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Water licences in B.C.

An objective look at one of the favourite myths
of anti-green-energy propagandists

Vested interests and their astroturf groups have thoroughly bamboozled the public with misinformation about water licences. They usually make no distinction between an application for a licence and an approved licence. Then they go on to make outrageous claims that a water licence somehow transfers ownership of a river or stream — that it’s being sold, stolen or privatized.

Since 1990 roughly 650 water license applications were made for power generation. But around 200 have already been rejected or withdrawn, often due to negative feedback from environmental reviews. Most of the others are still in the application process, although many have been stalled for years.

On average less than 10 water licences are issued each year. They don’t all go to independents, either. Of 68 water licences issued from January 2001 to January 2009, 12 were for BC Hydro or other large utilities.

Out of all those water licence applications, there are only about 36 run-of-river projects in operation. They’ve been developed over a 20-year period. Sixteen run-of-river projects were built before 2001; most or all of those 16 under the previous provincial government’s term in office.

Even if 500 water licences were approved (a common, but false allegation), they would represent about one-hundredth of one per cent of all B.C. streams. Furthermore, even if 500 water licences were approved only a fraction of them would result in energy development.

Water licences issued since 2003 last 40 years or less. Under the previous provincial government, water licences were issued in perpetuity.

Some people have claimed that a water licence allows water exports. But a water licence issued for electricity generation doesn’t grant permission to use the water for any other purpose.

The facts about water licences are clear. But they’ve been distorted beyond recognition by a BC Hydro union, a bogus environmental organization and their astroturf groups.