ARTICLE: Rainwater Management in a Watershed Context – What’s the Goal?



Note to Reader:

In its November-December 2010 issue, Stormwater magazine launched the Green Infrastructure & Community Design Series. Articles in the series have been contributed by members of the Rainwater-in-Context Initative. Led by Paul Crabtree, a Colorado-based engineer, the initiative works to institute rainwater management practices that strengthen and fully complement “new urbanism” at all scales.

Formed in 2010, the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative is a sub-committee of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). In the United States, the CNU is the leading organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions.

The most recent article in the series was co-authored by Kim Stephens and Jim Dumont,  Canadian contributors to the Rainwater-inh-Context Initiative. The article elaborates on how science-based understanding has informed the process for moving from awareness to action in British Columbia.

“Their article, “Rainwater Management in a Watershed Context” is a thoughtful review of the divergent goals of rainwater management in the US and Canada written from a British Columbia perspective,” states the CNU’s Michael Carney in his rainwater blog. The following is an extract from the article.

Responsible Rainwater Management

In both Canada and the United States, there is a growing green infrastructure movement. This reflects a heightened public awareness of the need to build our communities differently. Also, land use and infrastructure professionals increasingly appreciate that effective green infrastructure is at the heart of responsible rainwater management.

The View From British Columbia

“The article is written from a British Columbia perspective,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. “The article Kim stephens (120p) - 2008connects the dots between recent developments in the United States, such as A Strategic Agenda to Protect Waters and Build More Livable Communities Through Green Infrastructure released by the United States EPA in April 2011, and comparable initiatives that have been underway in British Columbia for the past decade.”

“While land use and infrastructure professionals are using a similar vocabulary on both sides of the border, our goals appear different. The apparent divergence has significant implications for rainwater management in a watershed context.”

“The approach we have taken in British Columbia differs from that of the EPA due to the nature of the root problems being solved,” continues Jim Dumont. ”The critical issue in British Columbia is the Jim dumont (120p)damage and loss of habitat caused by development and erosion of the headwater streams. The focus is in direct response to Canada’s Fisheries Act that prohibits damage of fish habitat.”

“EPA has focussed upon water quality in the main stems and coastal waters and seeks to restore the resources of those waters through the goals and objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

What Next in British Columbia?

“A decade ago, we realized that changing the way we develop land depends on establishing higher expectations and challenging land and water professionals to embrace share responsibility. We knew it would take time to change the culture. We believe that British Columbia is now at a tipping point. Implementation of a new culture for urban watershed protection and restoration is within our grasp,” emphasizes Ted van der Gulik, Senior Engineer in the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Chair of the Water Balance Model Partnership.

Achieve More With Less

The approach to rainwater management and green infrastructure in British Columbia is rooted in an underlying environmental ethic. Now, the impact of the new fiscal reality is providing an additional driver for designing with nature:

The initial capital cost of municipal infrastructure is about 20% of the life-cycle cost; the other 80% largely represents a future unfunded liability.

Each year, the funding shortfall grows. As infrastructure ages and fails, local governments cannot keep up with renewal and/or replacement. Thus, fiscal constraints provide a powerful impetus for doing business differently. Green infrastructure is part of a holistic approach to ‘achieve more with less’, especially since local governments bear the entire financial burden to stabilize and restore watercourses impacted by the cumulative impacts of increased rainwater runoff volume.

Sustainable Service Delivery

“Sustainable Service Delivery is the Province of British Columbia’s branding for a life-cycle way of thinking about infrastructure needs and how to pay for them over time. The approach is holistic. We are challenging local governments to think about what asset management entails BEFORE the asset is built. The paradigm-shift starts with land use planning and determining what services can be provided sustainably, both fiscally and ecologically,” summarizes the Province’s Glen Brown. He is the Executive Director of the Local Government Infrastructure and Finance Division; and the Deputy Inspector of Municipalities.

“The legislative authority for integration of land use planning and asset management, including financial management, already exists. Local governments can develop a truly integrated Asset Management Strategy that views the watershed though an environmental lens.”

“The Province’s Living Water Smart and Green Communities initiatives are catalysts for ‘designing with nature’: Start with effective green infrastructure and protect environmental values. Get the watershed vision right. Then create a blueprint to implement green infrastructure,” concludes Glen Brown.