Existing Use Groundwater Licence

Existing Use Groundwater Licence

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This application is to apply for a water licence for your existing non-domestic groundwater use, meaning your water use began before March 1, 2016. You are legally required to apply by March 1, 2022, as per the Water Sustainability Act (WSA). If you submit by the deadline government will consider when you first used the water to establish your first-in-time, first-in-right (FITFIR) priority date.

Domestic use is exempt from licensing: this includes water for household use by the occupants of a private dwelling, fire prevention, domestic animals, and watering a private lawn up to 1,000 min size.

Groundwater extraction projects with a design capacity of 75 litres per second or greater may require an Environmental Assessment Certificate (EAC) or a certificate exemption. More information is available online or by contacting the EAO.

Aquifer’ and ‘groundwater’ are defined terms in the WSA. An aquifer means a geological formation containing, or capable of containing, groundwater. Groundwater is defined as water naturally occurring below the surface of the ground.

What is specified in a water licence?

·         water source

·         water use purpose(s)

·         maximum quantity of water that may be used

·         works associated with the water use

·         where the water can be used

You can apply to use water for more than one purpose on your application. Read the list of water use purpose definitions to see which one(s) you should apply for.

Does your existing well or related works occupy Crown Land?

If your existing well or related works occupy Crown land you will be required to provide proof that an authorization for that use of Crown land has been granted, or an application for an authorization to use Crown land has been made. Authorization can be in the form of a Permit Over Crown Land, or a more formal tenure under the Land Act. Tenure under the Land Act is normally required for larger projects such as waterpower or waterworks. If you require a Crown Land authorization, but do not already have one, you will be prompted to apply for a permit or tenure as part of the water licence application process.

Costs and Responsibilities

How much does a licence cost?

The one-time application fee (minimum $250) for existing users has been waived if your application is received by March 1, 2022. Annual rental fees are not waived and are charged from March 1, 2016 for existing groundwater users.  Fees vary based on how much water you are using and for what purpose(s).

You can use the Water Rent and Application Fee Estimator to estimate your application and water use fees

Payment can be made by one of the following:

  • Online via Credit Card
  • Mail Payment Cheque/Money Order -Payable to Minister of Finance
  • Cash/Debit - To be paid at one of the FrontCounter BC office locations

Application fees and annual rentals are not required from:

  • Provincial or Federal Ministries
  • A person or entity that is exempt under a First Nations treaty final agreement from fees and rentals for water use out of a treaty water reservation. This exemption also applies to those people or entities that were using groundwater on treaty lands on or before February 29, 2016
  • A person or entity that is exempt under the Nisga'a Final Agreement from fees and rentals for water use out of the Nisga'a Water Reservation. This exemption also applies to those people or entities that were using groundwater on Nisga'a Lands on or before February 29, 2016.
  • Use approvals, change approvals and permits that are processed by the BC Oil and Gas Commission

Your rights and responsibilities

If you were using groundwater for a non-domestic purpose on or before February 29, 2016, you may continue that water use beyond the application deadline of March 1, 2022 until you receive your licence.

As a licensee, you are responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of any works constructed under your water licence.

What you need to apply

A licence application requires several pieces of information about your water use and works (e.g., well, dugout). You can use this checklist to help assemble the information you will need.

Existing User Groundwater Application - How to Apply Video Tutorial

An in-depth guide has also been developed that gives page-by-page instruction on how to complete the application.

To save time during the application process:

1. Register for a basic BCeID.

Having a BC online account (BCeID) will allow you to save your application and return to it later if you are not able to complete the application in one session. Register here: https://www.bceid.ca/ and select a basic BCeID.

2. Gather information on your well(s) regarding its location, depth and construction.

Sources for information include:

  • Well construction reports
  • Well construction or pump installation/maintenance invoices
  • Pumping records
  • Pump test reports and water quality test results

3. Gather property and water use information, including:

  • Parcel ID number (9 digit PID number on your property tax notice).
  • If there is more than one name on your notice they are considered a co-applicant
  • What purpose the water is used for 
  • Estimates of water use volume for each water use purpose

You can estimate agricultural water usage using the Agriculture Water Calculator.

4. Gather evidence to show when groundwater was first used and the history of use from the well.

If you apply by March 1, 2022, your date of precedence will be based on when the groundwater use began. Evidence might include well documentation, government-issued certificates or permits, historical records or photographs, or Traditional Land Use and archaeological studies.

5. Create a map of the properties where the water is used.

It should include:

  • Property boundaries
  • Works (well location, pipelines, etc.)
  • Major features (Buildings, fields, etc.)
  • Labels

The Agricultural Water Calculator is a helpful tool for making maps.

Helpful links:

What happens after you apply

Your application will go through the following process before any decision is made about whether the water licence will be granted.

  1. Receiving the application

When Natural Resource applications are submitted, it is expected that they meet the posted application requirements for that application type, both in quality and completeness, so that the proposal is ready to move towards a decision in a timely manner. The application requirements can be found under the applicable water application authorization guidance.

Poor quality or incomplete applications can result in substantial delays and create significant workload impacts to ministry staff. In order to improve application turnaround times, applicants are required to provide missing information or respond to FrontCounter BC staff requests within 2 weeks.

If applicants are not able to meet the requested timeframe, they should inform the requesting staff member as early as possible. Applications not meeting application requirements within the requested timeframes may be rejected. The applicant may be entitled to a partial refund of the application fee, however, in many circumstances, no refund will be provided. For further information, please refer to the Fee Refunds Policy.

If the application is returned or not accepted, applicants can expect a detailed explanation of application deficiencies. If an application is rejected due to deficiencies, applicants may re apply at their convenience.

  1. Consultations & Referrals

Applications may be referred to other provincial and federal regulatory agencies for comment during the adjudication process. Consultation with First Nations, other water users, community groups or other parties may be required if existing rights could be affected by your application.

  1. Review

Once FrontCounter BC has received all comments and objections from potentially affected parties, and any additional information provided by you or affected parties, applications undergo a technical review. During the technical review process you may be asked to provide additional information or may be required to undertake further study to support your application. On the basis of this review, a recommendation is made for the consideration of a statutory decision maker, normally a Water Manager, who is authorized under legislation to grant a water licence.

  1. Decision

A water manager from Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations will decide whether to approve your application after weighing the information, and will inform you of the decision.

Tips for a successful application

Follow these tips to make the application process easier:

1.    Review this guide and have all the information and documents ready before you start filling out the application.

2.    Use a Basic, Personal or Business BCeID for your application. A BCeID is easy to get and allows you to save your application, reopen it, and check the status of your application online. Applications will automatically time-out after a certain period of inactivity if not saved.

3.    Contact FrontCounter BC before you begin, to help you with all natural resource applications.


Guide: Entering an Application for an Existing Groundwater Licence

How to apply for a BCeID