In the past, you only needed a water license for surface water. But that all changed in 2016, and the (real, final, March 1, 2022) deadline to apply for “existing use groundwater licensesis fast approaching!

If you’ve got questions, read below for more or watch our Q&A Webinar with Ministry Specialist Andrew Petersen. 


What needs to be licensed? Are there exceptions?

Since 2016, water licenses have been required to draw groundwater for any and all agricultural and commercial uses. Groundwater includes drilled wells, shallow dug wells, and ditches and dugouts that tap into the water table, like the ditching networks across the Creston flats.

Every agricultural water use requires a water license, except for domestic water. The license should also spell out whether the use is for irrigation, livestock, processing, storage, power generation, or another commercial use.

For example, if you’re licensed for “private irrigation” but you also water livestock, you should apply to get the license amended to include livestock use. Small changes like this are usually an easy fix for FrontCounterBC (who deal with the applications).

Any exceptions? Only domestic groundwater still does not require a license. You are also free to use rain and snow that falls on your property. Importantly, this does not include precipitation on an adjacent property that melts or runs off down into your property


Nobody’s knocking down my door… why should I apply now?

If you’ve been using groundwater for eons, this application deadline is the last chance you’ll have to secure an “old” water license. The “date of precedence” on your license establishes your priority, or you could think of it as seniority, in the event the province institutes water restrictions.

If you miss the March 1, 2022 deadline, you’ll only be able to license your groundwater with a “new” application. New applications likely have less chance of getting approved, and you’ll also lose your seniority, since your license will be dated after 2022… rather than 1932 when your grandparents dug that shallow well!

And if you go unlicensed, you risk losing it all. Down the road (maybe sooner than we expect) climate change might just force the province’s hand.


Why is the province making us do this?

Water scarcity, just like we saw last summer, is going to become a bigger problem, and the province knows it. 

“For a number of reasons, we’re likely to have less and less water available to irrigate in peak season,” said KBFA advisor and irrigation designer, Andrew Bennett. “Snow is melting faster in the spring. Climate change is a big part of that, but also rampant deforestation and widespread hard burns have left behind less shade to keep the snow cool, and less soil to hold meltwater. Earlier springs flush all that water off the landscape too soon.”

In mid-summer, it all comes to a head. “Hotter, drier summers mean crops will need more water to thrive as well, but that’s right when water levels will get really low as the hills stop supplying our rivers and aquifers,” Andrew said.

The province will eventually start to track down unlicensed users. They may even need to scale back on licenses with later dates of precedence.

“It’s more important than ever to have your water rights secured,” Andrew said. “There is a water scarcity problem. Not only will the province start shutting people down, it’s going to become even more challenging than it already is for unlicensed agricultural water users to secure a new license.”

So if you use groundwater that’s unlicensed, it’s time to get your foot in the door.


How do I apply for an “existing use groundwater license”?

First off, dig out some old photos of pumps, records of when a well was dug, or anything to prove how long you have been using the groundwater for agriculture. That’s one of the most important pieces of information you’ll need in the application.

If you follow this link, there are detailed instructions on how to prepare an application.

Although the license fee is waived in this particular case (that too will end on March 1), once your application is approved you will have to pay license fees back to 2016, and that could add up to a few hundred dollars by now!

If you need help understanding the process or the forms, don’t hesitate to call up one the advisors at KBFA, we’ll be happy to help.


Groundwater Licensing Presentation


Licensing Groundwater in BC: Brochure from the Ministry of Agriculture 

New requirements for groundwater licensing

About The Author

Recent Posts