Water Sustainability Act or new tax grab?

Staff from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) was on Salt Spring 18 Jan 2017 explaining the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA).  The WSA came into effect on the 29 Feb 2016.  The big changes that effect people on Salt Spring is the new licencing of ground water (well water).  The new licences will “run with the land” and basically be attached to the lot.  The main principle is if there is a shortage of water the right will be given on the principle of “First in time, First in Rights”.  Basically the older the licence the stronger the right to the water will be.

The good news is not everyone will need a licence.  Basically home owners using the water for domestic use will be exempt.  You will be able to irrigate a garden up to 1000 sq meters or 1/4 acre.  However they would still like you to register your domestic well and have it on the data base.  Here is a link to the well data base.  It’s a little hard to use, but once one get the hang of it, it’s a valuable resource.  It would be good to have all the wells on the site.  Approximately about 50% of the Salt Spring wells are on the data base.

Those that have a home based business, farm, market garden, B&B, office, art studio or just about any and all non domestic use will have to get a licence.  The application fee will be free for the first year but not after that.  The minimum charge per year will be $200. There will be different rate classes.  I think this is a direct response to companies like Nestle buying ground water for almost nothing and selling it.  From what the FLNRO staff says agriculture will be at a low rent fee of $.85 per 1000 cubic meter.

Please note you have to apply for a 30 year licence term of “rent” and the province can arbitrarily change the “rent” at any time.  Why will the province not set the “rent” for the term of the licence.  If it a 30 year licence then make the term of the “rent” stand for the 30 years.  The way the province has set it up now is worse than late night TV ad that does not tell you the shipping and handling charge.  They have set the “rent” low as an introductory offer without any guarantee that they will not jack up the “rent” as they see fit.  Now the “rent” will be $.85 per 1000 cubic meters for agriculture use.  See section 23 of the act.  I do not like contracts that are one sided and the terms have been set by the side that writes the contract without giving the other side the right to counter offer and or amend the contract.  Hopefully I’m wrong and this will not prove out to be nothing more than a tax grab against those on wells.



 

The other main problem with the act is the 17 page application.  If I was a bureaucrat I would want complex forms that are almost impossible to fill out.  It would almost certainly lead to the call for more staff to handle all the back log.  Why not have a simple one page form?  Here is the link to the licence application.  Good luck.  If you manage to get it done please let my know how it went.  I think I will wait until the 31 of December to start my application.  Maybe enough people will wait until the last free day and jam up the system for a year or so.  Yes I know I’m cynical but after seeing first hand how the 2006 septic regulation have driven the cost up by thousands it’s hard not to feel like this is just another punitive tax grab on us rural folks.

A word of caution.  If you do not get your licence and are claiming farm status it will not take the assessment authority use this against you.  The other big thing I see with the new water licences is the value of them. The new WSA has basically put a monetary value on older wells that have older licences especially if it a big licence for lots of water.  As an example just think what the Crofton mill is worth with it’s 1950s licence to draw water out of Lake Cowichan.   The water is probably worth a heck of a lot more than the paper the mill makes now.  Maybe that is why the Indian company made an offer to purchase it last year.  Who knows. You have until Dec 31, 2017 to get your licence. Don’t be late.

 

Cheers Scott Simmons

 

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