The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) came into force on February 29, 2016 with a promising framework to advance healthy, functioning and well-managed watersheds across the province.
For the Act to stand up to the challenges facing B.C. waterways, it needs strong policies and regulations for legs. The Province has been working on this - most recently asking for public input on proposed policy changes to livestock watering practices.
Ranchers rely on accessible water sources and storage for livestock raising operations. To get access to water, ranchers may divert water from streams, build groundwater or reservoir dugouts, or go through a utility. On the other hand, ensuring that agricultural waste is kept out of streams and drinking water sources, that water quality is protected and water quantity reserved for stream flow, are all essential for human and ecosystem health.
So how far do the proposed changes go to improve livestock watering policies for the benefit of aquatic ecosystems, water users, livestock, and the agricultural sector?
Highlights of new livestock watering policies from the Province’s intentions paper:
Livestock is allowed to consume water directly from a stream or aquifer (direct-access watering), provided the water is not:
- from a sensitive stream;
- from a water reservation for conservation or to retain water in the stream;
- from a treaty water reservation or the Nisga’a water reservation;
- restricted from use by a fish population protection order.
Ranchers are permitted to construct minor works to divert water from a stream (off-stream watering) and to construct groundwater or reservoir dugouts, subject to requirements for ecosystem health and groundwater protection;
Authorization may be required for changes to a stream and diversion works that may have a significant adverse effects on the stream, including the flow of water;
- Proposed regulations apply only to low-density grazing with well-distributed livestock on Crown and private range lands.
In their response to the intentions paper, the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance recommends the Province further improve the regulations by clearly laying out definitions, requirements and links to related plans. Read the full response, or see below for highlights:
- Regulation should set out simple, defensible criteria for adding to the vulnerable aquifers list, thereby triggering ‘high-risk area’ considerations for lands above the aquifer;
- Specify an animal unit threshold (ex. 50 units) triggering a nutrient management plan;
- All storage facilities located over drinking water sources (including those in existence before the Act) should be equipped with impermeable liners installed in a 5-year period;
Livestock watering regulations should be linked explicitly to:
- Drinking Water Protection Plans;
- Water Sustainability Plans (through the Water Sustainability Act); and/or
- Area-Based Management Plans (under the Environmental Management Act).
Although the period for feedback on livestock watering regulations has closed, you can stay updated on the Act, and the future of water management in B.C, by checking in here.
Stay tuned for Our Water BC updates coming soon!
All photos sourced from Creative Commons.