Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Environment News

Water They Going to Do Next?

Waterwealth skeptical about new resource pricing scheme

Released by Ian Stephen, Waterwealth Project, Chilliwack/Voice file photo



he province announced new water rates and licence fees for British Columbia February 5th. Chilliwack based WaterWealth Project, a community group that played a key role in bringing the lack of groundwater regulation to public attention attention that largely focused on the Nestle Waters plant in Hope, BC, and which provided the impetus for the new Water Sustainability Act give the new water pricing a mixed review.


Water licence application fees are doubled for many uses, rising from $500 to $1000. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) gets a new category with licence fees of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000, the top rate being paid by those who use over 5-million litres per day. Sawmills and independent power projects on the other hand get a break, with licence fees for mills that use up to 50-million litres of water per day dropping from $10,000 to $1,000 and a new sliding scale being applied that lowers costs for small power producers. However, water licences are good for 30-years and licence fees for existing groundwater users will be waived in the first year after the WSA is brought into effect in 2016. New water licence fees will not be noticed by many current industrial water users.

More telling of any messages the government may be making through water pricing are the fees paid according to volume of water used, termed "water rentals." During public consultation the province published seven "principles to inform water pricing." Among those was the principle of fairness and equity, under which was stated "Equitable pricing should reflect differences in the value of water based on the type of right granted, intended use, location or scarcity of the resource." The province seem to have achieved this in part by keeping water prices for food production low with such things as irrigation, crop washing, and greenhouses priced at $0.85 per million litres.

Further in keeping with the principle of fairness and equity WaterWealth looked for a strong pricing signal to recognise use that results in water no long being a renewable resource. Much of the water used for fracking by the natural gas industry in BC is made so toxic that it must be pumped deep underground for disposal, removing it from the hydrological cycle permanently. The province failed to recognize the cost of this practice. Rates paid per volume lump fracking together with most other uses, including public facilities and municipal drinking water, under the same $2.25 per million litres. There is considerable uncertainty around LNG proposals in BC, but based on current information WaterWealth calculate that due to fracking each Q-flex LNG tanker that leaves the BC coast will represent a virtual bulk water export of up to 21-million litres, for which the industry would pay the province $47.25 in water rental fees.

Bottling, a use that does not remove water from the hydrological cycle but often does remove it from the watershed in which it originates, also received the $2.25 per million litre rate. "The Nestle plant in Hope will pay about $600 per year." WaterWealth's Ian Stephen said, "Never mind that the Nestle Chairman who was quoted saying that water should not be a human right probably spends that much on dinner some days, the real question is 'does this rate provide enough revenue to ensure that water is protected for the long term?' That is a question that remains open."

"On one hand the government recognize that British Columbians consistently told them that water is undervalued, and they say that these new rates will be sufficient to fully implement the Water Sustainability Act and associated programs, yet in almost the same breath they boast that BC rates will continue to be among the lowest in the country," said Stephen, "British Columbians understand the value of water to our quality of life and have been clear that they want to see pricing adequate to support the science and administration to steward water properly. That was even a point of agreement between submissions on the Water Sustainability Act from environmental groups and from Nestle."

Groundwater inventories in BC are spotty. In many areas it is not really known what is being regulated in terms of aquifer volumes, refresh rates, and interactions between groundwater and surface water. Climate change is altering patterns of precipitation and those effects will vary from region to region. Will the government be able to alter water rates if these rates prove inadequate, or to respond to changes in water availability? At this point such flexibility does not appear to be included in water pricing.

With water licences lasting a generation, we don't have the luxury of doing this wrong and trying again. While WaterWealth applaud the government for moving in the right direction, they also ask British Columbians to join them in telling the province that these water rates must be reviewed in the next few years and again periodically to ensure that the new Water Sustainability Act is indeed sustainable.



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