Making Nature Count in the Town of Gibsons – celebrating and showcasing 5 years of leading by example

Note to Reader:

In British Columbia, Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework sets a strategic direction for looking at infrastructure differently. The BC Framework encourages communities to refocus business processes to account for natural infrastructure within the built environment. The Town of Gibsons is an early adopter of the paradigm-shift: 

Council has declared that Nature is a community’s most valuable infrastructure asset. 

Furthermore, Gibsons is leading by example in successfully implementing its visionary Eco-Asset Strategy, adopted in 2014. The Town is the Living Laboratory for the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative. It is also a demonstration application forSustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management. The Town of Gibsons brings added depth of policy development.

Aerial view of the Town of Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia

Aerial view of the Town of Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia

“The Gibsons Eco-Asset Strategy allows the Town to bring the value of nature into the DNA of municipal decision-making,” states Emanuel Machado, Chief Administrative Officer

North America’s First Natural Asset Policy

emanuel machado_120p“The Town of Gibsons eco-assets journey began in 2012,” recalls Emanuel Machado, Chief Administrative Officer. “The triggering event was the release of the Gibsons Aquifer Mapping Study. Shortly afterwards the Town changed the definition of infrastructure and formally acknowledged the need to understand and manage (eco)systems and not simply individual infrastructure assets.

“This action led directly to the Gibsons Eco-Asset Strategy, which recognizes the role of nature as a fundamental component of the municipal infrastructure system.”

Establish Budget Line Items:

Gibsons_Eco-Asset-Strategy_cover“At the heart of the strategy is North America’s first natural asset policy. This directs the municipality to consider the role of natural assets within our overall asset management strategy. What gives life to the policy is the fact that, once the natural asset is within the policy, a budget is set aside for its ongoing management and maintenance, and town staff work together to preserve its integrity.

“The innovation in this strategy is that it helps to explain the value of natural assets in terms of financial and management strategies.  It takes Gibsons beyond just making an environmental case for preserving nature.”

Putting the Eco-Asset Strategy into Action

“Over the past five years, the Town’s staff have been learning by doing, and adapting. Since declaring Nature its most valuable infrastructure asset, and to instil the stewardship ethic across the organization, the Town has integrated the Eco-Asset Strategy into everything that the municipality does,” continues Emanuel Machado.

Policies & Plans All Recognize the Role of Nature:

“To fully integrate nature’s services into its decision making, both financial and planning, and operations, the Town has updated its Asset Management Policy, Official Community Plan, including Development Permit Area guidelines, Strategic Plan, Financial Plan(s), Subdivisions Standards Bylaw, Development Cost Charges Bylaw, Integrated Stormwater Management Plan (in progress), and Human Resources Plan. All recognize the role of nature as a fundamental component of the municipal infrastructure system.

“To share our experience with other local governments, the Town is presently developing a Guidance Document for the Financial Planning of Natural Assets. We expect to release it later in 2017. The document will inform and support the work of the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, currently piloting the ‘Gibsons approach’ in five communities in BC and Ontario, with five more projects across Canada expected in 2018.”

Design with Nature to Sustain the Natural Flow of Water to and in Streams

The Town of Gibsons is the latest local government to become a sustaining member of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. Collaboration and the resulting cross-fertilization of experience would benefit two programs; these are complementary in terms of desired outcomes (valuation of natural assets):

  • Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI)of which the Town is a convening partner; and
  • Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management, led by the Partnership.
The Partnership develops approaches, tools and resources to build practitioner capacity within local government to implement a whole-system, water balance approach branded as Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management. Under this umbrella, tools include the Ecological Accounting Protocol for valuing watersheds as infrastructure assets; and the interactive Water Balance Express to help homeowners understand what they would need to do to achieve a water balance on their properties.

Engage Community with Water Balance Express:

“The Town has joined the Partnership for Water Sustainability due, in part, to its contributions towards helping local governments in the integration of natural asset considerations into sustainable asset management, including planning and financial decisions and municipal operations,” explains Emanuel Machado.

“The Town is a demonstration application for the Water Balance Methodology through our participation in the Water Balance Express Cost-Sharing Incentive Program. The Partnership is supporting the Town by providing us with performance targets so that, in future, design of our drainage infrastructure would replicate the flow-duration pattern characteristic of natural conditions in our streams.

“The Town commits to implementing the Water Balance Express tool because it allows property owners/developers to simulate their own property and demonstrate how best to slow, sink and spread rainwater runoff.”

Two initiatives - Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI) and Ecological Accounting Protocol (EAP) - have the potential to achieve complementary outcomes, albeit at different scales

Two initiatives – Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI) and Ecological Accounting Protocol (EAP) – have the potential to achieve complementary outcomes, albeit at different scales