Protecting Water for Fish

In 2014 we applauded government for passing the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA), with which it fulfilled a long-standing commitment to better manage B.C.’s precious water resources. This followed several years of policy proposals and public consultation on a wide variety of issues, with thousands of people engaging to ensure BC’s new water law would give us the tools to effectively and sustainably manage this precious resource in uncertain times. The resulting Act represents a considerable step forward in water governance in B.C.; Deb Curran of the UVIC Environmental Law Centre described the WSA as the best environmental legislation in the last 10 years.

Despite the potential of the WSA, real environmental protection will only occur if strong and effective regulations are passed to bring the Act into force and implement its intentions.

One of these regulations was supposed to be legal protection for “environmental flow needs,” or the water a river or stream needs to provide habitat for fish and other aquatic habitat values. Statements by government prior to the passage of the WSA suggested that there would be a free-standing environmental flows regulation, and it’s clear the legislation intended as much (sections 15 and 17). However, we are now concerned that government is instead considering using only a policy to address environmental flow needs, and a policy is not binding. This will not offer sufficient certainty to protect key fish and other habitat values; in particular, decisions to protect flows for fish may be challenged at the Environmental Appeals Board if they are only supported by policy and not regulation.

We call on government to honour their commitment to legally protect water flows with a regulation and enforceable objectives that ensure the health of our streams, rivers, lakes, fish populations and aquatic ecosystems is paramount.