Water Sustainability Act – You Have Questions, We Have Answers

Mar 09, 2021

Posted by
Syntyche Smith
Project Coordinator


At BCREA, we often receive questions from REALTORS® and consumers related to standard forms.  We’ve received several great questions about groundwater licensing and the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) as it pertains to the Property Disclosure Statement. Below, you can find three frequently asked questions on the topic, with answers provided by a member of the BC Government’s Living Water Smart team.

1. Where there is a well on a vacant property that is not in use yet, is it considered a domestic water supply and does it require authorization?

“To help answer your question, I’ll provide a bit of background on the scope of the legislation and the authorization of water use:

  • The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) states that the province is responsible for all water in streams and all groundwater in BC.
  • Water use purposes are described in Section 2 of the WSA. I’ve included the full definition in the legislation of “domestic purpose,” which means the use of water for household purposes by the occupants of, subject to the regulations, one or more private dwellings, other than multi-family apartment buildings, including, without limitation, hotels and strata titled or cooperative buildings, located on a single parcel, including, without limitation, the following uses:
  • drinking water, food preparation and sanitation;
  • fire prevention
  • providing water to animals or poultry kept
    • (i) for household use, or
    • (ii) as pets;
  • irrigation of a garden not exceeding 1000 m2 that is adjoining and occupied with a dwelling.
  • A person can divert/use/store vested water only if they have established a right (usually a water licence) or if the diversion or use is authorized under the statute or the regulations.
  • WSA Section 6 (4) establishes that a person may divert and beneficially use groundwater from an aquifer for domestic purpose without holding an authorization. In other words, domestic use of groundwater is exempt from licensing requirements.
  • An authorization is not needed if a person is not diverting or using water.
  • A person who holds an authorization is expected to make “beneficial use” of the water. Rights may be canceled if the licensee fails to make beneficial use of the water for 3 successive years.

Circling back to your original question, in the case of an unused domestic well, a water authorization is not required. If the landowner begins using water, and if that use is consistent with the definition of “domestic purpose” then they are exempt from the requirement to obtain a licence. If they use water for a purpose that is inconsistent with “domestic purpose” then they need to acquire an authorization.”

2. Does the size of the property determine if authorization for a water license is required?

“The size of the lot is not directly relevant to authorization requirements. As an example, if the lot size is 5000 m2 but they irrigate less than 1000m2, then their use would remain consistent with the domestic use purpose under the WSA. If, however, they wanted to irrigate an area exceeding 1000m2, then they would need an authorization (likely either for “irrigation purpose” or “industrial purpose” depending on what they are growing).”

3. What happens when a well is dug but is not used right away (e.g., on a vacant lot)?

“Unused wells that are not properly deactivated or decommissioned pose a threat to an aquifer’s water quality. A well not in use for five years must be deactivated, or decommissioned. If a well has been deactivated for five years, or not in use for ten years, and there is no intent to use the well in the future, the well must be decommissioned. For more information on the requirements to deactivate or decommission a well, please see the Living Water Smart guidance on the Best Management Practices for Decommissioning Water Supply Wells.”

For additional information on groundwater licensing and the legislation, click here.

To apply for a water authorization, please visit FrontCounterBC.

If you have questions on WSA implementation or groundwater licensing, please email the Living Water Smart team at [email protected].

If you have questions on Standard Forms please email BCREA at [email protected].

To subscribe to receive BCREA publications such as this one, or to update your email address or current subscriptions, click here.

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