Water advocates say B.C.’s new pricing scheme doesn’t go far enough

WATCH: B.C.’s new water pricing laws have yet to take effect but already a petition is calling on the government to charge bottled water companies much more for our natural resource. Elaine Yong reports.

Last year, the B.C. government announced with much fanfare a Water Sustainability Act, intended to modernize the province’s antiquated water laws, which received criticism after it was revealed that Nestlé Waters Canada used 230 million litres of fresh water every year for free from an aquifer in the Fraser Valley.

A year later, and people who initially applauded the government’s act are much more restrained in their praise.

“The act itself has the potential to be good,” says Ian Stephen of the Water Welath Project. “[But] I’m very concerned frankly as a message these first regulations are sending.”

At issue are the low rates for groundwater. While B.C. will no longer allow companies to take it for free, the top rate of $2.25 for every million litres will remain the lowest in Canada. For a company like Nestlé, that works out to just under $600 a year.

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“The way they’re doing it right now, it will not cover the science and monitoring and all those pieces…to implement the parts of that act that could make it a world leading water law,” said Stephen.

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Organizations also have to purchase a license under the regulations. Nestle is just one of 20,000 licenses around the province, including municipalities and fracking operations in the natural gas sector. But the license fee has also been waived for one year.

An online petition calling on the government to review the new regulations has more than 100,000 signatures so far, but Environment Minister Mary Polak is defending the changes.

“We seek to conserve water by putting in the new law, with stricter regulations that ensure we have the accurate reporting, monitoring and control over how much is used,” she said.

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“The province is not seeking to make a profit from water.”

Stephen contends the province isn’t treating the issue – and the resource – with the seriousness it deserves.

“People realize I think that times are changing,” he said. “What’s always been seen as a great abundance of water is not so secure after all. An issue like this reaches people. It’s a very at-home issue.”

The new act will fully go into effect by January 2016.

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