The Water Sustainability Act

The Future of Sustainable Protection of Surface and Groundwater;

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The Water Sustainability Act.


The Water Sustainability Act is a new law that will be replacing the current Water Act that was made in 1909. The water act has now been outdated pertaining to our water needs, and our growing populations. The Water Sustainability Act will bring B.C. water laws into the 21st century. The water Sustainability Act will update the current laws from the Water Act, and also bring new policies into consideration, an example of this would be treating groundwater and surface water as one resource and protecting them both. The seven key areas that will be included in the Water Sustainability Act include: (A Water Sustainability Act For B.C., 2014, October)

  1. Protect stream health and aquatic environments
  2. Consider water in land use decisions
  3. Regulate and protect groundwater
  4. Regulate water use during times of scarcity
  5. Improve security, water use, efficiency and conservation
  6. Measure and report large scale water use
  7. Provide for a range of governance approaches

These improvements to the Water Act will insure that we are protecting are water so that we can be sustainable in the future. By protection the stream health and aquatic environments it prevents the dumping of wastes and pollutants. It also will protect streams from droughts. If the amount of water in a stream or river is effecting the aquatic life, there will be protection orders put out to stop any water being taken out of the stream or river, and anything that is under the influence of it. Another part of the act will be considering water in land use decisions. This is mainly focusing on sustainable development. The water on this planet will be protected and thought of before any development pertains near a water source. This will happen because new water objectives will be defined, and there will be more decision making towards a long-term health of aquatic environments, streams, rivers and any body of water. In this act the groundwater will also be protected, which is the first time in history that groundwater has been treated as a source water in British Columbia. Protection of groundwater will include; licencing of groundwater with an exception to domestic use, improvement of knowledge on the aquifers and wells, and updating all drilling requirements. These rules will improve our groundwater in quality and quantity because it will show how much groundwater is being used, how much groundwater every aquifer and well can give while still being sustainable, and by updating the drill requirements it protects from contamination of groundwater while improving the treatment process following source groundwater. The next point of the Water Sustainability Act is protecting water sources during scarcity. This will allow for adequate water needs for humans, but will also allow temporary restrictions to protect the quantity of water and the aquatic life that lives in it. By doing this every water source will always have adequate amounts for aquatic life as well as humans. The Water Sustainability Act will also improve security, water use, efficiency and conservation. Which allows for all water licences to be reviewed every 30 years, makes sure that all water users are using the water beneficially and in a conserving way. By measuring water uses, all big water users must report how much they use, this allows for people to have a set amount they are allowed to use, and they can pay a set amount for the water. This stops companies coming to British Columbia, taking our water in large amounts for free, and then selling it back to us. The last point of the Water Sustainability Act is enabling government approaches. This will allow for other agencies other the government to partake in water sustainability. Which will allow the public to have more say what they think is sustainable for our water. (A Water Sustainability Act For B.C., 2014, October)

Even though every part of the Water Sustainability Act is important to the conservation, protection and sustainability of our water; the focus of this paper will be on the protection of streams and aquatic ecosystems, regulating water during scarcity and groundwater protection.


In the Water Sustainability Act, the protection of our streams and aquatic ecosystems is provided. British Columbians had shown extreme support measures to protect stream health. This includes lakes, rivers, creeks and all bodies of water. (A Water Sustainability Act For B.C., 2014, October)

The Water Sustainability Act protects stream and aquatic health by: (A Water Sustainability Act For B.C., 2014, October)

  1. Environmental thresholds are considered when new allocations to water are made. This applies to surface water and ground water except in low-risk situations.
  2. Expanding on roles when dumping debris that currently exists in the Fish Protection Act. This includes debris like human and animal wastes, pesticides and fertilizers

Section 15 of the Water Sustainability Act is focused on environmental flow needs. In this section it is mentioned that the decision maker must consider flow needs of a stream in new constructions or projects. In these projects, assessments must be done, and the decision maker will then determine if this project will continue based on the effects on the stream or body of water. (Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29)

In section 86 of the Water Sustainability Act, Declarations of significant water shortages are protected. It stated that if there are one or more streams that are at high-risk of critical environmental flow thresholds, the minister will make an order protecting the current flows of the stream, and any bodies of water that come in contact with the high-risk stream. These orders that are made cannot be longer than 90 days. Once this order has expired, the minister may make another order and asses if the stream or body of water is still high-risk or not. (Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29)

Section 46 prohibits the introduction of foreign matter into a stream. It includes anyone introducing, or someone allowing anyone else to introduce foreign matter such as “debris, refuse, human and animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers, contaminants or any other matter or substance into or adjacent to a stream. These foreign substances must not be added where it will cause significant adverse impact to any of the following: (Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29)

  1. Stream or stream channel
  2. Existing uses of water from a stream
  3. Property or riparian owners of the stream
  4. An aquifer that is hydraulically connected to the stream or the existing uses of the water from an aquifer
  5. Aquatic ecosystem of a stream

These practices do not apply to a forest practice or prescribed activity, practice or substance.

Section 56 provides rules on decommissioning or deactivating wells. Wells are considered to be in service when they are used on a regular basis, or when it is considered a backup supply. A well is considered out of service when it hasn’t been used for a period of time or has prescribed circumstances. When a well isn’t in service it must be deactivated or decommissioned under section 46 of the Water Sustainability Act. (Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29)

Some definitions to understand that are stated in the Water Sustainability Act, Stream Health protection section retrieved from Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29; include:

Aquatic ecosystem- means living organisms and their life processes dependent on the natural environment of a stream.

Critical environment flow threshold- meaning the volume of water flow below significant or irreversible harm to aquatic ecosystem of a stream is likely to occur.

Environmental flow needs- means the volume and timing of water flow required for proper functioning of the aquatic ecosystem.

In the Water Sustainability Act, groundwater will be regulated and protected. This is important because one fourth of people rely on groundwater for drinking supply, and or industrial uses. The current Water Act does not regulate groundwater. This means that anyone can accesses our groundwater without permission from the government, and free of charge. The Water Sustainability Act will address this issue by regulating our groundwater as we regulate our surface water. Groundwater users will have to hold a licence and be charged an annual fee for the use of the groundwater. The only exception of this rule is for domestic uses, as long as the aquifer is not in high demand. This act will also collect data on usages and information from owners and well users to improve the knowledge of the aquifer, and its water availability. This rule will help us with future water allocations. (A Water Sustainability Act For B.C., 2014, October)

Section 83 of the Water Sustainability Act will put laws and restrictions on groundwater activity by prohibiting: (Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29)

  1. Construction of Wells
  2. Installing well pumps
  3. Conducting flow tests
  4. Performing another activity in relation to a well or groundwater

This section only applies if it poses a threat under the Water Sustainability Act or if the person doesn’t hold a drilling authorization. A comptroller or water manager mat amend or cancel well drilling if there is high risk situations. (Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29)

Section 130 has regulations respecting groundwater and groundwater works. This regulates artificial openings in the ground that may not be classified as a well, but are still under the direct influence of groundwater or an aquifer. Well drillers and pump installers are protected and regulated by this section under the Water Sustainability Act with respect to section 83. Some other requirements, procedures, standards and codes with respect to groundwater include: (Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act, 2014, April 29)

  1. Siting wells
  2. Construction of wells
  3. Installation of well pumps
  4. Designing, testing, operating, disinfecting, flood proofing, capping or covering of wells
  5. Or any other activities that pertain to groundwater


The Water Sustainability Act has many advantages, and few disadvantages. The improvements that have been made under this act can be summed up by; protecting our aquatic environment will be protects by regulating debris dumped in, or around a stream river, or where aquatic life can be effected by the dumping. These debris include human waste, animal waste, pesticides and fertilizers. The environmental flow will also be protected by preventing “significant or irreversible harm to the aquatic systems”. Another advantage that the Water Sustainability Act has brought in would be water is now regulated during scarcity. This will protect water quantity with respect to human needs and aquatic life’s health. The final version of the Water Sustainability Act will obligate the decision maker to determine what flows should be in a certain river or stream, and then try to reach that goal. This is a change in the perspective of our water uses because before the government thought that being right on the limit was healthy, this act now shows that instead of pushing our water uses to the limit, we should be trying to regain what we had before. The water flows will also be restricted if the stream is labeled as “sensitive”. This is because the stream is not as protected as it should be, so to get the stream back to the health it was there will be more ruled forming around these streams, rivers and bodies of water. Last but not least the regulation of groundwater, precise mechanisms for giving licences to ground water, which will in time allow development under these licences and allow the governments to have more time to discuss water development with water users, communities, and First Nations people. This will insure that no unsustainable water decisions will be made. (Gage, A, n.d.)

The Water Sustainability Act is the future of our water protection ways, as said by the West Coast Environmental Law group; (Gage, A, n.d.)

“Water, and how we treat our water, is one of those fundamental issues that touches on so much of who we are, what we do, and how we build our economy. A weak Water Sustainability Act could fail to deal with current unsustainable and inefficient water use, and could lock in these problems for years to come. A strong Act could address past over-use, and wasteful use, of water and protect drinking water and fish from over-use, poor oil and gas, logging or mining practices, and other threats.” (Gage, A, n.d.)

Water is incapable of protecting its health, as humans, water is our future. The Water Sustainability Act will protect any aspect of our water that hasn’t been protected already, and is allowing us as a world to move forward in protection our future, with respect to sustainable development. (Gage, A, n.d.)


A Water Sustainability Act For B.C. (2014, October 1). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from

Bill 18 — 2014: Water Sustainability Act. (2014, April 29). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from

Gage, A. (n.d.). West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from


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The Water Sustainability Act. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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