Water – Choosing Sustainability for Life and Livelihoods
The Way We Develop Land Determines How Water is Used
The issue of how to accommodate a doubling of the population in the high growth regions of British Columbia is the driver for implementing changes in the way we develop land and use water. Because of pressures on land and water resources, the growth regions have been experiencing cumulative impacts. “Green infrastructure’ is viewed as an effective means to mitigate environmental and social impacts.
The Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia is advancing an array of interconnected and on-the-ground partnership initiatives. These promote a ‘water-centric’ approach to community planning which, over time, results in ‘greener’ communities. The Green Infrastructure Partnership is one of these initiatives.
Conversations with elected officials are yielding insights that are shaping implementation of Convening for Action pilot programs in three regions of British Columbia, namely: the Okanagan, Vancouver Island and Greater Vancouver. The starting point for interviews is the premise that we can create our future, and the decisions that elected officials make today ripple through time. Those decisions can result in either cumulative impacts or cumulative benefits.
The Green Infrastructure Partnership
In May 2005, the Green Infrastructure Partnership organized a Consultation Workshop with local governments in the Greater Vancouver region. The workshop set in motion a chain of events. One outcome was a decision to have one-on-one conversations with an ‘ad hoc mayors focus group’ that has representation from three regions. Key findings are presented in the September 2006 progress report titled Water – Choosing Sustainability for Life & Livelihoods: Convening for Action in British Columbia .
Under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan, the mission of the Green Infrastructure Partnership is to facilitate implementation of infrastructure practices and regulation province-wide that embody a design with nature way-of-thinking and acting. Because everything is connected, the way we develop land determines how water is used, and how water runs off the land.
According to Paul Ham, Chair of the Green Infrastructure Partnership, “The report is a prelude to developing a Green Infrastructure Communication Guide for Elected Officials. The Guide will fill a gap because what has been lacking is this – written information on green infrastructure that is written from the perspective of elected officials for elected officials.”
“Before we can write a Communication Guide, we need to understand what elected officials already know plus what they would like to know about green infrastructure. Only then can we judge what level of information transfer will be useful to them,” adds Ham.
Framework for Communication Guide
The interviews with elected officials were conducted on behalf of the Green Infrastructure Partnership by Kim Stephens, Program Coordinator for the Water Sustainability Action Plan. “Green infrastructure is not fully understood, but is seen as water-centric,” he says. “In the Okanagan, green infrastructure is associated with the use of water and sustainability of supply; whereas in the Greater Vancouver region and on Vancouver Island, it is associated with control of water that runs off the land and sustainability of aquatic habitat..”
The Green Infrastructure Partnership is an Action Plan element, and the managing partner for both is the Water Sustainability Committee of the BC Water & Waste Association. “The Action Plan promotes a water-centric approach because participating agencies believe it will achieve two desired outcomes – enhanced quality of life for people, and higher levels of ecological and water protection,” comments Stephens. But, he adds, creating this future ultimately depends on connecting the dots between regional growth strategies and on-the-ground infrastructure.
Integrated Water Management
The ‘integration’ process that is at the heart of of a design with nature approach to land development involves consideraion of land, water, air and living organisms – including humans – as well as the interactions among them.
According to Stephens, the essence of the progress report on Convening for Action is distilled down to this set of seven key messages which can also be viewed as guiding principles:
- Growth and Settlement:Doubling the population will require changes in the way we develop land and how we use water.
- Water for Life and Livelihoods:In a fully integrated landscape, water is the unifying element. If we get the water part right, then other parts will follow.
- Settlement in Balance with Ecology:Settlement and ecology are equal values, and they must be as much in balance as possible for the wellbeing of human and natural systems
- Communities in Balance with Water: Water OUT = Water IN is a ‘mind map’ for dealing with uncertainty and managing risk related to water supply, water use and runoff.
- Design with Nature:We can improve the built environment. We can protect the natural environment. We can sustain community livability.
- Leadership:Alignment at a regional scale will help individual mayors lead the move from talk (interest) to local action (practice) on-the-ground.
- Communication:Seek to understand and ‘connect the dots’ by having conversations.
- Implementing Change: Inform, inspire and enable people to work together through partnerships to act now.
“Because they constitute a comprehensive framework, these guiding principles may very well form the table of contents for the proposed Green Infrastructure Communication Guide for Elected Officials,” reports Stephens.
Convening for Action Regional Pilots
The kickoff event for the launch of Convening for Action in British Columbia was the February 2005 ‘Okanagan Conference’ that was held in Kelowna. The education-based Convening for Action initiative has evolved from organizing events to delivering a program through collaboration and partnerships. Pilots are underway in three regions.
- Convening for Action in the South Okanagan: Water for Life and Livelihoods
- Celebrating Green Infrastructure in the Greater Vancouver Region: Showcasing Innovation Series
- Convening for Action on Vancouver Island: Moving Towards Water-Centric Sustainability
Rates of Progress
Pressures on land and water resources generated by demand for residential properties reflect rapid population growth in all three regions, with many residents becoming uneasy about the rate of change. Communities are seeking ways to address the resulting challenges. Over the past year, the pilots have been initiated one at a time. As a result, they are at different points along a continuum –
- The South Okanagan pilot is well-advanced in terms of connecting with elected officials, building awareness, gaining credibility, and making a contribution; and
- The Greater Vancouver pilot is in the early stages of developing critical mass; whereas
- The Vancouver Island pilot is in the process of being launched.
“The conversations with elected officials have also been invaluable in providing focus for the three regional pilot programs,” notes Paul Ham. “By listening to what elected officials have to say, we have a much better understanding of how best to move forward with changes in the way we develop land and use water.”
Posted August 2006