What is the B.C. WSA?

On February 29, 2016 six of the Regulations associated with the B.C. Water Sustainability Act came into force, bringing the Act itself into force.

One of the cornerstones of the new Act and its Regulations is the regulation and licensing of groundwater. The Regulations make a clear distinction between an Existing User and a New User. An Existing User is a well owner who was using groundwater on or before February 29, 2016. A New User is a well owner who began using groundwater after that date. The Regulations also refer to a 3-year Transition Period (February 29, 2016 to March 1, 2019) during which “transitional” rules apply.

To assist our clients in interpreting Transition Period rules, we have prepared the following table.

Tasks related to a Water Licence for Groundwater Use during the Transition Period (February 29, 2016 to March 1, 2019)

Task Tasks related to a Water Licence for Groundwater Use during the Transition Period
(February 29, 2016 to March 1, 2019)
New Groundwater User
(started using groundwater after February 29, 2016)
Application fee Waived if application submitted before December 31, 2017 Not waived
Rental Rate Applies from February 29, 2016 Applies from date of authorization
Date of Precedence Date of first groundwater use Date of authorization
Environmental Flow Needs MAY be considered by the statutory decision maker MUST be considered by the statutory decision maker
Technical studies (e.g. pumping tests) May be required May be required
Can lawfully use groundwater before licence received?

Yes, as long as application has been made prior to March 1, 2019.

After March 1, 2019, it will be unlawful to use groundwater without a licence.


The new Water Sustainability Act interacts with other Acts that affect groundwater use, such as the Environmental Assessment Act and the Reviewable Projects Regulation. Groundwater users that meet the conditions of a “Reviewable Project” will not be able to proceed past Step 3 on the application for a licence unless they attach the Environmental Assessment Certificate or exemption letter to the licence application. A Project may be considered a “Reviewable Project” if it was:

  1. Constructed in or after 1995 where one or more works, operated intermittently or continually for 1 year, divert 75 Litres per second or greater; or
  2. A modification to a project constructed prior to 1995 that results in a diversion reaching or exceeding 75 Litres per second; or
  3. Built prior to 1995 that diverts 75 Litres per second or greater, and that has been modified in or after 1995 such that there is an increase of 35% or more over the previous rate of diversion.

This means that clients who have not conducted an environmental assessment that meets the Reviewable Projects Regulation have less than three years to start and complete an environmental assessment, or seek an exemption that meets the requirements of the Reviewable Projects Regulation.

Sound complicated? Don’t worry! The expert hydrogeologists, hydrologists, and biologists at Associated Environmental can assist with interpreting the Act and associated Regulations and applying for licences. They have been involved in the development of the regulations, and have experience preparing applications for clients.

Some helpful links:

To start your application, and see more instructions on starting your application, visit FrountCounterBC.

For the latest updates to the Act and related regulations, check out MOE’s WSA blog.

For more information on the licensing process, and various supporting documents, visit the WSA website.

You can also find additional supporting documents in the Water Science Series.