Note to Reader:
The Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium was one of two ‘watershed moments’ organized by the stewardship sector during the week of March 13th 2017. The other was in the Metro Vancouver region and titled Stormwater Impacts Communities and Creeks – What Can We Do?
The program featured an interactive session titled: What would eco-asset management look like in practice, on the ground, through a local government lens? The session was structured as a tag-team presentation plus audience conversation. The speakers were Kim Stephens and Jim Dumont of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, and Michelle Molnar of the Suzuki Foundation.
Jim Dumont provided a drainage engineering context for the Ecological Accounting Protocol, which is a method of ascertaining economic values of services drawn from nature’s assets. He provided the audience with insight into an issue of concern, and that is, the relevance of traditional engineering practice when the climate is changing.
Bring the ‘State-of-the-Art’ into ‘Standard Practice’
“Engineering practice is based on very simple formulas and methodologies to calculate peak discharges. None of those engineering analyses capture the environmental value,” Jim Dumont informed the Comox Valley audience. He is the Engineering Applications Authority for the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
“And because engineering analyses do not capture environmental value, the engineer cannot tell you what value a natural asset has, nor how important its function is, nor how to maintain that function. Yet we do have scientific and engineering methodologies that would give us those answers. But engineers do not apply state-of-the-art methodologies because they are not in existing guidelines.”
“As a result, we are on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, we have a standard-of-practice that is generally accepted as not achieving what is best for the environment. On the other hand, we have a state-of-the-art that we really do need to drag into common practice.”
How Can We Maintain Ecological Values While Allowing the Stream to be Used for Drainage
“So what is the nub of the issue? In standard practice, only surface runoff is considered, and this has led to degraded streams,” continued Jim Dumont.
“The other pathways by which rainfall reaches streams are ignored. Yet we do need to mimic nature. If we are going to disrupt those other pathways when we develop land, we must fix them.”
“If communities are to truly benefit from use of nature’s assets to provide vital community infrastructure services, then we must change the engineering standard-of practice to one that is state-of-the-art and reflects real-world hydrology.”
“Education is the way to overcome the impediments to changes in practice. This will require education of the public, accountants, engineers and local government staff so that everyone appreciates the relationship between the flow-duration pattern in a stream and the health of the stream,” concluded Jim Dumont.
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