Sustainable Watershed Systems,
through Asset Management
In March 2017, the 22 environmental and ratepayer groups comprising the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership hosted a symposium on the potentially powerful and cost-effective role that ecosystem services can play in an infrastructure strategy.
Kim Stephens, Executive Director for the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, delivered the keynote address. His theme was: What Happens on the Land Matters! His core message was that communities must strive to implement a whole-system, water balance approach to adapt to a changing climate.
What Happens on the Land Matters!
“Too often we talk about water and land as silos,” stated Kim Stephens in his opening remarks. “But what happens on the land does matter! It is whether and how we respect the land that really affects what happens with water. That is a key message. It is why we are moving forward with Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management.
“My lens is that of local government because that is where the decisions are made about what happens on the land, and those decisions matter!”
To Learn More:
Download What Happens on the Land Does Matter! – Moving Towards “Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management” to view the complete storyline for the keynote address by Kim Stephens.
Download the Agenda and Presenters List for the 2017 Eco-Asset Symposium.
Visit the Symposium homepage on the Vancouver Island Water community-of-interest.
Convening for Action
“In British Columbia, we are moving from awareness to action. In implementing the Water Sustainability Action Plan, we have guided for the past 15 years by what we describe as the BC Process for convening for action,” continued Kim Stephens.
“Alignment, collaboration, partnerships. In British Columbia, we have this unique model called top-down, bottom-up. It is the synthesis that results when you have an over-arching provincial policy framework and then all the players embrace shared responsibility to make things happen.”
From Awareness to Action: The BC Process
“When I reflect on my career perspective as an engineer, my career has been defined by floods and droughts,” stated Kim Stephens.
“We often talk about the Hydro-illogical Cycle. That means – once a decade you have a flood; once a decade you have a drought. You write a report. You put it on the shelf. A decade later, you have a flood, you have a drought, you update the report.
“In other words, we are very good at the WHAT part (refer to the BC Process diagram presented above). We are not so good at getting to ‘SO WHAT are we going to do about it’.
“In terms of our 4-step process- WHAT, SO WHAT, NOW WHAT, THEN WHAT – it is pretty basic once you simplify your language to explain the nature of the issue. The form of land development impacts how water is used, how water runs off the land, and how water reaches streams.
“If we can change the ethic, so that the land ethic becomes the water ethic, then the key is establishing precedents for doing things differently. Once you establish the precedents for designing with nature, then they can be replicated in other communities.”
The Hydro-illogical Cycle
The National Drought Mitigation Center commissioned the artwork (shown below) in the late 1990s to show how drought, as a slow-moving natural disaster, tends to emerge under the radar screen, and then intensify until people can no longer ignore it or wish it away.
When drought ends, people are often glad to forget about it and to resume business as usual. Although people need to appreciate the return to normal, they also need to stop and learn from their experiences.
Climatology shows that drought will happen again. What can people learn from one drought that will ease the pain of the next?
The NDMC’s illustration of the hydroillogical cycle builds on earlier observations of human perception. I.R. Tannehill noted in Drought: Its Causes and Effects in 1947:
“We welcome the first clear day after a rainy spell. Rainless days continue for a time and we are pleased to have a long spell of such fine weather. It keeps on and we are a little worried. A few days more and we are really in trouble. The first rainless day in a spell of fine weather contributes as much to the drought as the last, but no one knows how serious it will be until the last dry day is gone and the rains have come again.”