Building on Experience in Implementing Sustainable Communities in the City of Surrey


In May 2005, the Green Infrastructure Partnership conducted a consultation workshop in collaboration with the Regional Engineers Advisory Committee (REAC) of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). The REAC Consultation Workshop was hosted by the City of Surrey. Participants comprised senior managers in local government. Representatives from ten GVRD municipalities attended. The Celebrating Green Infrastructure Program: Showcasing Innovation Series is a consultation outcome. The series is a building block process – each time the objective is to raise the bar when celebrating successes in Greater Vancouver municipalities.

Green infrastructure ocep - june 2006

The program was launched in May 2006 as a provincial pilot when the first event in the Showcasing Innovation Series was hosted by the District of North Vancouver.”  The second in the series was hosted by the City of Surrey in June 2006. Paul hamAccording to Paul Ham, Chair of the Green Infrastructure (and General Manager, Engineering, CIty of Surrey),“The goal of the Celebrating Green Infrastructure Program is to build regional capacity through sharing of green infrastructure approaches, experiences and lessons learned as an outcome of designing with nature.”

Showcasing Innovation in Surrey focused on what the City of Surrey believes it can systematically accomplish on-the-ground, at a watershed scale, now and over the next 50 years by building on the East Clayton experience. Showcasing innovation in surrey -  ed von euw & mark wellman (120pixels)The Showcasing Innovation Series is organized as a workshop in the morning followed by field tour in the afternoon. The series is structured this way to create opportunities for practitioners to network and share “how to Showcasing innovation in surrey -  green bus (180pixels)do it” experiences on the ground. The host municipalities set the scene for the field tour by providing comprehensive and in-depth presentations. The program is designed for engineering, planning, land development, operations, and environmental departments in Greater Vancouver municipalities.

The moderator for the workshop part of the Surrey event was Kim Stephens, Program Coordinator for the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. “The emphasis was on the approach the City is developing under the umbrella of the Fergus Creek Integrated Stormwater Management Plan (ISMP) to facilitate changes in how land is developed and/or redeveloped. The underlying theme was effective integration to achieve results on-the-ground”, observed Stephens. For a program overview, please click on  Agenda for Celebrating Green Infrastructure in the City of Surrey.

Registration totalled approximatley 60, with representation from 11 municipalities and 14 consulting firms. A number of senior government agencies and non-government organizations were also represented. “We specifically invited consultants who do work for developers and the City to attend so that they would understand our vision and move forward with new ideas and approaches”, noted Paul Ham.




To set the scene for the day, the workshop opened with two presentations that provided context and defined expectations in convening for action.


Green Infrastructure Partnership: Convening for Action:

In his lead-off presentation to open the workshop, Kim Stephens noted that “The Kim stephens (120 pixels)Green Infrastructure Partnership is one of six inter-connected initiatives that comprise the Water Sustainability Action Plan. The Action Plan provides a partnership umbrella for an array of on-the-ground initiatives that promote a water-centric approach to community planning.” Under this umbrella, the Green Infrastructure Partnership is promoting an integrated approach to land development – because the way we develop land determines how we use water and how water runs off the land. To view and/or download his presentation, click on Green Infrastrructure Partnership: Convening for Action in British Columbia.

“When we convene for action, we build capacity through a 3-step process,” explained Stephens, “First, we challenge practitioners to step back from their existing way-of-thinking. Secondly, when they are ready to listen, we inform them regarding alternatives. Thirdly, we provide the tools and experience to develop land differently. This last point is the essence of what we are endeavouring to accomplish through Showcasing Innovation.”


City of Surrey Vision:

Green infrastructure partnership -  paul ham (90 pixels)Paul Ham followed with an overview presentation on the City of Surrey Vision. He stated that by the mid-1990s, the need for change was clear: “The East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan provided the first large-scale opportunity to ‘test’ a new approach advocated by Patrick Condon and others. This new approach, which is sometimes characterized as ‘the future is the past’, embodied a design with nature way-of-thinking about drainage.”

“Looking back, it is sometimes hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since the City initiated the East Clayton plan”, added Ham, “With the passage of time, we tend to take the early innovation for granted. From my perspective, one aspect which really stands out about the East Clayton plan is the integration of sustainability objectives.”

In providing context for City of Surrey actions over time, Ham highlighted three provincial initiatives that had an early influence on City of Surrey thinking. These were the UniverCity Sustainable Community on Burnaby Mountain, the Provincial Guidebook for stormwater planning, and the experience of the City of Chilliwack when it developed its Manual for Surface Water Management as a feedback loop for Guidebook development.

“The early results from East Clayton combined with the on-the-ground experience of Chilliwack gave Surrey the confidence to implement new Low Impact Development objectives in two plans – the Campbell Heights Economic Development Plan (1999-2000), and the Highway 99 Corridor Land Use Plan (2002). In fact, Council made the use of LID practices a condition of both plans”, explained Ham.

Investigation of opportunities for the application of LID objectives is now expected in all the City’s land use plans. This was Ham’s concluding message. “Furthermore, ISMPs will provide the basis for implementing LID objectives to support a design with nature approach on a watershed scale”, he stated. To view and/or download his presentation, click on City of Surrey Vision.

Showcasing innovation in surrey -  location map



The City of Surrey believes it is ‘walking the sustainability talk’ and is demonstrating regional leadership by proactively implementing a design with nature approach to green infrastructure practices. The Showcasing Innovation Series created a timely opportunity for the City to share the lessons learned from these three projects:

  • EAST CLAYTON SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY – This project set theShowcasing innovation - david hislop (120 pixels) pace regionally by demonstrating how to move from talk to action in implementing smart development principles and practices. To view the presentation by David Hislop (City of Surrey Project Engineer, Drainage Planning), click on East Clayton Sustainable Community –Three Years Later.
  • CAMPBELL HEIGHTS INDUSTRIAL AREA – Through innovative design Showcasing innovation in surrey -  remi dube (100 pixels)and landscaping requirements enforced through restrictive covenants, this project is demonstrating substantial progress in meeting watershed objectives. To view the presentation by Remi Dubé, City of Surrey Drainage Planning Manager, click on Campbell Heights Industrial Area: Meeting Watershed Objectives.

  • FERGUS WATERSHED – Building on lessons learned from the East Clayton experience, the City is developing an on-the-ground action plan for watershed protection and restoration over the next 50 years. Jim Dumont (Project Manager, Fergus Creek ISMP Consulting Team), Remi Dubé, and Judy McLeod (Manager, Long Range Planning, City of Surrey) collaborated to provide the engineering and planning perspectives for Fergus Watershed: Beyond the Creek. To view the material presented by Jim Dumont, click on Fergus Creek Innovations. To view the joint presentation by Remi Dubé and Judy McLeod, click on Grandview Heights Neighbourhood Concept Plan.

In the afternoon, workshop participants were taken by bus to see how these Showcasing innovation - councilor higginbotham (90 pixels)projects have been implemented. In keeping with the sustainability and innovation themes, the City made special arrangements with Translink to provide two 'green buses' powered by diesel/electric hybrid propulsion technology. Councilor Judy Higginbotham represented City Council on the tour.


Showcasing innovation in surrey - translink green buses

Showcasing innovation in surrey - jim dumont

Showcasing innovation in surrey -  riding the green bus (240 pixels)

Riding the bus!





Showcasing innovation in surrey -  councilor higginbotham & ken bennettt

Showcasing innovation in surrey - inspecting the wal-mart site (200 pixels)Site inspection






East Clayton Sustainable Community:

The 250-hectare neighbourhood of East Clayton in Surrey was designated as “urban” in 1996, setting the stage for an unprecedented new neighbourhood plan to increase residential density, promote social cohesion and maximize affordability and walkability. Different housing zones were created, each with guidelines on lot configurations, including widths and setbacks, allowing developers to choose the housing mix. A “special residential” category was included that allows small-scale businesses to be combined with residential units. Sixty per cent of the lots have rear lane access for cars, which allows property owners to build secondary units at the rear. Seventy-five per cent of East Clayton is already developed or under construction, and housing density, which is expected to gradually increase over time, is already double that of other urban areas in the City.

The City of Surrey was one of three BC communities that were recognized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities when it recently announced its 2006 Sustainable Community Awards. Surrey’s award for East Clayton was in the Residential Development category.

Showcasing innovation in surrey - east  clayton aerial (360 pixels)

The driver for innovation was the need to protect the downstream agricultural lowlands from flooding that would otherwise result from the increase in annual rainwater runoff as the formerly rural East Clayton is converted to intensively urbanized residential development.

Showcasing innovation in surrey - east  clayton pond

A large-scale detention storage facility is situated at the outlet from the East Clayton area. According to Remi Dubé, “There are two noteworthy aspects to the detention pond – first, as part of a precedent-setting agreement with the environmental agencies, it is being used for habitat compensation for the surrounding development area; and secondly, funding has been provided through Development Cost Charges for both the Drainage and Parks functions.”

Showcasing innovation in surrey - east  clayton development

The rainwater management objective for East Clayton is to capture and infiltrateShowcasing innvovation - david hislop & east clayton swale (240pixels) 12 to 25mm of initial rainfall and 90% of the annual volume by implementing source control measures. “Reducing runoff volume in the East Clayton area is challenging because infiltration is limited – the area is underlain by clay and hydraulic conductivity is low”, observed David Hislop.


The City has implemented a comprehensive monitoring program to support evaluation of rainwater system Showcasing innovation in surrey - east  clayton on-lot schematic (240pixels)performance over a multi-year period. This program includes a side-by-side comparison of two subdivisions: one is complete with rock pits for on-lot infiltration; the other has a conventional ‘pipe-and-convey’ drainage system. To address uncertainty, on-lot infiltration systems incorporate a high level overflow to the municipal storm sewer system. “The results to date show that topsoil depth and absorbent landscaping are particularly effective for rainfall capture in an area where the native soils are challenging”, stated Hislop.

Showcasing innovation in surrey -  east clayton infiltration performance (360pixels)

“Stepping back and looking at East Clayton in context, an over-arching message is that it is a regular looking subdivision and people want to buy there. In other words, you don’t need ditches to be considered sustainable”, concluded Dubé. “Something else we have observed about East Clayton is that it is a neighbourhood where residents actually approach us to have a conversation. They are interested in what is going on and what we are doing, and they are keen to talk”, added Hislop.

Showcasing innovation - east clayton swale (360 pixels)



Campbell Heights Industrial Area:

Showcasing innovation - campbell heights - the hordes descend

In November 2000 City Council approved a local area plan for 798 hectares of land located south of 44 Avenue, east of 186 Street, north of 18 Avenue and west of the Surrey/Langley border (196 Street). This is more than triple the area of the East Clayton neighbourhood. The Campbell Heights Local Area Plan includes Showcasing innovation - campbell heights industrial area (240 pixels)a land use concept plan featuring a variety of high technology, research, office and business park uses, planning policies, design guidelines and an engineering servicing strategy. The development of the subject Plan included a program of consultation with the public, City Departments and external agencies. The Plan put an emphasis on attracting large anchor users, especially in the high-tech sectors, to kick start development in Campbell Heights. For example, the Plan identified three large Technology Park sites ranging from 80 hectares to 101 hectares.

Showcasing innovation - campbell heights industrial area  - site plan

Showcasing innovation - campbell heights - councilor higginbotham explains the concept (240 pixels)An environmental feature is a man-made channel that connects to the Little Campbell River. According to Councilor Judy Higginbotham, “This was previously a gravel pit. Council is proud of what is being built here. By creating a creek where there was no creek, we are giving something back that will benefit the Little Campbell River.”

Showcasing innovation - campbell heights  - man-made channel

“That’s correct”, added Remi Dubé, “This project has provided the City with an opportunity to create aquatic habitat. From a fisheries perspective, it is also significant that this is a groundwater-fed system…the flow is sustained and stable. The developer buy-in is making this project a success. Together, we have built it with the objective of creating a legacy for the community. Now we will wait and see how Mother Nature responds.”

Showcasing innovation - campbell heights - remi dube preaching to the masses (360pixels)

USE OF EXFILTRATION: Another feature of the Campbell Heights development is a large-scale exfiltration system. Rainwater runoff from roofs and parking areas is collected and conveyed to a 750mm diameter perforated concrete pipe for groundwater recharge. In Showcasing innovation - campbell heights - remi explaining the exfiltration system (240 pixels)explaining the system design, Remi Dubé stated that: ”The City concluded that we could not go on doing the same old same old. The Campbell Heights project is an exciting one because we have the flexibility to be innovative and experiment. At the same time, trying something new is trying for everyone involved. At the end of the day, we are pleased to report that the project is a success from a drainage point-of-view. To date, there has been no observed flow at the outfall.”

Showcasing innovation - campbell heights -exfiltration system


Fergus Watershed:

In British Columbia, the term Integrated Stormwater Management Planning (ISMP) has gained widespread acceptance by local governments and the environmental agencies to describe a comprehensive, ecosystem-based approach to rainwater management. Local government typically has control over rainwater runoff in residential, commercial and industrial land uses. Thus, the purpose of an ISMP is to provide a clear picture of how to be proactive in applying land use planning tools to:

  • Protect property from flooding; and
  • Protect aquatic habitat from erosion and sedimentation.

Use of the term ISMP is unique to British Columbia. The City of Kelowna first used the term in 1998 to make a clear distinction between ‘suburban watershed management’ and the Province’s existing ‘integrated watershed management’ process for natural resource management in wilderness watersheds. In parallel with Kelowna, the City of Surrey also provided provincial leadership in piloting advancement of an ecosystem-based approach to master drainage planning a decade ago. At the time, the Bear Creek Integrated Plan was precedent-setting in considering all the runoff events comprising the annual hydrograph.

Showcasing innovation - fergus watershed - planning areas

In undertaking the Fergus Creek ISMP, the City of Surrey is again pushing the envelope in pioneering the application of new and innovative approaches that it believes can and will achieve noticeable benefits over a 50-year planning horizon. The Fergus Watershed comprises three planning areas:

  • The Highway 99 corridor which is undergoing commercial development.
  • The existing built-out area west of the highway, a large portion of which could be redeveloped over the next 50 years.
  • The rural area east of the highway which is currently going through a Neighbourhood Plan process.

Showcasing innovation in surrey - remi dube (200 pixels)According to Remi Dubé, “Fergus is the first of the new generation of ISMPs that the City is undertaking. Our goal is to develop an array of tools under the umbrella of the Fergus ISMP. Because we wished to avoid a cookie-cutter approach that is too often an outcome of this type of multi-year program, we challenged the consulting engineering community to demonstrate their innovation in providing us with a work plan that would actually facilitate changes in how land is developed and/or re-developed in Surrey. Jim Dumont of McElhanney rose to the challenge. He provided the City with a vision of what could be accomplished on the ground through a pragmatic approach that is under-pinned by a design with nature philosophy. The City bought into that vision.”

For the purposes of the Showcasing Innovation workshop, the Fergus ISMP presentation was structured in three parts:

  • PART ONE: First, Jim Dumont outlined his engineering perspective in ‘thinking outside the pipe’ to allow development and redevelopment while still having Showcasing innovation in surrey -  jim dumont (200 pixels)sustainable neighbourhoods. His focus was on the analytical tools that produce the numbers that make the case for innovation. “There is a need for a new approach to hydrologic design. A key message is that a rainfall-based approach does not work effectively. This is why I advocate a runoff-based approach. Duration of discharge is important because it links directly to stream health”, noted Dumont.

    His second key message is that what the watershed will look like in future should drive the approach to rainwater management. “I believe contiguous greenways should be considered an essential element of an ISMP because they make rainwater management easier. Furthermore, greenways provide the land we need to actually achieve multi-purpose outcomes. The numbers show that it would be far more effective to utilize 10% of the Fergus Watershed for multi-purpose greenways than to carry on, without questioning, the practice of dedicating 5% or 6% of the watershed area to traditional single-function detention ponds.”

    To illustrate his point about the built form and what is achievable, Jim Dumont provided a number of comparisons, including the one below. This shows how impervious area can be reduced substantially. Both developments shown below are in Surrey.
    Showcasing innovation - fergus watershed  - jim's graphic for 14upa and 75%ia (360pixels)
    Showcasing innovation - fergus watershed  - jim's graphic for 14upa and 55%ia (360pixels)

    “If the ISMP process is to make a difference in contributing to an enhanced built environment, then I believe collectively we engineers have a duty to ensure that they are not simply glorified Master Drainage Plans where the main focus is on the capacity of drainage facilities. Our professional focus should be on how to create green space even as development densifies land use and the built form. These examples of the range of housing forms that have been built in Surrey demonstrate that an imaginative approach can produce the same development yield while resulting in a more liveable community”, concluded Dumont.

  • PART TWO: Then Remi Dubé provided the watershed context for ISMP development. “A success story is the Habitat Preservation Area in the Highway Corridor. Once Council made the decision to buy the land, this opened the door to an innovative approach to environmental compensation. In a nutshell, having this land bank is enabling the City to sell the ‘use of the land’ to other parties within the watershed. This is an important element of the Fergus vision. In fact, it is more like a crown jewel,” Dubé explained.

    “Another success story within the Highway Corridor is the Wal-Mart project and how rainwater runoff volume reduction is being achieved. We’re all quite proud of the process that has been implemented and the outcome on the ground. And when I say ‘we’ that includes the streamkeepers”, he added.

  • PART THREE: Finally, Judy Macleod elaborated on the Grandview Heights Neighbourhood Concept Plan and how it and the ISMP are being dovetailed. “We Showcasing innovation in surrey -  judy mcleod (200 pixels)are developing a land use plan that directly integrates Jim’s rainwater management and green infrastructure work. The City’s engineering, planning, parks and environment departments are all pulling together to think through the details of how to implement changes in land use and development standards and practices. Now that Jim has shown us how a greener built environment can in fact be achieved, a challenge is how to acquire land for contiguous greenways that will enable the City to achieve multi-purpose outcomes.”

KEY MESSAGES: In summing up the three-part presentation, Kim Stephens noted that there were three Key Messages that other GVRD municipalities could ‘take-away’ as lessons learned from the Showcasing Innovation workshop:

  1. The Fergus ISMP is indeed a truly grounded and integrated process.
  2. The Habitat Preservation Area in the Highway Corridor creates opportunities.
  3. The strategy for comprehensive rainwater management goes beyond the Provincial Guidebook.

“The Fergus ISMP is visionary. By placing the spotlight on the built environment and the alternative forms of land development, it creates a clear picture of what the watershed can look like. Also, it demonstrates the good things that can result when one truly integrates the different professional perspectives in a collaborative work environment. The City of Surrey has a solid basis for being proud of what it is accomplishing through the Fergus and related processes, such as the Grandview Heights NCP. Equally important, projects that are currently being built provide a feedback loop for the ISMP. This ensures its practicality, and is an essential part of building broad-based confidence in the design with nature direction that the City has taken, starting with East Clayton a decade ago”, concluded Stephens.


Going Beyond the Guidebook:

Published in 2002, Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia formalized a science-based understanding to set performance targets for reducing rainwater runoff volumes and rates. These targets represent the synthesis of biological and hydrological understanding.

Integrated strategy for managing rainfall spectrum

The Guidebook formalized the Integrated Strategy for Managing the Complete Spectrum of Rainfall Events as the foundation for a “design with nature” approach to rainfall capture and runoff control. The key to implementing the strategy is that most of the annual rain volume falls as light showers. Although daily rainfall amounts range from light showers to heavy rain to extreme storms, only a handful of long duration downpours occur in any year and extreme events are rare.

Showcasing innovation in surrey -  fergus - jim's duration of discharge graphic (240 pixels)The Fergus ISMP “goes beyond the Guidebook” because it is built around a science-based methodology that correlates runoff volume (and hence volume reduction measures) with stream health as measured by erosion and sedimentation. In short, the Fergus ISMP has taken performance target thinking to the next level of detail.

According to Jim Dumont, “The objective in applying this refinement of the performance target methodology is to establish what level of runoff volume reduction is optimal. Continuous simulation of the rainfall-runoff response for the Fergus watershed shows, for example, that full implementation of volume reduction measures for all land uses would actually remove all the baseflow from the creek. Clearly, this outcome would be detrimental to the aquatic resource. This finding provided the impetus to determine the optimum combination of volume reduction measures, both for new development and retrofitting of existing development.”

Showcasing innovation in surrey -  fergus - jim's discharge exceedance graphic (360pixels)


Posted July 2006