New rules forcing Nestle, other bottlers to pay for B.C. water
Dene Moore, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, October 18, 2013 2:33PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, October 18, 2013 8:27PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- Drought due to climate change, shale gas "fracking," commercial water sales.
British Columbia's water systems are under increasing pressure, and the provincial government introduced some major changes Friday as Environment Minister Mary Polak unveiled new water use legislation to replace a statue that was introduced prior to the Cariboo Gold Rush and the First World War.
The new Water Sustainability Act will replace the Water Act implemented in 1909, and it will mean B.C. will no longer be the only province in the country not regulating groundwater.
"The (Water Sustainability Act) will update and replace the existing water act, which we know is well over 100 years old," Polak said in Victoria.
Consultations began on the new legislation in 2009.
"The messages received from industry, business, communities, First Nations were very clear: they told us that we need to ensure there's enough water in our streams and rivers for fish, that the (act) is needed to create certainty for business operations. They told us that groundwater must be regulated," Polak said.
Under the new rules, large-scale users that have been able to use water without limits and without cost will now face annual fees and pay 85 cents for every 1,000 cubic metres of groundwater used.
For example, the new fees would apply to a Nestle Canada plant in Hope, B.C., that bottles an estimated 265 million litres of water for sale annually.
Overall, the new fees for groundwater are expected to put $5 million annually into the provincial coffers. By comparison, the fee regime for surface water that has been in place for many years, generated about $7 million a year.
The proposed legislation would exempt the saline aquifers that lie more than 600 metres below the surface -- the water source predominantly used in hydraulic fracking of natural gas.
Polak said the fees and the legislation have not been finalized. The province is seeking public comment until Nov. 15.
"That's one of the things I'm sure we'll hear back on from British Columbians," she said.
The new rules also attempt to prepare for the changing weather patterns and increased risk of drought in B.C. brought on by climate change.
"Being prepared for climate change means being able to adapt to changes in the water supply and demand over time," said the report released Friday by Polak.
By mid-century B.C. is expected to be warmer and wetter, the report said, with higher annual average temperatures and precipitation.
"While B.C. will become wetter overall, precipitation will not occur evenly throughout the year. Fall, winter and spring are projected to be warmer and wetter with more rain and less snow, particularly at lower elevations. Summers will be hotter with reduced precipitation in most areas."
The conservation group West Coast Environmental Law said it was pleased that the province is committed to passing new legislation next year. The group said it will look closely at the act in the coming days to ensure the needed protections are in place.
British Columbia needs a strong act that protects water, fish and sustainable communities, the group said in a statement.
"A weak Water Sustainability Act could fail to deal with current unsustainable and inefficient water use, and could lock in these problems for years to come," said Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer.
"A strong act could address past over-use, and wasteful use, of water and protect drinking water and fish from over-use, poor oil and gas, logging or mining practices, and other threats."
Polak said consultations showed "loud and clear" that bulk water export is not something supported by British Columbians, and the activity is currently barred under existing legislation.
She also pointed out that the new act is not the only statute governing water use in B.C. The Water Protection Act, the Fish Protection Act and the Drinking Water Protection Act remain in place.