Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission and natural gas company Encana over the use of water from B.C.'s lakes and rivers.

The suit, filed Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court, claims the commission has granted repeated short-term water licences, in violation of the provincial Water Act.

The environmental groups say as Encana proceeded with the fracking process to extract natural gas from underground reserves, it drew 880 Olympic swimming pools worth of water over three years from the Kiskatinaw River, which supplies drinking water to the city of Dawson Creek.

Ecojustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Committee, arguing the company should have to apply for water licences.

In a press release issued Wednesday, Ecojustice claims that the Oil and Gas Commission has repeatedly granted short-term water licenses to energy companies, allowing them to avoid having to pay for long-term water licenses.

"People who live near gas drilling and fracking are worried about their water. They fear contamination, potential shortages, and what further gas development will do to the environment," says Eoin Madden with the Wildnerness Committee.

"The bottom line is that we need to  ensure that B.C.'s water is protected for people and the environment."

B.C.'s Liberal government has hopes of developing a liquefied natural gas industry, which Premier Christy Clark says could be worth one trillion dollars by 2047.

Clark says fracking has been done safely in the province for decades.