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Convening for Action in British Columbia

What happens on the land matters. Apply ‘cathedral thinking’ – a far-reaching vision, a well thought-out blueprint, and a shared commitment to inter-generational implementation – to create a lasting water sustainability legacy. Convening for Action is a British Columbia process that is about moving from defining the problems (the ‘what’), to determining options (the ‘so what’), to taking action to achieve results (the ‘now what’), and after that, to replicating in other communities (the ‘then what’).

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DOWNLOADABLE RESOURCE: The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia – Our Story (March 2018)


“Future planners, engineers, scientists, politicians and citizens alike will be called upon to demonstrate both vision and pragmatism, working as a team towards consensus, commitment and collaboration for the common good. Such collaboration is essential and must cross all political and community boundaries given that climate change is no respecter of such creations. The Partnership has accepted this challenge and its implementation,” stated Eric Bonham.

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Green, Heal and Restore the Earth: Ian McHarg’s “Design with Nature” vision has influenced implementation of British Columbia’s Water Sustainability Action Plan


In his 1969 book, Design With Nature, Ian McHarg pioneered the concept of environmental planning. “So, I commend Design with Nature to your sympathetic consideration. The title contains a gradient of meaning. It can be interpreted as simply descriptive of a planning method, deferential to places and peoples, it can invoke the Grand Design, it can emphasize the conjunction with and, finally it can be read as an imperative. DESIGN WITH NATURE!,” wrote Ian McHarg.

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Convening for Action in British Columbia


“Convening for Action is a provincial initiative that supports innovation on-the-ground. From the perspective of those leading and/or participating in regional programs, having this community-of-interest provides the opportunity to ‘tell our story’ and ‘record our history’ as a work-in-progress,” states Ray Fung. “It will turn ideas into action by building capacity and understanding regarding integration of long-term, strategic planning and the implementation of physical infrastructure.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2010: “A vision with a task is the hope of the world,” stated Kim Stephens in his panel presentation about Uncertain Water Supplies at the 2nd Annual Symposium on Planning for Resilience hosted by the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning


“Time and time again in my career, I have seen how we create layers of complexity around assumptions. Take any kind of an issue, drill down or peel back the layers of the onion, until you get to the simple assumption. So often, experience shows, the assumption is flawed. If you ask a different question, you may get a different answer,” stated Kim Stephens. “Too often, we seem to lose sight of the fact that the future is unpredictable. Part of that may be resulting from our increasing dependence on computers. They are great but computers are not a substitute for judgment.”

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CONVENING FOR ACTION ON VANCOUVER ISLAND: “A Guide to Water-Wise Land Development in the Comox Valley” – In December 2015, the Joint Staff Training Workshop organized by the Comox Valley Regional Team initiated an educational process for communicating ‘design with nature’ expectations in urban watersheds


“The Water-Wise Guide communicates consistent expectations for how the valley can mitigate environmental concerns,” stated Kris La Rose. “The Guide is a collaboration between all four local governments, MOTI, the stewardship sector and the private sector. It is designed to be visually engaging, easy to read, have front counter ‘branding’ consistent to all four local government planning counters, with tips for applicants on how to prepare successful plans that integrate watershed-based rainwater management strategies and minimize negative impacts on watersheds.”

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SHARING ‘DESIGN WITH NATURE’ APPROACHES, TOOLS, EXPERIENCES AND LESSONS LEARNED:“Like most other areas on Vancouver Island, the Comox Valley is at a major cross-roads as to how we will develop and still maintain the natural beauty of our community,” stated Mayor Starr Winchester when Comox Valley local governments co-hosted the finale event of ‘Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation on Vancouver Island: The 2007 Series’


“Local government leaders are telling our staffs that we want to be a sustainable community tomorrow. We are not being so unrealistic as to ask for this yesterday,” stated (former) City of Courtenay Mayor Starr Winchester. “We want to keep our rural areas rural, yet we are faced with many people coming into the valley, especially now that we have an international airport. We are experiencing phenomenal growth. So we are really depending on the practitioners to keep us grounded and realistic so that growth will be sustainable.”

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GUIDANCE DOCUMENT: “Primer on Integrating Natural Assets into Asset Management” (released by Asset Management BC, September 2019)


The Primer builds on foundations established by two initiatives – EAP, Ecological Accounting Process; and MNAI, Municipal Natural Assets Initiative. “It is great that we have two initiatives in British Columbia that focus on the role of natural assets in supporting quality of life and property enjoyment,” states Emanuel Machado. He is MNAI Chair. “Ecological systems play a fundamental role in a local government’s ability to deliver services to its residents and businesses.”

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ARTICLE: Sustainable Service Delivery in a Changing Climate – A Moment of Reckoning! (Asset Management BC Newsletter, September 2019)


The focus of the article is on how elders are leading by example to bridge a demographic gap until Generations X, Y and Z take the inter-generational baton. Greenland’s glaciers are melting; the Amazon forest is on fire. At a moment in history when the phrase ‘climate emergency’ is top of mind for many, and given that there is no easy or quick fix, the article reminds us that history repeats itself. Or, as the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote in 1848, “the more things change, the more they are the same”.

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RESILIENCE + CHANGE: Session on “Tools, Resources & Funding for Local Governments” at UBCM Annual Convention updated British Columbia local government elected representatives about the ‘convening for action’ leadership role played by Partnership for Water Sustainability (Sept 2019)


Big or small, rural or urban, our communities are experiencing change at an unprecedented rate. From climate change to economic pressures, local governments are on the front lines managing the local impact of complex issues. In an uncertain future, local leaders have a duty to learn from each other and from the past and to find new approaches to plan and thrive. “One-on-one conversations with mayors and councillors from towns around BC was an effective way to inform them about the Partnership’s work,” stated Richard Boase.

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GUIDANCE DOCUMENT: Slow it. Spread it. Sink it! An Okanagan Homeowner’s Guide to Using Rain as a Resource (released by the Okanagan Basin Water Board in 2012)


“There are many reasons for changing our approach to rainwater,” states Anna Warwick Sears. “Making simple shifts to what we do around the house can save on irrigation water, and keep our streams and lakes clean and healthy. This saves money and energy for water treatment. It’s funny, but something as ordinary as mulching your yard is a progressive, personal way to make a difference for water in your community. I encourage other regions to adapt this guide and customize it for their areas. We are distributing them to the public at the front counter of building departments, and they are going like hotcakes!”

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LIONS GATE SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT, METRO VANCOUVER: “Community advocates focussed political attention on the need to be visionary and dare to be bold in going beyond what is currently minimum standard of practice,” says Dr. Don Mavinic, a UBC engineering professor and world-renowned expert on wastewater treatment systems who has advocated for tertiary treatment


Motivated by a shared vision that “the future is here, NOW” for restoration of the aquatic environment in Burrard Inlet, three engineers with distinguished careers have been passionate and relentless in collaborating as an interdisciplinary team to convince the Metro Vancouver Regional District to re-think the treatment components for the new Lions Gate Treatment Plant. The decision to add tertiary treatment was announced in September 2019. “Now, there is no looking back…. ’elders power, combining mind and action’,” stated Don Mavinic.

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PARKSVILLE 2019: ‘Convening for Action’ symposium started strong with Dave Derrick stream restoration workshop and walkabout, and finished strong with Storm Cunningham presentation on restorative development; remarkable 40% response rate by delegates confirmed that the key educational objectives were fulfilled


Attract an audience balanced across sectors. Demonstrate the power of collaboration between the stewardship sector and local governments. Create an environment for sharing and cross-fertilizing experiences. Those were the objectives. “I just wanted to say thanks to you and everyone behind the great symposium! Great job!! It was an exciting few days, and I left feeling inspired and even somewhat empowered about finding ways to protect water. The importance of ecological services really hit home for me. There is lots of great work happening out there – thanks to all the organizers for bringing it all together,” said Laura Beckett,

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NANAIMO 2018: “The vision for restorative development is an idea whose time has come – and a set of videos uploaded to YouTube provide a permanent record of this watershed moment,” stated John Finnie, Chair, Nanaimo 2018 Symposium Organizing Committee


“The program was structured as three modules to enable the audience to have an informed conversation,” stated John Finnie. “Context is everything. Hence, two co-keynote presentations in Module A set the context and primed participants for a town-hall sharing and learning session in Module B about restorative development. In the afternoon, a set of four reflective presentations introduced building blocks for achieving Sustainable Watershed Systems.”

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