RESTORE THE BALANCE IN THE WATER BALANCE: “In 2005, the year after release of the Water Sustainability Action Plan, the Province and Partnership co-hosted the launch event for the Convening for Action in British Columbia initiative. The event also allowed the Province to fulfil a commitment flowing from the 2004 Drought Forum,” stated Kim Stephens

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land, and water in altered landscapes. In this edition, we springboard from the announcement about BC’s Drought Response Plan to tell the story of the Water OUT= Water IN way-of-thinking.


“Lately, I have been thinking a lot about three interconnected ideas – the essential need for peer-based learning; what it means to build a culture of land and stream stewardship that is inter-generational; and how local governments would benefit from cultivating continuity of institutional memory,”  stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“We ignore the past and we reinvent the wheel, time and again. Cumulatively building on experience is the exception, rather than the rule. The explanation is that players change, experience is not passed on, and lessons learned are not carried forward. Given this reality, the Partnership fills a vacuum as an “inter-generational memory bank”. At the core of the Partnership’s mission is being a connector – from past to present to future.”

“The foregoing musings provide the context for a flashback to 2005 for the purposes of connecting past to present – specifically, BC’s Drought Response Plan. The year after release of the Water Sustainability Action Plan, the Province and Partnership co-hosted the launch event for the Convening for Action in British Columbia initiative. The event also allowed the Province to fulfil a commitment flowing from the 2004 Drought Forum.”

EDITOR’S CONTEXT: Our Climate is Changing

“Held in Penticton and titled Achieving Water Balance: A Workshop on Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk, the session purpose was to point the way forward to the next paradigm-shift in water supply management. Designed as a technical transfer session, it shone the spotlight on the Water OUT = Water IN way-of-thinking.”

“Context is everything. In 2005, BC was early in the second decade of water conservation to reduce demand on supply systems. Due to recurring droughts, the emphasis had been on “water use efficiency”. By 2005, however, the impacts and implications of a changing climate were top-of-mind.”

“The “Penticton Workshop” was the first milestone in a multi-year process to raise awareness among water decision-makers that: Ensuring a safe and adequate water supply depends on understanding the science behind the Water OUT = Water IN equation, as well as what this means at the operational level.”

Curious to learn more about the “2005 Penticton Workshop”?


Climate Change is a Variable

With the support of Jim Mattison, former Assistant Deputy Minister of Environment, the team of Wenda Mason (Land & Water BC), Robert Hicks (Metro Vancouver) and Kim Stephens (Water Sustainability Action Plan) developed the program and messaging for the 2005 Achieving Water Balance Workshop. Wenda Mason was the first manager of BC’s Provincial Drought Initiative.

The idea for the deceptively simple Water OUT = Water In equation originated with Robert Hicks. An original thinker, he focussed the team on how we could use the equation as a visual means to explain complexity to a continuum of audiences, ranging from technical to elected. The essence of the OUT = IN messaging from 2005 is distilled as follows.

Water OUT = Water IN

“Climate change is not a driver; rather, it is a variable,” Robert Hicks stated at the 2005 workshop. “Furthermore, climate change is only one factor to consider when we talk about sustainable infrastructure and sustainable water supply. The real issues are uncertainty and risk, more specifically how we deal with the first and manage the latter.”

“A constant challenge for planning is not to prevent past events, but instead is to use past experiences to inform and create flexible strategies for the present and the future. Furthermore, this need for flexibility is not restricted to the immediate scope of the problem at hand; but must also consider the broader juggling of evolving local government priorities and service demands.”

“This leads to the challenge of assessing problems with sufficient complexity to arrive at flexible and resilient solutions, while at the same time not being overwhelmed and paralyzed by over-analysis.”

“Given the variability of the factors behind ‘Water OUT = Water IN’, this relationship always will represent a snap-shot in time as its’ inputs shift, evolve and change over time.”

A Shrinking Safety Factor

Climate change has aggravated an existing vulnerability in BC. Over time, the safety factor has been shrinking.

While it rains a lot in BC, we do not have an abundance of supply when demand is greatest. In addition, the mountainous nature of BC’s geography is that BC communities are typically storage-constrained, and what storage they do have is measured in weeks to months.

When the water resource is large and water demand is small, variability is not that noticeable. But when the demand (Water OUT) is large relative to the available resource, a variation on the supply side (Water IN) magnifies the perception of impact. In many cases, BC communities are operating on narrow margins.

Variability > Uncertainty > Risk

How do you solve the OUT = IN equation when both sides are variable? After all, it is mathematically not possible to solve for two or more unknowns when one has a single equation.

The inherent variability creates uncertainty which in turn creates risk. There is multiple what if combinations and permutations to consider in the OUT = IN equation. Thus, a key message is that the future will always be different than expected.

Where to Focus Resiliency Efforts

Because many factors are in play within the OUT = IN equation, an over-arching goal for sustainable water supply management would be to build in resiliency that addresses risk.

If communities are vulnerable on the IN side of the equation, then it would make sense to build in resiliency on the OUT side. There is no silver bullet. Communities need to do many little things. Over time the cumulative benefits of doing many things do add up. Consider, for example, the role of soil depth in reducing water need and preventing water runoff.

From Past to Present to Future

There is a direct line from the “2005 Penticton Workshop” to the recently launched BC Landscape Water Calculator, the newest tool in the Partnership toolbox. As a foundation piece for the next generation of water conservation programs, use of the tool would help local governments build resiliency on the OUT side of the Water Balance equation.


The Partnership for Water Sustainability invites you to test drive the BC Landscape Water Calculator.

Click on the image below to access YouTube and view an online demo of the tool by Ted van der Gulik.

The City of Kelowna was the first local government to operationalize the BC Landscape Water Calculator, as of June 2020. Two other local governments, one in the Fraser Valley and the other on Vancouver Island, will have the calculator up and running by June 2021.

About the Partnership for Water Sustainability

Incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia as a not-for-profit society on November 19, 2010 was a milestone moment. Incorporation signified a bold leap forward. Two decades earlier, a group of like-minded and passionate individuals, including representatives of three levels of government, came together as a technical committee. Over time, this “water roundtable” evolved into The Partnership.

The umbrella for Partnership initiatives and programs is the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. In turn, the Action Plan is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Released in 2008, Living Water Smart was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments.

The Partnership’s guiding philosophy is to help others be successful. When they are successful, we are successful. The Partnership is led by a team of mission-focused volunteers, elders and collaborators. These individuals bring experience, knowledge and wisdom to the Partnership roundtable. This enhances the effectiveness of the Partnership as “the hub for a convening for action network”. Although many on the Partnership leadership team have retired from their day jobs, the water-centric mission continues.