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Wells likes new water legislation’s inclusion of groundwater measures
New provincial water legislation that recognizes the importance of groundwater is a positive step, says Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells.
The provincial government introduced the new Water Sustainability Act on March 11, which will replace the century-old Water Act.
“It’s a really good step,” said Wells, the long-time chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB), who stepped down at the start of the year. “It’s going to be a work in progress. There has been a lot of input into it, but we’re finally recognizing that groundwater is a resource and that we should also be interested in measuring groundwater. To bring groundwater to the same level as surface water, that’s a big step in itself.”
Bill 18 follows consultations that have been underway since 2009. The government heard from individual British Columbians, First Nations organizations and stakeholder groups.
The bill addresses seven key areas:
- Protect stream health and aquatic environments;
- Consider water in land-use decisions;
- Regulate and protect groundwater;
- Regulate water use during times of scarcity;
- Improve security, water-use efficiency and conservation;
- Measure and report large-scale water use;
- Provide for a range of governance approaches.
The government plans to bring the new legislation into effect in spring 2015, once supporting regulations are developed and finalized.
The B.C. government is also reviewing its approach to water pricing and has released a set of principles that will help inform a new fee and rental structure, the Ministry of Environment says in a news release.
The Okanagan Water Stewardship Council reacted positively to initial news of the bill, but will need to analyze it before responding officially in the next few weeks.
The council is the technical advisory body to the OBWB and is made up of members representing 26 agencies interested in water, including fruit growers, the cattle industry, conservation groups, forestry, Interior Health, post-secondary institutions, First Nations, local and senior government officials in environment, fisheries, agriculture, real estate boards and more.
“I’m very pleased to see the new legislation advanced to first reading,” said council Chair Don Dobson in a news release. “My initial review suggests that ministry staff gave serious consideration to recommendations provided by the OBWB. I’m looking forward to reviewing the document in detail.”
A schedule to the legislation naming protected rivers in B.C. doesn’t include any in the Okanagan. This is an issue the stewardship council says it will take up with the province.