Frequently Asked Questions about Water Billing
These are the most frequently asked questions about water management account statements.
1. What is this Water Management Account Statement for?
British Columbia's Water Sustainability Act assigns ownership of surface and groundwater to the Crown, on behalf of the residents of the province. With a few exceptions, if you want to divert and use surface water or non-domestic groundwater, you must obtain a water licence or a use approval under the Water Sustainability Act that grants you the rights to that water. When a water licence is issued, annual water rentals are assessed.
Payment of annual water rentals is one responsibility of a water licence holder. Your statement reflects your annual rental charge for the right to use the water allocated to you under your water licence. Depending on the amount of annual rental payable, clients are billed in the following manner:
- Twice a year if the annual rental is over $100,00.00
- Once a year if the annual rental is over $60.00, but less than $100,000.00
- Once every three years if the annual rental is $60.00 or less
2. How will my water bill account for the different rates under the Water Act (in force until February 28, 2016) and under the Water Sustainability Act (in force as of February 29, 2016)?
For 2016 your water licence will be billed at the Water Act rate for the period of January 1, 2016 to February 28, 2016, then at the Water Sustainability Act rate for the balance of the calendar year. You will see a single total for each licence on your statement.
If you are billed every three years and this is your year to be billed (Southern Interior and Okanagan) you will be billed for January 1, 2016 to February 28, 2016, then at the Water Sustainability Act rate for the balance of the calendar years. If you are billed every three years and this is not your year to be billed, you will be billed as usual in the year or two following at the Water Sustainability Act rate; in other words, your fees will only increase when you are next billed.
3. I sold that property. Why am I receiving a bill?
Water Management Branch (Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations - FLNR) are not automatically notified by the Land Titles Office of the sale of a property or when a Crown land tenure expires or is transferred. Our statements are sent to the client(s) we currently have registered on record as the water licence holder. If you no longer own the property appurtenant to the water licence for which you have been billed, please complete a Notification of Water Licence Name Change / Transfer at http://www.frontcounterbc.gov.bc.ca/guides/water/name-change-transfer/overview/. You can also call FrontCounter BC and they will arrange for the transfer.
4. I don't use that water. Why are you sending me a bill?
The Provincial Government needs to be notified that you are no longer using your water rights. To do this, fill in the abandonment notification at FrontCounter BC. You will continue to be sent a bill for as long as there is a balance owing on your account. This also applies to licences that have expired or have been cancelled.
If an overdue account is not settled within a reasonable amount of time, it runs the risk of being forwarded to a collection agency.
5. I use well water. Do I need a water licence?
Under the Water Sustainability Act that came into effect on February 29, 2016, those using groundwater for non-domestic purposes are required to obtain a water licence or use approval and pay fees and rentals. Homeowners with wells (“domestic users”) are exempt from licensing and fees. Domestic purpose is defined in Section 2 of the Water Sustainability Act. Learn more about new requirements for non-domestic groundwater users here. Existing groundwater users who apply for a water licence on or before December 31, 2017 will have their water licence application fees waived. Annual rentals accrue starting February 29, 2016, regardless of when an application is submitted during the three-year transition period that ends March 1, 2019.
6. The water is on my neighbour's property. Why should I pay this bill?
The ‘point of diversion’ for the water you use may originate on your neighbour’s property. You are required, nevertheless, to hold a licence that reflects your right to that water from that source. If you feel there is an error in your water licence please visit your regional FrontCounter BC office or call FrontCounter BC.
7. The debt belongs to the previous land owner. Why am I receiving this bill?
Under the Water Sustainability Act, debt associated with a water licence is the responsibility of the current landowner. This is because the licensed rights and obligations (including payment of rentals) pass with conveyance of the appurtenant land as described in the Land Title.
A vendor is responsible for disclosing everything about the land they are selling. A purchaser is responsible for finding out everything about their intended purchase. Settlement of debt from a previous owner is strictly between the purchaser and vendor – Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Water Management Branch plays no role in this matter.
If you decide to keep the licence that is connected to your land, you must pay the outstanding balance owing on the licence in full or it runs the risk of being cancelled for non-payment.
If you decided to abandon the licence you will remain responsible for the debt calculated up to the date your abandonment request is received by Water Management.
8. The water is not usable. Why are you billing me?
The Water Sustainability Regulation specifies that rentals are charged for the right to use the water, not for the actual use. Water Management does not guarantee that water will always be available; nor does it guarantee the quality of the water. You may want to consider abandoning your licence if you are not using the water you are entitled to.
9. I pay my bills. Why is there an overdue amount?
An overdue amount will appear on your statement if a payment has not been received or not yet recorded prior to your statement being sent out, if you did not make a full payment in the past, or if there have been additional charges added to your account.
If your payment for the previous year’s rentals is not received until the current calendar year, your statement will show a "Balance" forward on the statement, while the payment information (receipt #, date, etc) will show in the body of the statement; the "Total Due/Credit" amount will reflect the net of all charges, payments and adjustments on your account.
Your account will reflect any charges since your last payment; for example, any charges incurred through an amendment to your licence.
If you paid your account, but Water Management Branch does not have a record of your payment, photocopy your Government Agent payment or bank payment receipt or both the back and front of your cancelled cheque and forward it to the Water Revenue Unit, noting your client number and advising Water Management Branch that the payment is not showing on your account.
Water Revenue Unit - Water Management Branch
PO Box 9340
STN PROV GOVT
10. What is a three-year billing cycle?
Licence holders whose annual rentals are $60 or less are billed once every three years. The benefits from three-year billing are:
- Reduced costs related to billing clients and processing payments
- A rental rate that is frozen for the duration of a billing cycle if there is an increase part way through the cycle (as long as the client remains within the same billing group)
For the three year billing cycles, the regions of the province are divided into three sub-groupings with about the same number of clients in each grouping. Systematically each year one of the groupings is billed for three years.
11. I don't want to pay my billing for three years upfront. Can I change my billing to yearly?
If, for financial reasons, you are not able to pay the three-years rental at once, you may send us a “dire-straits” letter stating so. Your letter will be placed on file. You will continue to be billed every three years; however, you may pay one year’s rental at a time. Late payment penalties will continue to be assessed as per the rules in place at the time (currently, nothing less than $5.00 will be assessed) but will be adjusted to zero if you request reversal of the penalties.
12. I can't understand the statement. What are all the charges for?
The most common charges are for:
a) A new licence has been issued from an application:
- Additional application fees may be required, e.g., Permit Over Crown Land
- Pro-rated first year rentals plus additional rentals may be charged to bring your account in line with your billing group
b) A licence has been issued as a result of an amendment:
- An amendment fee may be required;
- Rentals may be adjusted for the period the licence was under review; and
- Rentals may be adjusted for a change of purpose or the quantity of water authorized
c) A licence has been abandoned/cancelled/expired:
An adjustment may be required to show what is actually owed up to the point the licence ceased to exist;
d) A client’s billing group has changed
13. I paid an application fee when I applied for my licence. Why are you still charging me for it?
There are numerous situations in which a licence issued is different from what the client originally applied for. Every individual water use purpose and Crown land use (Permit over Crown Land) has a required application fee.
The most common application fee not paid at the time of application is for a Permit to Occupy Crown Land. An application fee may have been paid for a domestic licence but once reviewed by regional water staff, it’s determined that a permit over Crown land is also needed, which is a separate application fee and licence.
This required application fee is often assessed to the account after the licence has been issued.
14. I recently paid my statement. Why are you sending me another statement?
Your payment and your current statement may have crossed in the mail; or you may have paid the balance on a previous statement that did not include the current charges.
15. Why does the water licence volume shown on my water billing statement not match the volume on my licence?
The statement shows water volume in cubic metres. Water Management Branch calculates this volume by converting the volume (Imperial units were used prior to 2006) or area measure, recorded in our database, to cubic metres, and then rounding this to four significant figures. This may result in a discrepancy between the volume or area measure shown on the water billing statement and your water licence or Permit over Crown Land.
Although there may be a difference between the volume of water on the licence and the volume of water on your billing statement, if the volume of water involved is small, there is no difference in the rental rate.
A water licence may be issued for 2,200 litres a day (which is also 2.2 cubic metres a day) for domestic use. Water Management’s database may have recorded the volume to be 500 gallons a day. The metric conversion used to calculate the water rent will round 500 gallons a day more precisely – that is, to 2.273 cubic metres. However, the water rental will be the same – that is, default to the minimum of $25.00 (in 2016, the minimum will change to $50).
If you believe there is a greater discrepancy or error on your statement, call FrontCounter BC.
16. How does Water Management calculate my water rental charges?
Annual, sector-based, rents for water licences are based on an annual volume (expressed in cubic metres per year), which is the total amount of water you are authorized to use in a year. Rental rates for Permits over Crown Land, which authorize dam sites, works and flooding, are based on hectares.
The rental calculation on your water billing statement can be checked against Water Management’s web-based Rent Estimator.
The Water Rent Estimator provides an estimate of provincial water rentals, which are annual payments for the diversion and use of water. The tool was updated in 2016 to reflect changes that came into effect for licensing and use approvals.
This tool provides an estimate for a given volume and purpose. Actual rentals that apply may differ.
Additional charges, such as late payment fees, are not calculated by the tool.
Water Management has not changed its billing practices.However, if you have been billed every three years, that may change at your next billing anniversary if your water rentals have increased to more than $60 per year. In that case, you will be billed every year thereafter instead of every three years. If your total annual rentals continue to total $60 or less, you will continue to be billed every three years.
The most significant changes affect non-domestic groundwater users, who must now pay fees and rentals to divert and use water.