Requirements for Groundwater Users

Did you know that all users of groundwater for non-domestic purposes need a licence under the Water Sustainability Act? As of March 1, 2022 both new and existing users can apply with a New Use Groundwater Licence. For questions or application support, please contact FrontCounter BC

If you divert and use groundwater for non-domestic purposes, such as irrigation, commercial or industrial use, you must now apply for and obtain a water licence and pay water fees and rentals. This change came into force with the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) on February 29, 2016.

Licensing groundwater helps us protect aquifers, streams and the businesses and livelihoods that depend on reliable access to water. Groundwater licensing clarifies how much water you can legally use, increases water security and establishes equity between stream water and groundwater users. During times of water scarcity, the priority system lowers the risk of conflict and helps the community better manage through challenging times.

Groundwater licensing ensures there is a fair and transparent process in place to gather information about water use. That information informs all our water management decisions, especially as demand for water increases.

Domestic Groundwater Use

If you are a well owner and you use water for domestic purposes, you are exempt from licensing and paying provincial water fees and rentals. Domestic groundwater users are deemed to have rights to the water they use for domestic purposes and they are encouraged to register their well. Registering your well creates a record of your water use and helps to ensure that your use is considered by the decision makers dealing with other licence applications. Registration is just for domestic use: do not complete a registration form if you are a non-domestic user.

All users must use the water beneficially and comply with the regulations for protecting groundwater.

Date of Precedence

Senior licensees are given priority over junior licensees when it comes to exercising their full rights to water. Non-domestic groundwater users are encouraged to apply for a water licence as early as possible because the date of application establishes the licence's priority date (FITFIR, first in time, first in right).

If you are an existing user and you applied for a water licence before March 1, 2022, you will be granted a date of precedence based on the date you began using groundwater, as determined by evidence submitted with the application. If you waited to apply until after March 1, 2022, you will be treated as a new applicant and given a junior priority date based on the date of your application.

Fees and Water Rentals

There is a one-time application fee (minimum $250) that is processed at the end of your online water licence application. Annual water rental fees depend on your water use purpose and the quantity of water used. Rental fees for new non-domestic groundwater users apply from the date the licence is issued.

Groundwater Protection Regulation

The Groundwater Protection Regulation sets guidelines for constructing and maintaining wells in order to prevent contamination and waste of groundwater, and to make sure that well construction is safe for the environment.

Transitioning Groundwater Users: After March 1, 2022

The first six years of the WSA were a transition period to bring in approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users into the water licensing scheme and its first-in-time, first-in-right (FITFIR) priority system. "Existing groundwater users" are those who were using groundwater from a well or dugout on or before February 29, 2016, for non-domestic purposes, such as irrigation, commercial or industrial use. Existing users were required to apply for a water licence on or before March 1, 2022 to continue using the water lawfully. 

As of March 2, 2022, the existing use groundwater application is no longer available. All non-domestic groundwater users who did not apply on or before the March 1, 2022 deadline are required to apply for and obtain a water licence before the water can be lawfully used, stored or diverted. A water licence application is done online.

If you applied for a licence as an existing non-domestic groundwater user on or before March 1, 2022, your water licence application fees were waived. After March 1, 2022, you will be treated as a new applicant and must pay application fees. Annual water rental fees will accrue from when the WSA was brought into effect February 29, 2016 for existing non-domestic groundwater users. Learn more about water fees and rentals.

Establishing Date of First Use

Existing groundwater users who applied on or before March 1, 2022, were asked to provide evidence of the date of first use in order to set the date of precedence. Evidence must demonstrate when the well was first brought into production and can include but is not limited to:

  • Records and invoices related to the construction of wells and other works
  • Environmental Assessment certificates
  • Well maintenance records
  • Photographs
  • A declaration signed by the applicant
  • Other corroborating information that would be recognized as evidence of historic use

Section 15 of the Water Sustainability Regulation provides the complete list of information and evidence required to support date of first use.

Existing groundwater users who did not apply for a water licence on or before March 1, 2022, no longer have the option to claim a historical date of first use and must follow the process for new water licences.