Using Water Licenses for Conservation Purposes

June 2008

Water is undeniably a precious resource—and there’s no bottomless well. The water supply in BC is under increasing pressure from urban development, industry, agriculture and now climate change. Some areas of the province have already been hit with water shortages, even on the “wet coast.” Compounding these concerns, BC’s outdated water laws fail to protect what many mistakenly believe to be a limitless resource.

A new report prepared by ELC lawyer Deborah Curran and POLIS Project on Ecological Governance water expert Oliver Brandes makes the case for the urgent need for water and aquatic ecosystem protection in BC. Prepared for the Land Trust Alliance of BC, the report, Licences and Conservation: Future Directions for Land Trusts in British Columbia, gives an overview of how water is managed in BC and the immediate conservation opportunities to protect water for ecosystem uses such as fish and wildlife.  Because the current regime is focused on taking water out of streams for domestic, irrigation, and industrial uses that do not adequately take into account the need for water in streams for ecosystem needs, Curran and Brandes, both ELC alumni, also recommend longer-term water planning and legislative reform options to protect BC’s water supply.

The report stresses that BC needs legislative change and recommends that water law reform include “regulating the use of groundwater, mandating instream flow requirements, and bringing water governance and planning to a local watershed level.”

ELC student Anne Muter assisted in the early stages of the report by investigating options for land trusts in BC to acquire water licenses for conservation. She addressed a number of legal questions related to the current ability of land trusts to use water licences as a conservation measure.

Water sustains life for humans, animals and plants. This new report emphasizes how essential it is to the future of the province that BC’s water resources be managed carefully.

Link to the report: Licences and Conservation: Future Directions for Land Trusts in British Columbia