What’s in a Water Licence?  

November 29, 2019

A licence is a legal agreement

A water licence is a legal document issued by the provincial government that authorizes a business or land owner to divert and use water for their enterprise (i.e., for non-domestic groundwater use - see What’s a Water Right posted on October 2, 2019 for more information on non-domestic use). The licence is, in a sense, an agreement under which the business or land owner normally diverts and uses the water for their enterprise.

Standard conditions

A licence always describes a number of conditions under which the licensee diverts and uses water:

·       The property on which the water will be used (i.e., the appurtenant property);

·       The source of the water;

·       The location and description of the point of diversion (POD) ( i.e., the well if diverting         groundwater);

·       The other major works (i.e., the well pump, pipes, etc.);

·       The date of precedence of the water right;

·       The quantity of water to be diverted and used, and if the use is seasonal (e.g., for irrigation), the         period during which water is to be diverted and used.

Specific conditions

In certain areas where water stress exists, a licence may also set specific operational or monitoring requirements to prevent conflicts or problems from occurring. For example, a licensee may be required to have the well pump set so that the pump automatically shuts off when the pumping water level reaches a critical low level to avoid excessive interference with neighbouring wells.

Three over-riding conditions

In addition to the conditions in the licence, three over-riding conditions apply when a business or land owner diverts and uses water under a licence:

1)      Beneficial use of the water - the business or land owner must put the water they are diverting to use (otherwise why have a licence?). Some argue that this requirement promotes waste while others believe it prevents water right speculation.

2)      Pay water rental fees for use of the water - the licensee must pay their water rental fees (more on that in a future post).

Not using the water beneficially or not paying water rentals may result in the licence being revoked.

What’s the third over-riding condition?

3)      Comply with any orders of the decision maker – in extra-ordinary circumstances, a government decision maker (the engineer, water manager, even the Minister) have the legal authority to issue an order to the licensee to temporarily alter, restrict, or even stop diverting and using water to avoid negative impacts on the water resource, the aquatic ecosystem, or to other more senior users (see, for example, the Fish Population Protection order issued by the Minister on August 19, 2019 for the Koksilah River - posted August 20, 2019).

When to amend a licence?

Finally, a wise water licensing manager in Manitoba once said to me: “The licence should reflect reality.” So, a business owner or land owner should be mindful of significant changes (i.e., growth) in their enterprise. If over time, the licensee is using more water than what is authorized in the licence, they should apply for an amendment to the licence so the licence reflects (and protects) their actual water use.

If you think water users will find this information helpful, please help me reach out to them by letting them know of this post. Thanks!

Thanks to C. Pinches for her input on the draft of this post.