7.1 Water Management Plans (Water Act – Part 4)
Water Management Plans, which were introduced under Part 4 of the Water Act in 2004, involve a comprehensive and integrated approach to water and watershed planning. This planning process is enabled only if the Minister of Environment determines that such a plan will help resolve conflicts between water users, conflicts between users and instream flow needs, or risks to water quality.
Although the Township of Langley has completed the draft of a WMP, to date there are no approved WMPs in effect in British Columbia. Therefore, the operational compatibility of this planning tool with other Acts and regulations cannot be fully determined, nor can its effectiveness in improving water quality. However, it has been suggested that Water Management Plans hold potential as a mechanism for protecting groundwater, as well as for establishing authority for source water protection. Unlike other water planning tools, when Water Management Plans are implemented, they can place restrictions on the drilling or alteration of groundwater wells and the installation of well pumps. The plans may also affect other statutory decisions. However, there may be exceptions where the application of a WMP could be limited such as the Forest Act, Range Act, Forest Practices Code of BC Act, and the Forest and Range Practices Act.1, 2
Water Management Plans may provide a good structure for developing valley-wide response plans for severe water shortages because they provide more authority to bring water licence holders to the table and hold them to the agreements that have been developed.3 The plans may also be useful for providing water managers with tools to reduce activities and development in watersheds, thereby addressing the common challenge of managing water resources on private as well as Crown lands. In 2009, the Township of Langley submitted a Water Management Plan: Final Report to the Minister of Environment for review. As of 2011, TOL is the only local government that has been designated by the Minister of Environment to do so. 2
Characteristics, Benefits and Applications
Water Management Plans are applicable to both water quantity and quality issues. In this regard, they are relevant for source water protection and for managing demand in relation to water supply. They may also be relevant to both surface water and groundwater sources.
Water Management Plans are also relevant for area-based planning. They apply to a designated water management plan area where the water interests are dispersed across a wide landscape and where many water licensees, groundwater users and land-based activities may be included in the plan. A Water Management Plan could apply to a watershed, aquifer, or another regional scale that is relevant to managing the water resources of a particular community.
Water Management Plans should be considered where regulatory tools are required and will provide an opportunity to achieve the planning objectives. Upon completion and approval by the provincial Cabinet, Water Management Plans are legally enforceable. However, significant resources may be required to develop and implement this type of plan. Therefore, this approach to planning may not be feasible for some communities.
Water Management Plans are similar in scope to Drinking Water Protection Plans, which are established under Part 5 of the Drinking Water Protection Act (see Section 6 in this guide). Because there is potential for the two types of plans to overlap, the Drinking Water Protection Act and Water Act state that if both types are to be initiated within one particular area, they can be developed jointly.
Key Elements and Steps
The following are some of the key elements and steps in preparing a Water Management Plan:
- the plans are requested by letter to the regional water manager or to the Comptroller of Water Rights;
- the plans require an assessment of preparedness among stakeholders, First Nations and the Province;
- the plans are initiated and have their terms of reference established by an order of the Minister;
- the plans are required to consider existing provincial or local government strategic, operational, and land use or water use planning processes;
- preparation of the plans must include an extensive public consultation process;
- consideration must be given to the results or progress of Provincial or local government strategic, operational and land use or water use planning processes within the designated area;
- the plans require approval by an order from the provincial Cabinet to acquire official status;
- the plans are brought into effect by the creation of a regulation that is designed to implement the plan, approved by the provincial government by the Lieutenant Governor with advice from Cabinet; and,
- the plans are implemented through regulation (the Plan Implementation Regulation) issued by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
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