BCIT Guest Lecture Series: graduating engineers learn about history and scope of “Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia” from Kim Stephens (March 2016)

Note to Reader:

In March 2016, the instructor of the Stormwater Management course at BC Institute of Technology in the department of Civil Engineering invited Kim Stephens (Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia) to deliver a guest lecture about Beyond the Guidebook 2015: Moving Towards “Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management”, a deliverable under the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative (IREI).

The guest lecture created the opportunity to introduce the Water Sustainability Action Plan to the graduating students, and elaborate on the Partnership’s mission.

BCIT lecture_about Partnership_Mar2016


Local Governments Share a Vision for Water & Watershed Sustainability

“I accepted the invitation from Laith Furatian to participate in the guest lecture series at BCIT because it created an outreach opportunity in the ongoing rollout of Beyond the Guidebook 2015. This guidance document is a deliverable under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan, and is a progress report on how local governments are sharing and learning from each other to implement affordable and effective science-based practices that would restore the hydrologic integrity of watersheds over time,” explains Kim Stephens.

Lesson Structure

BCIT_lecture storyline“The lecture comprised four parts. The objective was to start with a practical sounding topic – rain gardens – that the students could visualize. It was important that these graduating engineers realize that a rain garden is more than just ‘gardening’. With this starting point, it was then a matter of delving into the details in order to introduce the science behind the Water Balance Methodology that generates performance targets for sizing of rain gardens.”

To Learn More:

Download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation that provided the basis for the guest lecture by Kim Stephens: Beyond the Guidebook 2015: Moving Towards “Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management”.


Moving Beyond Engineered Systems

Kim Stephens_DSC_0012_trimmed1_120p“The lecture was built around a PAST-PRESENT-FUTURE unifying theme in order to address three topic areas that emerged from a series of pre-lecture discussions with Laith. We distilled these topic areas down to three bullets: provincial overview, Voodoo Hydrology and ‘change the mentality’. In terms of the FUTURE, it is very much about moving beyond engineered systems to also integrating natural systems. That is the educational goal,” states Kim Stephens.

Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative

“The Partnership for Water Sustainability brings together, and supports the efforts of, local and regional governments across British Columbia,” continues Kim Stephens. “Under the Action Plan umbrella, the overarching goal of the Partnership is to provide tools to help organizations achieve their water sustainability goals, and opportunities for shared learning. The Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative (IREI) is an outstanding example of this shared learning approach.”

“The IREI is endorsed by 5 Regional Boards representing 75% of the population in BC: Regional District of Nanaimo, Capital Regional District, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Comox Valley Regional District, Metro Vancouver.”

“By 2017, a program goal is that all local governments would understand how to achieve Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management,” emphasizes Kim Stephens.

RDN-Action Plan context_May2016

Moving Along the “Beyond the Guidebook” Continuum

“For the purposes of the lecture, and in order to provide the students with context, I introduced them to the notion of a continuum,” explains Kim Stephens. “My objective was to impart a simple message, and that is – knowledge, and our understanding of what that knowledge means, is expanding and becoming clearer over time.”

Beyond the Guidebook 2015 is the third in a series. It builds on the foundation provided by Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released by the Province in 2002. It is a snapshot in time. Local government leaders have made substantial progress since 2002, and Beyond the Guidebook 2015 showcases and celebrates five “regional stories” as told in the words of the champions in each region – Metro Vancouver, Capital Region, Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo Region and the Comox Valley.”

Genesis for Water Balance Methodology

Mimic-Water Balance_Feb-2014The ‘salmon crisis’ throughout the 1990s decade galvanized awareness in BC that the ecological baseline was shifting, suddenly and dramatically. The ecosystem value of small, headwater streams had not been fully appreciated. The result: streams were being lost as a consequence of rapid population growth and land development.”

“In response, governments recognized the need to restore and protect watershed and stream health. This was the genesis for the Water Balance Methodology. This  set in  motion a chain of actions and events. The ripple effects are reverberating through time.”


Restore Water Balance to Re-Set Ecological Baseline

“By 2002, looking at rainfall differently led the Province to adopt the Water Balance Methodology as the technical foundation for Stormwater Planning Guidebook, initiate a performance target approach to capturing rain where it falls, and initiate changes in the way rainwater runoff is returned to streams.”

“The Guidebook vision is that community development activities and further alteration of the Built Environment will result in cumulative benefits, not impacts. In 2002, the Guidebook identified a path forward for local governments,” emphasized Kim Stephens in his remarks to the students.


Voodoo Hydrology

An Engineers Assumptions“The last part of the lecture introduced the students to Voodoo Hydrology, a term that humourist Andy Reese coined in 2006,” states Kim Stephens. “A frustration among hydrologists is the misapplication of science that one sees all the time in the practice of drainage engineering and stormwater management. One of Andy’s quotable quotes provided a backdrop for assumptions that may drive the design process, but do not hold up under scrutiny. The purpose was to provide students with food for thought.”

Laith-Furatian_Mar2016_DSC_0522_trimmed2_120pThe presentation by Kim Stephens gave further insight into how thinking has evolved regarding stormwater management in our region and elsewhere. His discussion of Voodoo Hydrology reinforced the importance of questioning everything, a habit I try to encourage in my students,” comments Laith Furatian.

To Learn More:

For background on the origin of the term “voodoo hydrology”, click on Voodoo Hydrology Annual Webinar Series (January 2016): “The rise of Green Infrastructure and Resilience Planning opens the door for newer Voodoo like never before,” observes Andy Reese, water resources engineer and author