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If you divert and use groundwater for non-domestic purposes, you must now obtain a water licence and pay water fees and rentals. This change came into force with the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) on February 29, 2016.

The provincial government estimated there should be approximately 8,000 applications for historical groundwater that was in use prior to February 29, 2016 (that needed to be licensed for agriculture). The deadline to apply for Existing Use Groundwater is now less than 6 months away—March 1, 2022—but currently, only 1/3 of the expected agricultural applications have been submitted.

Irrigated agriculture is responsible for 80% of our province’s farm cash reciepts, and from the provincial government’s Land Use Inventory, it’s estimated that 35% of our province’s irrigation is from groundwater.  

Some important facts:

  • Licensing your groundwater use is not the same as registering your well. If you have registered your well, you still need to license your groundwater for non-domestic use under the Water Sustainability Act (WSA).  
  • If you were using groundwater on or before February 29, 2016, for non-domestic purposes such as irrigation and livestock watering, you are legally required to apply for a water licence by March 1, 2022.
If producers apply before the application deadline of March 1, 2022:
  • Application fee waived ($250 minimum)
  • Secure historic rights – First In Time First In Right (FITFIR)
  • Less scrutiny on application as historical use is recognized
If producers wait and apply after the deadline:
  • If you do not apply by the deadline, you must stop using the groundwater or you will be considered an illegal user after March 1, 2022. You will then need to apply for a licence as a “new groundwater user” and you will be at the back of the line. A new application may require an expensive assessment of the well indicating the impacts on the aquifer and the application may not be granted if there is not enough water.  
  • Ground water use will not be allowed until the license is approved (this has always been the case for surface water)
  • The date of precedence will be the day they apply (no historical recognition)
  • If you are in a drought prone area, there is a very high chance that a new water licence will not be approved (even if you have used the water before WSA was enacted)
Steps to Apply: 
  • Register for a basic B.C. electronic identification (basic BCeID) if you don’t have one. 
  • Start your application for your Existing Use Groundwater Licence online using your BCeID.  
  • Gather information you will need (before or during your application): Application Checklist 
  • Finish your application, and continue to use your groundwater until a licence is granted. 
Need help? 

Learn more: Read the most recent government release