Two apples on a branch, with house in background

All about registering groundwater wells

With the deadline for registering irrigation, commercial or industrial use wells fast approaching, the Quadra ICAN water security team is concerned that some people may miss out. 

According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development press release, “A water licence is not required for a household well or groundwater used for domestic purposes, such as watering lawns and gardens. Domestic groundwater users are encouraged to register their well for free.” 

Kris Wellstein pointed out that water used for home industries like egg stands, market gardens and fruit trees (if the fruit is sold) is classified as commercial.  

Photo credit: Looking up from inside the well – Photo by Josh Kahen on Unsplash
Registering water wells

The Ministry states “Existing groundwater users who have not applied by the deadline will be unlicensed and must stop using groundwater.” 

The deadline for filing is March 1st, 2022* , but “Consequences for not filing with the registry can be substantial, with penalties up to $25,000 for an individual, or $50,000 for a corporation, or 5% of the assessed value of the property, whichever is greater.”

Kris Wellstein of the Quadra ICAN water security team – submitted photo

Wellstein said the information she received from government indicated that  commercial use has a higher priority than personal use.

She does not like having to file herself, but compared BC to the ‘Wild West.’ Much more stringent regulations are enforced in other parts of the world. 

“One of the government ladies that I was trying to get information out of, yesterday, told me that in Denmark you are charged for your water use and then you get charged again for that water to be cleaned and put back into system,” she said. “You get charged both ways and you get lost a lot. Here: they are just talking about charging us a little bit to use water.”

Mike Gall added that in BC, “The rate is something like $1.25 per 100,000 litres. It is an incredibly low dollar value for the amount of water you actually use.”

He added that once a well is licensed, the government does have the right to inspect it. (However they would need to hire the personal to do this.)

“They do want to collect back fees from 2016 (when the legislation was brought in),” said Team Leader Jude McCormick. “But the cost is really reasonable.”

She added the neither the government or local community know how much water is used locally. So they can use regulations that work for urban Campbell River, but do not make sense on rural Quadra Island. 

Registered wells in the Heriot Bay – Quathiaski Cove area of Quadra Island – Screenshot from Groundwater wells and Aquifers, Government of British Columbia

Bernie Amell pointed out that there are already parts of Canada where businesses use water metres and their reports are checked by the government.  

“That’s for major water users,” he said. “Even in the prairies, the domestic use is on an assumed basis.”

He added that while “theoretically the licensing for industry is above domestic, but in my experience, watching it happen in the prairies, it never comes down to that because these are people in your neighbourhood. You’re not going to cut them off from domestic use. There is a difference between legally what might happen and what actually happens. There is a lot of scare talk and it is not useful to get engaged in that sometimes.” 

McCormick hopes that the scientific data and stories from local residents that Quadra ICAN collects can be used to educate the government about the island’s true situation and needs.

Mike Gall of the Quadra ICAN water security team – submitted photo

“Luckily we do not have large scale agriculture here, or water bottling. The only large scale operation I can think of here on Quadra, that uses a great deal of water, would be Walcan Seafood and that is in a fairly isolated location,” said Gall. 

He pointed out that water boards – composed of representatives from  industry and the community – are formed in areas where there is large scale agricultural usage.

“They get together and talk about how they want to use their water and that is much better communications, by the way, than a top down approach coming from provincial bureaucrats,” he said. “Essentially that is what this team is all about. We have access to really solid resources, a post doctoral scientific researcher, another scientist on the team, we  have people with a great deal of experience in well data logging. It is coming together and jelling very nicely.” 

Registered wells in the southern part of Quadra Island – Screenshot from Groundwater wells and Aquifers, Government of British Columbia

This is the second in a series of programs arising from an interview with Bernie Amell, Mike Gall, Jude McCormick and Kris Wellstein from the Quadra ICAN water security team.

Top photo credit: Apple on the tree by Alessio Maffeis via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License).

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