B.C.’s commitment to water sustainability

Minister Polak writes about modernizing B.C.'s Water Act

By Mary Polak

Fresh water is one of British Columbia’s most valuable natural resources.

It provides us with clean energy, supports our iconic salmon runs and quenches our thirst. It is the lifeblood of our province and – as a limited resource – must be cared for wisely to ensure its continued health and security for future generations.

Modernizing B.C.’s Water Act was a key commitment in our government’s election platform.

Premier Christy Clark has directed me to complete consultation with British Columbians on a proposed new Water Sustainability Act with the intention of passing new legislation in 2014. The new act will update and replace the existing Water Act, respond to current and future pressures on water and position B.C. as a leader in water stewardship.

The Water Sustainability Act will benefit all British Columbians – our communities and families, our environment and our economy.

We started working on the proposed new act in 2009 and have engaged widely with British Columbians. In the more than 2,200 written submissions, individual citizens, First Nations organizations and stakeholder groups shared their ideas and pride for their rivers, lakes, streams and watersheds.

Government has reviewed this input carefully and continues to refine the legislative proposals, seeks to better understand sector concerns and works out the details of how the new Water Sustainability Act will be implemented.

The B.C. government will be releasing detailed legislative proposals for public feedback later this fall.

We recognize one of the greatest weaknesses of the existing Water Act is that groundwater – with a few exceptions – is not currently regulated in B.C. As such, the province does not license or charge for withdrawing groundwater.

Almost a million British Columbians rely on groundwater for drinking and hundreds of groundwater aquifers provide water for agriculture, industries, municipalities and rural homes throughout the province. This is why regulating groundwater use will be a key component of the new Water Sustainability Act.

I would also like to acknowledge that First Nations in B.C. bring a unique perspective due to strong cultural, ecological and economic interests in water. The B.C. government will continue to engage First Nations as we refine and implement the proposed Water Sustainability Act.

My predecessors and I have met with members of the First Nations Leadership Council and I plan to meet with them again later this fall.

I continue to be impressed by the strong interest British Columbians have taken in their water resources. Water plays an important role in shaping our communities and what government does is only part of the solution.

All British Columbians are challenged to play their part to protect, preserve and conserve our water. I look forward to introducing the new Water Sustainability Act in the legislature in 2014.

For more information on the proposed Water Sustainability Act, please visit www.livingwatersmart.ca/water-act/.

Mary Polak is British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and the MLA for Langley.