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Note from BC Dairy:
Most producers are aware of groundwater licensing requirements coming into effect on March 1st, 2022. BC Dairy has heard from some who have already submitted applications. The province
expected about 8,000 agricultural applications, and so far, only 1/3 of farms have applied.
We recognize that some producers who have applied for their groundwater licence are still waiting to hear from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Development (FLNROD) about licence approval. Although there may be delays in processing times, we still strongly encourage farmers to apply.
We sat down with Ted van der Gulik, the president of the Partnership for Water Sustainability, and retired Senior Engineer for the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, to answer producer questions about licensing.
How do I know whether I need to apply?
With the passing of the Water Sustainability Act in 2016, licensing of groundwater for all non-domestic uses was brought into force. All wells constructed after 2016 must be licensed prior to use. Wells drilled prior to February 29, 2016 have until March 1, 2022 to obtain their historical rights. All historical wells will lose their current status and benefits after March 1, 2022 if they have not applied. This will have
financial impacts to the viability of the farm, including to the value of the land. Farmers who do not apply will be forfeiting their water back to the government, making it available to others.
Most dairy farmers know that wells need to be licensed; however, dairy producers who are using ditches, sloughs, streams or other surface water sources as a water supply will also need a licence unless the water is purveyed by a local government. The purveyor would hold the licence in these cases.
What happens if I don’t apply?
If you were using groundwater on or before February 29, 2016, for non- domestic purposes such as irrigation and livestock watering, you are legally required to apply for a water licence by March 1, 2022.
Farmers who have applied by
the deadline can continue to use groundwater until a decision is made on their application. It’s important to apply, because those continuing to use groundwater without applying for a licence after March 1, 2022
will be considered to be committing an offence under the Water Sustainability Act and may be subject to fines and penalties and ordered to stop using water. Water cannot be lawfully diverted, used or stored until a licence has been obtained.
What if I apply after the deadline?
So, what happens if you wait until after March 1, 2022 to apply? The following are likely scenarios:
• Pay an application fee.
• A licence may not be issued, as the water source could be deemed fully subscribed.
• All historical wells will be treated as a new well and will now not be able to use the well until a licence has been obtained. This could take years. The province may also issue fines for noncompliance should the well be used.
• As a new well, an assessment
may be required before a licence
is issued. At a minimum, the assessment may only be a pump test on the well, but it could also include an assessment of creek flows and other wells in the vicinity. A licensed professional may need to be retained to do the assessments. The costs can range from $10,000 to as high as $50,000 or more. This has already been the case on some new well applications.
• The date on the licence will be the date of the application, therefore the FITFIR date will be much later, and the well priority date will now fall behind all of those that did apply for historical use or new use.
• Licence applications made prior
to yours will take precedence. This means that applicants that have been turned down in the past can reapply and step in front of historical users. There are instances of new well users being turned down for a licence as it was deemed that the well impacted fish flows in a nearby stream.
• Banks are asking if the well on the property has a licence or if there
is sufficient water rights for the property. A mortgage may not be given to a potential buyer if the well is not licensed, at least not for the asking price. This will impact those trying to sell their farms. The farm will be worth less. Water is valuable and banks are starting to put a value on water rights. Would a farmer not want to maximize the value of their assets?
The best approach is to apply before March 1, 2022.
Ted van der Gulik, P.Eng.
 The groundwater licensing deadline is looming—are you prepared?
   There are numerous benefits to submitting your groundwater licensing application before the March 01, 2022 deadline.

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