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New legislation introduced to replace B.C.’s 105-year-old Water Act

BY DAN FUMANO, THE PROVINCE

The B.C. government has taken another step towards updating its century-old water legislation.

Tuesday morning in the legislature, Environment Minister Mary Polak introduced the Water Sustainability Act, which will update and replace B.C.’s 105-year-old Water Act.

“Water is our most precious resource,” Polak said while introducing the legislation.

The long awaited Water Sustainability Act goes to first reading

The long awaited Water Sustainability Act went to first reading March 11, 2014.

Since 1909, the Water Act has served as B.C.’s primary water law, Polak said.

For years, members of the government and the public have said the legislation is overdue for an update.

One important weakness of the Water Act, critics said, is that it has left B.C. as the only province in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use. This allows corporations and industries in B.C. to withdraw fresh water without paying the government for it, or measuring or reporting how much they take.

Polak said Tuesday the new Water Sustainability Act will regulate and protect groundwater.

Critics have expressed concern that the new legislation won’t charge enough to large-scale water users. In a legislative proposal released in the fall, the proposed fee amounted to a dollar for more than a million litres of groundwater.

A government release Tuesday morning did not include specifics about water-use fees, but said: “The B.C. government is also reviewing its approach to water pricing and has released a set of principles that will help inform a new fee and rental structure to support the new act and sustainable water management.”

Last fall, the government received and considered more than 3,000 comments on the proposed legislation.

The bill is expected to receive second reading later this week, said a spokesman from the Ministry of Environment.

Gwen Barlee, policy director of the Wilderness Committee, had similar concerns about a “weak” Act, saying Tuesday: “My worry is that our antiquated Water Act is going to be replaced with a piece of legislation that has good intentions, but doesn’t have the necessary enforceable language and mandatory standards to actually protect freshwater in B.C. And that is a crying shame.”

The bill could be back before the legislature for a second reading as soon as this week, said a spokesman from the Ministry of Environment.

The government has said the Water Sustainability Act will be brought into effect in spring 2015.

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