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 29 Feb 2016. The big changes that affect people on Salt Spring are the new licensing of groundwater (well water). The new licenses 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 license the stronger the right to the water will be.
The good news is not everyone will need a license. Basically, homeowners 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 in the database. Here is a link to the well database. It’s a little hard to use, but once one gets 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 in the database.
Those who 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 license. 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 groundwater 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 meters.
Please note you have to apply for a 30-year license 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 license? If it is a 30-year license then make the term of the “rent” stand for 30 years. The way the province has set it up now is worse than a 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 agricultural 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 counteroffer and or amend the contract. Hopefully, I’m wrong and this will not prove to be anything 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 the backlog. Why not have a simple one-page form? Here is the link to the license application. Good luck. If you manage to get it done please let me 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 firsthand how the 2006 septic regulation has 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 license and are claiming farm status it will not take the assessment authority to use this against you. The other big thing I see with the new water licenses is their value of them. The new WSA has basically put a monetary value on older wells that have older licenses especially if it is a big license for lots of water. As an example just think what the Crofton mill is worth with its 1950s license 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 license. Don’t be late.
Cheers Scott Simmons