An Incentive to Do Business Differently
The linkages between the natural Water Balance, watershed and stream health, and infrastructure liability have emerged as important pieces in ensuring ‘sustainable drainage infrastructure’ in British Columbia, both fiscally and ecologically.
“If local governments and others are to be effective over time in creating liveable and desirable communities that also protect stream health, it follows that land development practices must strive to mimic the Water Balance,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC, and the principal author of Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia
, released in 2002. The Partnership is helping the Province deliver both the Living Water Smart and Green Communities initiatives.
The Unfunded Infrastructure Liability
Local governments in British Columbia are faced with this financial challenge: the initial capital cost of infrastructure is about 20% of the life-cycle cost; the other 80% largely represents a future unfunded liability. Each year, the funding shortfall grows. As infrastructure ages and fails, local governments cannot keep up with renewal and/or replacement. This fiscal reality creates the incentive to prevent additional financial impacts.
“While developers and new home purchasers pay the initial capital cost of municipal infrastructure, it is local government that assumes responsibility for the long-term cost associated with operation, maintenance and replacement of infrastructure assets”, states Raymond Fung, Chair of the Green Infrastructure Partnership. He is the Director of Engineering and Transportation with the District of West Vancouver.
“Often this is not adequately funded through property taxation and utility charges, as various political priorities compete for limited tax dollars. In addition, local governments bear the entire financial burden to stabilize and restore watercourses impacted by increased rainwater runoff volume AFTER land is developed.”
The New Business As Usual
Tackling the unfunded infrastructure liability has led to a life-cycle way of thinking about infrastructure needs, in particular how to pay for those needs over time. The Province’s branding for this holistic approach is Sustainable Service Delivery.
“Asset management usually commences after something is built. The challenge is to thinkabout what asset management entails BEFORE the asset is built. Cost-avoidance is a driver for this ‘new business as usual’. This paradigm-shift starts with land use and watershed-based planning, to determine what services can be provided affordably,” states Glen Brown, the Executive Director of the Province’s Local Government Infrastructure and Finance Division and the Deputy Inspector of Municipalities.
“The legislative authority for integration of land use planning and asset management, including financial management, already exists. Also, the provincial Living Water Smart and Green Communities initiatives are catalysts for ‘designing with nature’: Start with effective green infrastructure and protect environmental values. Get the watershed vision right. Then create a blueprint to implement green infrastructure.”
Design with Nature and Protect the Water Balance
The costs and environmental impacts associated with ‘pipe-and-convey’ infrastructure contrast with the benefits of ‘green’ infrastructure at a watershed scale: natural landscape-based assets reduce runoff volumes, have lower life-cycle costs, decrease stresses applied to creeks, and enhance urban liveability.
“DemonstratingSustainable Service Delivery is a criteria within provincial funding programs; and this provides context for linking land use planning, watershed health and infrastructure liability,” concludes Glen Brown.
Links to YouTube Video Clips
At the 2011 Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series, the spotlight was on the unfunded ‘infrastructure liability’ confronting all local governments. This is a driver for a change in the way local governments plan, finance, implement and over time replace infrastructure.
At Seminar #1, Glen Brown provided the provincial big picture. He then explained the significance of the unfunded infrastructure liability and defined Sustainable Service Delivery. Finally, he elaborated on the need for local governments to be nimble, collaborative and integrated. To view Glen Brown and learn more, click on these links to video clips posted on YouTube:
- Asset Management defined in terms of ‘Sustainable Service Delivery’ (1:16 minutes)
- Sustainable Service Delivery Principle #1 – It’s All About Service (2:10 minutes)
- Sustainable Service Delivery Principle #2 – Define its Quality (1:26 minutes)
- Sustainable Service Delivery Principle #3 – Operation & Maintenance Requirements (2:01 minutes)
- So, What is Sustainable Service Delivery? (2:35 minutes)