On the 18th of October the provincial government released its proposed framework for the Water Sustainability Act, replacement for the century old Water Act. The proposal can be found at http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/the-proposal/. Public input is being invited for four weeks on the proposal.
One of the most interesting parts of the proposal is at the end, where the government has summarized the input received from a variety of interested parties. Industry groups (forestry, mining and generation) want certainty in the regulatory process, and have a strong preference for authority remaining centralized in Victoria. Agriculture is concerned with secure access to water at a cost that is not burdensome. First Nations feel that the process has not properly addressed their rights, and seek a more significant role as partners in the management of water resources. Many of the remaining interested parties want some venue where their voice can be heard and where that voice can have a real impact on policy. The proposed Water Sustainability Act is a very delicate attempt to balance these interests. Exactly whose representations had the most influence and what decisions were made by Victoria in the perceived best interests of the province in spite of the comment received will certainly be a matter of ongoing debate.
The proposal states that improvements are being made in 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; and
- Provide for a range of governance approaches.
Each of these has one or more policy proposals with varying degrees of detail. Each of these broad areas, and each individual policy proposal, deserves to be carefully considered. I hope that all of those with an interest in how water is governed in this province take the time to review the proposal and provide comment. It has taken more than 100 years to get to this major revision of the Water Act, so if you don’t speak now, you may have to hold your peace pretty much forever.