Regulations eyed for groundwater

October 24, 2007

A policy on harmonization of bylaws governing well drilling throughout the valley is being developed by the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council in a bid to protect groundwater.

At present all three regional districts require well drilling information when ground water is to be used, as part of the subdivision approval process, but each has different requirements.

Doug Geller, speaking for the ground water association of B.C., pointed out that the lack of consistent requirements means there is no data being collected about wells being drilled, and no control over how much ground water can be drawn from an aquifer.

Council staff were also asked to formulate a policy recommendation regarding licensing of ground water in the Okanagan.

Council member Brian Guy said it makes sense for the province to focus on the Okanagan in licensing of ground water with a pilot project, because it’s one of three areas in the province where there are issues with ground water.

In his report to the council, Geller explained that without licensing it’s very difficult to coordinate water management.

There’s the potential for unregulated capture of surface water, which is licensed. There’s also potential for user conflicts and no data is being collected on how much is being used.

There’s also no environmental assessment required.

There’s more demand on ground water in the Okanagan because of all the growth in recent years, particularly since there’s no regulation of it, contrary to surface waters.

The association’s priorities are to regulate ground water extraction and use; to collect data, monitor and manage it; and to prepare a watershed-scale basin plan, he told the council.

He noted that in Alberta ground water has been regulated for 50 years.

In proposing that council staff prepare policies for the council to consider, Guy said leadership is needed on the issue of ground water.

“There’s been an explosion in ground water use in the valley. Who but us can show leadership in the valley on this issue?” he questioned.

Bob Hrasko noted that geothermal drilling should also be licenced because, like groundwater extraction, it’s all reported on a goodwill basis now.

Vicki Carmichael, senior ground water hydrologist with the environment ministry, reported there are 69 mapped aquifers in the Okanagan, with five that are defined as high priority.

There are 6,200 wells in the basin that are in the provincial database, but it’s estimated there could be many more.

There are mapping projects underway throughout the valley.

She said there’s a need to better understand the links between ground water and surface water.

She suggested the council recommend to the Okanagan Basin Water Board and the regional districts in the valley that a water management plan be initiated by the province.

It’s a process that brings together data about water in an area, and comes up with a management plan, with input from the community.

Under such a plan, local authorities could establish a regulation requiring that ground water be managed by license.

All three regional districts need to agree on the process and be prepared to amend bylaws where needed for improved water management in the basin, she warned.