Putting the “Sustainable” in B.C.’s New Water Law

By Water Canada 02:52PM November 15, 2015



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By Rosie Simms and Oliver M. Brandes

With the replacement of its over a century-old Water Act with the new Water Sustainability Act in 2014, British Columbia has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize its freshwater legislation and usher in a new era of water stewardship. The Water Sustainability Act has many promising features that can better protect the province’s freshwater resources. Yet full implementation of the new Act hinges on passing critical supporting regulations that will provide the necessary details to make the Act fully functional.

Released on November 16th, 2015, a new research report from the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project on Ecological Governance outlines what is needed to put the “sustainable” in the Water Sustainability Act. This report provides a timely analysis of the core regulations required for the Water Sustainability Act to reach its full potential as a comprehensive and modern water law. Awash with Opportunity: Ensuring the Sustainability of British Columbia’s New Water Law offers clear recommendations to develop the necessary regulations based on leading international practices in five key areas: groundwater, environmental flows, monitoring and reporting, water objectives, and planning and governance.

“Mounting water concerns in the province underscore the urgent need to reform water management and the supporting legal structures,” says Deborah Curran, Hakai Professor in Environmental Law and Sustainability, and report co-author. British Columbia’s fresh water is under pressure from an array of threats, including climate change, population growth, and escalating and competing demands for water. Watersheds across the province are showing signs of stress, with recent mounting water issues—from unprecedented droughts to water quality degradation and conflicts over water use—only increasing the urgency to act.

If British Columbia does not change its approach to freshwater management to respond to these realities, the consequences may be significant, as demonstrated by the recent water crises experienced in California and Washington, and indeed globally.

“A comprehensive water law regime that includes a fully implemented Water Sustainability Act and a full suite of supporting regulations is a necessary condition to ensure that future water challenges do not become debilitating water crises,” says Oliver M. Brandes, Co-Director of POLIS, who authored the report together with Deborah Curran and colleagues at POLIS.

The report offers the Provincial government the specific advice and insights needed to move beyond crisis response toward a fresh partnership approach with shared roles and responsibilities to protect British Columbia’s water resources now and into the future.

The report, Awash With Opportunity: Ensuring the Sustainability of British Columbia’s New Water Law, is available on the POLIS website.


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