By Robert Barron
Leo Kasbergen said he’s “flabbergasted” that he will soon be expected to register and pay fees for a groundwater well on his property that he has used for years.
Kasbergen has been running a small sheep-farming enterprise just south of Duncan in the Cowichan Valley Regional District for more than a decade.
He said he spent $15,000 many years ago to dig a well and a pumping system on his property and doesn’t understand why he will soon be expected to pay fees to use his own well.
But Kasbergen said a recent meeting in his community that was held by the province to explain the policies that are coming into force with B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act was an eye-opener.
Under the Act, anyone who diverts and use groundwater for non-domestic purposes must obtain a water licence and begin paying water fees.
Kasbergen said the audience at the meeting was told that the cost of registering and licensing for non-domestic groundwater use in the province will be anywhere between $250 to $1,000 per well each year, plus an annual fee for the use of the water.
“If they want to preserve groundwater, they should stop the Nestle corporation from pumping five-million litres of water out of the ground every day at the price of $2.70 for every one million litres,” he said.
“It’s obvious that all this is about is creating more bureaucracy and government jobs and sucking more money out of taxpayers.”
The WSA was developed to try and ensure a sustainable supply of fresh, clean water that meets the needs of B.C. residents into the future, and is now the principle law for managing the diversion and use of water resources.
On top of the registration and licensing fees, agricultural users like Kasbergen will also be required to pay a minimum of $50 annually as a water-use fee.
Larger users, like industrial farms, will pay more depending on the amount of groundwater they use in their operations.
The province has established a three-year transition period, until March 1, 2019, to bring existing groundwater users into the new licensing system.
As the WSA was being devised, Environment Minister Mary Polak said the Act will position B.C. as a leader in water stewardship.
“The new WSA delivers on government’s commitments to modernize B.C.’s water laws, regulate groundwater use and strengthen provincial water management in light of growing demands for water and climate change,” she said at the time.
“Water is our most precious resource and the WSA will ensure that our supply of clean and fresh water is sustainable to meet our needs today and for generations to come.”
There are approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users in the province that will come under the new water-licensing regime.
Jon Lefebure, chairman of the CVRD, said that with the impacts of climate change and continued development on groundwater, it’s understandable that the province would develop legislation to deal with its sustainability.
“It’s widely recognized that there isn’t an infinite amount of groundwater, and we must be more careful with the resources that are there,” he said.
“Anyone who thinks that we can have unlimited use of groundwater with no precautions is not up to date with the growing concerns around this issue.”
Lefebure said he expects the licensing and user fees under the WSA will be used for water monitoring and related expenses.
“It would be catastrophic if people’s wells begin to go dry, so everyone has an interest in this,” he said.