Some farmers who are using groundwater from the Koksilah watershed for their operations without a licence are being told to turn their water off as the extreme drought continues.
Alison Nicholson, the Cowichan Valley Regional District director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, told the board at its meeting on July 26 that with water levels in the watershed so low this summer, the province has begun sending compliance officers to farms that don’t have a groundwater licence to tell them they have to shut off their water.
She said the province has been encouraging farmers and other commercial users of groundwater in B.C. to apply for a groundwater licence for more than six years.
“Surface water licences in the Koksilah watershed (one of the most vulnerable watersheds on eastern Vancouver Island) have not been given out since the early 1980s because they were over committed, so everyone put in wells,” Nicholson said.
“So now they are required to license their use of wells for commercial purposes, but many people decided that they didn’t like to have government overreach, so I guess they did not apply for a licence. The time limit to get a licence ran out last spring and so, because we’re in such a serious drought right now, particularly in the Koksilah area, the province is sending officers around to tell people to shut off their water. It has happened to a number of fairly important farms in the community.”
In 1996, the government passed a law, called the B.C. Water Sustainability Act, requiring licences for farms and industries to tap into groundwater.
The regulation of naturally occurring groundwater is designed to protect aquifers and streams, as well as businesses and livelihoods that depend on reliable access to water.
The law does not apply to people who use wells or dugouts for residential purposes, including watering lawns and gardens of a quarter acre or less and fire protection, but they were encouraged to voluntarily apply for a licence as well for regulatory purposes.
The deadline for applying for a water licence was March 1, 2022, and fees were waived for users who applied before the deadline.
The government had warned that those who didn’t apply for a water licence will lose recognition of their use of wells and dugouts.
Nicholson said the situation is becoming increasingly serious as the drought, and climate change, continues and it’s likely that more farmers and commercial users of groundwater in the Koksilah area who don’t have a licence will be told to turn off their water.
“We can expect that this will become more common throughout the region,” she said.
“People fail to understand that surface water and ground water are intimately connected and when water levels get low enough, the province can shut down these commercial operations. I’m getting really worried.”