Note to Reader:
In April 2016, the Environmental Managers Association of BC hosted a session about the 2015 Drought. This provided the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC with an opportunity to introduce the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative to a new and primarily non-governmental audience. Kim Stephens, Executive Director, represented the Partnership.
Drought on the West Coast:
A New Reality?
Western North America may be crossing an invisible threshold into a different hydro-meteorological regime. Communities can no longer count on a predictable snowpack and reliable precipitation to maintain a healthy water balance in their watersheds. It has been difficult even for experts to grasp the extent of what the loss of relative hydrological stability means. Last year, in an online poll conducted by CBC News, the public chose the drought as British Columbia’s “Top Story of 2015”.
“Three speakers presented on different aspects of water scarcity and connected the dots to the Water Sustainability Act. Oliver Brandes described his vision of what a world-class regulatory system can look like in B.C. Steve Conrad elaborated on climate change science. Kim Stephens explained what needs to be done to restore the water balance in urban areas,” stated Stephanie Voysey, EMA Vice-President (Education).
Restore the Water Balance in Urban Areas!
The talk by Kim Stephens was titled, “What Happens on the Land Matters: Restore the Water Balance in Urban Areas!”. An engineer-planner, he has more than four decades of experience. This covers the continuum of water resource and infrastructure engineering issues.
Kim Stephens has played a leadership role in a series of initiatives in British Columbia related to water conservation and sustainability, watershed health, rainwater management and green infrastructure. In 2003, he was asked by the provincial government to develop the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia, released in 2004. Ever since, Kim has been responsible for Action Plan program delivery and evolution.
To Learn More:
Read British Columbia’s new Water Sustainability Act is already influencing Water Management. This article is posted on the Water-Centric Planning community-of-interest on the waterbucket.ca website.
Download What Happens on the Land Matters: Restore the Water Balance in Urban Areas!. This is a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation by Kim Stephens.
Key Message: To restore the Water Balance, the process starts with Rain Gardens
“My presentation introduced EMA members to the Water Sustainability Action Plan, the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative (known by the acronym IREI), and Beyond the Guidebook 2015: Moving Towards “Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management”. Beyond the Guidebook 2015 is an IREI deliverable and is the third in a series of guidance document. It was a great opportunity to inform a new audience and connect the dots in a way that I hope will stick,” reports Kim Stephens.
“The presentation was structured in four parts and was cascading, from high level to ground level. Because our audience comprised practitioners, it was important to introduce a practical take-away that they could wrap their minds around. For that reason, the fourth part was about rain gardens.”
“To protect or restore the Water Balance in the urban environment, the process starts with rain gardens. A single rain garden will not make a material difference. But thousands would.”
“Although the audience comprised technical folks, drainage is not what they do. This is why I used the rain garden to make real the fact that a watershed is an integrated system, and there are three pathways by which rainfall reaches streams. I hoped they would grasp the key message about a design goal is to maintain the proportion of rainwater that enters a stream via each pathway.”
“A water balance target number corresponds to each pathway, and designers can apply these values to size the elements of a rain garden – volume retention, infiltration vertically and controlled release to simulate horizontal interflow.”
The Climate is Changing & 2015 is a ‘Teachable Year’
The climate is changing. Winters are warmer and wetter. Summers are longer and drier. This is the New Normal. This pattern has been taking shape for more than a decade. Looking back, the 1987 drought ended a comparatively benign period of about 50 years in southwestern British Columbia. While 1987 was the first of three extreme droughts within a 5-year period, 2003 was “THE teachable year”.
When British Columbia experienced drought, forest fires, flood, wind and pine beetle in rapid succession, this created a window of opportunity for a paradigm-shift. The 2003 teachable year set in motion a Living Water Smart process that culminated with passage of the Water Sustainability Act in 2014.
For British Columbians, 2015 was the year of the great drought, dwindling snow packs, melting glaciers, beleaguered salmon runs and a costly forest fire season, followed by windstorms and heavy rains. Launched from a powerful El Nino, storms caused the single largest electrical outage in the province’s history.
“2015 ranks with 2003 as a defining teachable year. Lessons learned will inform how local governments move forward with a ‘water balance’ approach to rainwater management, protection of watershed function and land servicing,” observes Kim Stephens.
Relationship between Land and Water
“Communities in southwest BC dodged a bullet in 2015. The clock is ticking. Communities need to leverage this teachable year and seize opportunities to change how the water resource is viewed and managed. This starts with an understanding of the relationship between land and water,” emphasizes Kim Stephens.
“Restoring the absorbency of the urban landscape would stretch the seasonal population-support capacities of water storage reservoirs – by reducing demand for landscape irrigation water – and sustain environmental flows during droughts. It would also reduce stream erosion in wet weather.”
”Too often people think of land and water as being independent – almost like silos. But what we do on the land, and whether we treat the land with respect, has direct implications and consequences for water use. The Water Sustainability Act connects these dots,” concludes Kim Stephens.
To Learn More:
The 2015 Drought was selected as the Top Story of 2015 in a poll conducted by the CBC. Year-end newspaper, radio and television interviews about BC’s changing climate featured the perspective provided by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
Read “The Drought” was British Columbia’s Top News Story of 2015, a comprehensive story about those interviews.
Read Towards Watershed Sustainability: Three landmark game-changers adopted by Province in 2014 enable watershed-based action in BC (Beyond the Guidebook 2015), which is extracted from Part B of Beyond the Guidebook 2015.