VANCOUVER, B.C. – B.C. groundwater users are at risk of losing their water rights if they fail to apply for required licenses.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives sent out the heads-ups in a release Thursday following research done by the organization. The CCPA found that 16,000 out of 20,000 users have yet to apply for their historic groundwater license since the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) became law in 2016.

Those who haven’t received their license have until March 1st, 2022 or else they risk losing access to groundwater.

“When the government changed the rules with the WSA, it recognized that it was placing a new regulatory burden on historic groundwater users and gave them time to continue using their water while they applied for the licences. Now, the time to get those applications in is running out,” says Donna Forsyth,  former legislative advisor for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

The CCPA says groundwater use was unregulated before the WSA and, once established, required all users to apply for licenses, including oil and gas companies and mine and smelter operators.

Forsyth says those who fail to receive their license will lose their authority to use the water and may have to wait years before a decision is made on their application.

“In addition, since these late licenses will not recognize previous water use, they will lose their seniority and therefore be the first to be cut off in times of water scarcity,” Forsyth adds.

Mike Wei, a former deputy comptroller of water rights in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, says three things explain the slow uptake.

“First, government has not been clear and convincing about the benefits of applying and consequences of not applying,” Wei says. “Second, the typically long timelines for government to make decisions on applications undermines confidence and may be scaring away historic users who have yet to apply. Third, there’s been a general lack of checking and enforcing the rules governing unauthorized water use, which sends an unfortunate signal that government is not serious.”

To implement the WSA licenses, BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development received nearly $22 million over three years in 2016. However, the deadline was extended because of the low number of applications received.