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Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia

DESIGN WITH NATURE: “Man is that uniquely conscious creature who can perceive and express. He must become the steward of the biosphere. To do this, he must design with nature,” wrote Ian McHarg in Chapter 1 of his landmark book that is his enduring legacy (published in 1969)


More manifesto than scholarly text, Ian McHarg’s now-canonical book arrived amidst the tumult of an ascendant, leftist environmental movement—one that delivered a series of landmark political victories in the 1970s, a period that would become known as “the environmental decade.” It remains one of the best-selling books ever written by a designer, has been translated into Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish, and remains in print today.

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PARKSVILLE 2019 SYMPOSIUM: The right players were present, the urgency for meaningful collaboration was recognized, and ‘can do’ success stories were shared in order to explain why and how restorative land development would result in sustainable stream restoration on Vancouver Island and beyond


“Thank you so much for the immense amount of work you do to protect ecosystem services and teach us all about taking responsibility. The Vancouver Island symposium on water stewardship was so inspiring and informative. It was a wonderful experience. I left Parksville feeling hopeful,” stated Councillor Laura Dupont, City of Port Coquitlam. This article provides a re-cap and a synopsis of the modules comprising the symposium program, and features three “stories behind the stories”.

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SUSTAINABLE WATERSHED SYSTEMS: “How do communities decide how much to invest in restoration? The Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) describes a methodology that landed on the notion of the natural commons as the starting point for calculating the financial value of a stream bed and riparian corridor,” states Tim Pringle, EAP Chair (January 2019)


“EAP deals with a basic question: what is a creekshed WORTH, now and in future, to the community and various intervenors? The EAP valuation methodology yields an asset value for the stream corridor that can then be used for budget purposes,” stated Tim Pringle. “We broke new ground with EAP. Insights and understanding that we gained led us to look at creeksheds differently. The importance of viewing choices through the ‘worth lens’ became clear.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2011: “The purpose of the Primer on Rainwater Management in an Urban Watershed Context is to provide engineers and non-engineers with a common understanding of how a science-based approach to rainwater management has evolved since the mid-1990s,” stated Peter Law, a founding Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia


“Two decades ago, ground-breaking research by Richard Horner and Chris May in Washington State identified limiting factors for stream health, and established an order-of-priority. Their findings provided a road map for integrated rainwater management,” stated Peter Law. “After that, the ‘made in BC’ concept of the Rainfall Spectrum led us to look at rainfall differently. This resulted in the Water Balance Methodology and the ability to quantify and assess the hydrologic effectiveness of ‘green’ infrastructure.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2011: “The purpose of the ‘Primer on Urban Watershed Modelling to Inform Local Government Decision Processes’ is to provide engineers and non-engineers with a common understanding regarding ‘appropriate and affordable’ computer modelling,” stated Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority for the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia


The Primer provided local governments with a starting point for applying lessons learned over the previous decade. “By addressing what appropriate and affordable should mean in practice, the Primer deals with two separate dimensions of an integrated Watershed Plan. The first is the watershed itself, where the focus is on the relationship between rainfall and resulting flow rates in streams. The second is the storm drainage system, where the focus is on infrastructure and the level of service,” stated Jim Dumont.

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FLASHBACK TO 2012: “The Primer on Integrated Rainwater and Groundwater Management demonstrated how pioneer research in the Englishman River watershed on Vancouver Island leads us to look at groundwater differently from a water balance perspective,” stated Craig Wightman, Senior Fisheries Biologist with BC Conservation Foundation


“The Primer introduces the issue of the ‘unfunded infrastructure liability’. Viewing the watershed through an asset management lens provides local governments with a driver to require that development practices mimic the Water Balance,” states Craig Wightman. The Primer is an outcome of collaboration involving Living Rivers, the British Columbia Conservation Foundation, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, the Mid-Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society, and the City of Parksville.

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FLASHBACK TO 2013: “The Primer on Land Development Process in BC is a ‘bridging document’ – it illustrates how to seamlessly integrate the legal and administrative parts of land development,” stated Tim Pringle when the Primer was released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability


“While much attention is given to the technical and legal aspects of the Land Development Process, we are not aware of anyone who has addressed administration. At the heart of the Primer, then, is the discussion at the end of Section 6 about Administrative Process Requirements. This piece of the puzzle is the key to implementation of effective rainwater management systems on private property,” stated Tim Pringle. “The Primer will assist practitioners whose work addresses land subdivision concerns.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2014: “When reading the Primer on Water Balance Methodology for Protecting Watershed Health, it is helpful to reflect on the historical context to understand that the water balance approach had its genesis in the Stream Stewardship Series,” stated Erik Karlsen, formerly an Executive Director in the BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs


“Released circa 1993, Stream Stewardship: A Guide for Planners and Developers document was an early, and in some respects the first, local government focussed design with nature guide,” recalled Erik Karlsen. “Looking back, if the Stewardship Series was the first wave, the work of UBC’s James Taylor Chair on Sustainable Urban Landscapes was the second, and the Water Balance Approach is the third. Each of these ‘waves’ was initiated by different ‘groups’; but over time they merged from one to the other.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2016: “The purpose of the Primer on Application of Ecosystem-based Understanding in the Georgia Basin is to connect the dots and disseminate information on the ‘science-based understanding’ that underpins the vision for Sustainable Watershed Systems,” stated Peter Law, formerly with the BC Ministry of Environment


“An interface is needed to translate the complex products of science into achievable goals and implementable solution for practical resource management. This interface is what we now call a science-based understanding,” stated Peter Law. “Understanding how land development impacts watershed hydrology and the functions of aquatic ecosystems provides a solid basis for making decisions to guide action where and when it is most needed. This understanding will help multiple audiences ask the right questions so that communities make informed decisions.”

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TURNING IDEAS INTO ACTION: “Getting to restorative development depends on finding a balance between short-term and long-term thinking,” stated Kim Stephens in his presentation at the Engineers & Geoscientists BC Annual Conference (October 2018)


Kim Stephens quoted from the work of Eva Kras – visionary, scholar and author. “Our present global and societal problem is that short-term thinking governs much of what we do,” says Eva Kras. “We need to re-learn basically ‘how we think’, using both the right and left hemispheres of our brain. Both ways of thinking are important, but the sad part is that we have convinced ourselves that the Left Hemisphere can do EVERYTHING.”

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