 31, 2017.
• Do not wait to apply for a licence.  ‘First-in-Time, First-in-Right’ applies the same way as surface water rights.  In other words, it’s first-come, first-serve and the last to apply is the first to lose access in the event of well water volume restrictions.
• Apply for a groundwater licence through FrontCounter BC

More information can be found if you google Water Licence BC.

Selected excerpts from B.C. government website and previously published article by Marta Green, PGeo, who spoke at the 2016 WCTA Conference in Whistler, BC.  She is a Senior Hydrogeologist at Associated Environmental Consultants Inc. in Vernon, BC. Marta has been active with the development of the Water Sustainability Act as a regional director with BCGWA, and has provided advice to irrigators and other water suppliers on the WSA and its regulations.  Marta can be reached at 250-545-3672 or