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The Water Sustainability Act

Posted on Wednesday, Mar 15, 2017


BC's new Water Sustainability Act (“WSA”) is designed to regulate and protect the use of all of BC's surface water and groundwater. The WSA and its accompanying regulations came into force on February 29, 2016.

If you or your organization, including non-profits and registered Charities, own land that uses surface water or groundwater (ie. water from a well, aquifer, pond, lake, stream, or other natural water source), you should be aware that you may be required to apply for a water license or use approval and pay a fee for your right to use that water.

The Regulations

The WSA is accompanied by five related regulations:

  1. Water Sustainability Regulation: This is the main supplemental regulation to the WSA. It contains the requirements of an application for a right to use water and defines the 21 industrial use subcategories.
  2. Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff Regulation: This regulation contains the fees and charges that apply to water use applications. An overview is available here.
  3. Water Districts Regulation: This regulation defines the province's Water Districts.
  4. Groundwater Protection Regulation: This regulation applies to the construction, maintenance and operation of wells.
  5. Dam Safety Regulation: This regulation applies to dams more than 7.5 meters high and that hold back more than 10 000m3 of water.

Water Use Purposes

The WSA and its regulations apply differently depending on what the water is used for. The Act defines eleven water use purposes, some of which include:

  • Conservation: "the diversion, retention or use of water for the purpose of conserving fish or wildlife…"
  • Land Improvement: "…facilitate the development of a recreational facility or of a park or other protected area…"
  • Storage: "the impounding and retention of water for subsequent use for a water use purpose"
  • Industrial: this purpose is further divided into 21 subcategories defined in the Water Sustainability Regulation, and includes:

2. Camps and public facilities (this includes schools, churches, religious and recreational camps, hospitals, and community centres)

3. Commercial enterprises (further defined)

8. Greenhouse and nursery

  1. Lawn, fairway and garden


For a summary of all water use purposes, see this instruction document for water license applicants.

Exemption for Domestic Use 

The WSA provides for a few specific exemptions that allow certain property owners to use surface water or groundwater without purchasing a license or water use approval.

One such exemption is for the domestic use of water, as long as the water source is not subject to specific regulations. Water used for domestic purposes is water used in a domestic residence for the household purposes of the occupants, such as for drinking water, food preparation, sanitation, fire prevention, household gardening, and providing water to household pets or poultry.

Although a domestic user is not likely to have to purchase a water license or use approval, domestic users of well water are encouraged to register their wells and water use to provide a record of their use priority. Read more about well records and registration here.


Before applying, review the guides provided by FrontCounterBC, as they contain detailed instructions on the information and steps required to submit an application. The surface water use application and guide can be found here. The existing groundwater use application and guide can be found here.

The guides also provide lists of documents and information every applicant will be required to submit with their application. If you must make an application, we recommend that you start preparing these documents as soon as possible.

Dates and Deadlines

Application fees for existing groundwater users have been waived until December 31, 2017.

It is recommended that property owners complete their licence or use approval application no later than March 1, 2019 to retain their water use precedence. Water users are given priority to water use, or water use precedence, based on several factors, including the date of the water’s first use. For existing water users that apply for a water licence before March 1, 2019, the date the water was first used will be determined by evidence submitted with the application. For users who apply after March 1, 2019, the applicant’s date of first use will be the date of the application.


The WSA and its regulations are very comprehensive, and thus not all parts of the legislation will apply to every water user. It is important for every property owner that uses surface water and/or groundwater to determine how the WSA applies to them, familiarize themselves with the WSA and accompanying regulations, and, if applicable, begin the required application for a license or use approval. 


For more information or for assistance with the requirements of the WSA, please contact Luke Johnson at De Jager Volkenant & Company.



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