Water licenses

I had a question recently about the West Bench water licenses.  As you may know, the West Bench Irrigation District secured water licenses for the subdivision when it was created in 1952-53.  Others appear to have been added later as the West Bench grew.  Dates matter because water licenses in British Columbia remain first in time/first in right (FITFIR): Senior water licenses have a stronger claim if and when water becomes scarce.

The WBID licenses were signed over to the City of Penticton in 2014 when the City began to supply water to the West Bench.  This was necessary because the City of Penticton water utility has no right to draw water from Okanagan Lake for West Bench properties without the licenses.  This can be a source of misunderstanding: some Penticton residents think Penticton it selling its water to the West Bench.  In reality, the City of Penticton is drawing the from the West Bench's own licensed quota, filtering the water, and selling back to to West Bench residents.  The City of Penticton is thus selling a water extraction and filtration service rather than water per se.

What happens if the City of Penticton ceases to be the water purveyor for the West Bench?  Water licenses in British Columbia are appurtenant--that is, they are attached to the parcel of land.  So in the same way that a parcel of land has no right to draw surface water without a license, a license is valid only if it serves a beneficial use on a specified parcel of land.  It all works the way you might think it should work.

So bottom line: the water licenses are worthless to the City of Penticton if it ceases to extract water from Okanagan Lake for the benefit of West Bench properties.  The City cannot simply keep the licenses for its own use and leave West Bench properties stranded without water rights. For more information see the Water Stewardship Division of the Province of BC



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