Shortly before the holidays, on Friday, December 15th, 2017, the BC government put out a press release about changes to the Water Sustainability Act Regulations. Written as a good news story, a close look at the regulation reveals that it is intended to exempt the mining industry – under certain circumstances – from some key aspects of the Water Sustainability Act. Specifically, mines can now dispose of water that accidentally enters the mine (because of groundwater seeping into the mine) without the need for a water licence.
If you’ve ever dug a hole in the sand at a beach, you’ll know that if you dig below the water table, water will slowly fill your hole. If you bail out that water, the hole will fill again. Now imagine building a mine. A mine is a much larger hole, and built in rock, not porous sand, but groundwater can seep up into the mine through cracks in the rocks in much the same way. What is at issue here is whether the act of pumping that groundwater out of the mine and getting rid of it requires a licence or other approval under the Water Sustainability Act. While the government defends the amendment as reducing unnecessary regulation, we believe that there are cases in which this new exemption will cause problems for other water users and for the environment. The exemption could be particularly problematic in cases in which groundwater is already overused or at risk.