Affordable & Effective Asset Management: Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool supports implementation of “Sustainable Service Delivery” by local governments in British Columbia


Note to Reader:

The article below is structured in two parts, and in so doing connects the dots between provincial expectations and resulting actions in the local government setting. The first part introduces the Gas Tax Grant Program and asset management requirements as a condition of eligibility for senior government funding. The second part introduces the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool and the application of a Level-of-Service approach to capital planning. 

Funded under a Canada-British Columbia agreement, the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool was developed to address a need identified by local governments. The tool meets the test of achieving more at less cost because of the manner in which use of the tool expedites the type of supporting technical analysis necessary to establish priorities and make decisions.

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Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework

“Under terms of the Gas Tax Agreement between British Columbia and the federal government, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) is required to develop an ‘Asset Management Framework’ that will guide local governments in implementing their asset management requirements under the Gas Tax Agreement,” reports Glen Brown, General Manager of UBCM Victoria Operations. His responsibilities include administering implementation of the Gas Tax Agreement.

Asset Management BC is developing a provincial framework for asset management. Basically, this will be the ‘bible’ for BC as far as a high level process document. UBCM is recommending that the ‘AMBC Framework’ be that ‘Asset Management Framework’ referred to in the Agreement. It has been strategically titled Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery – A BC Framework.”

“The Framework does have some language that speaks to natural services and the use of natural resources – and how they are part of and/or integrated into the overall services provided at a local government level.”

View Watersheds Through a ‘Sustainable Service Delivery’ Lens & Prevent Financial Impacts

“We cannot move forward with Asset Management without consideration of the environment, and therefore the watershed,” continues Glen Brown. “So, this will be a major driver because it is access to funding that allows decisions to be made.”

“Asset management usually commences after something is built. The challenge is to think about what asset management entails BEFORE the asset is built. Cost-avoidance is a driver for this ‘new business as usual’. This paradigm-shift starts with land use and watershed-based planning, to determine what services are affordable, both now and over time.”

Life-Cycle Context for Funding Infrastructure:

“Yes, developers and new home purchasers typically pay the initial capital cost of municipal infrastructure through development cost charges,” continues Glen Brown. “But it is local government that assumes responsibility for the long-term cost associated with operation, maintenance and replacement of such infrastructure assets. Often this is not adequately funded through property taxation and utility charges, as various political priorities compete for limited tax dollars.”

“Cost is a driver for viewing watersheds through a Sustainable Service Delivery lens. Otherwise, local governments bear the entire financial burden to stabilize and restore watercourses impacted by increased rainwater runoff volume AFTER land is developed.”

Life-Cycle Benefits of Green Infrastructure:

“The costs and environmental impacts associated with ‘pipe-and-convey’ infrastructure contrast with the benefits of ‘green’ infrastructure at a watershed scale: natural landscape-based assets reduce runoff volumes, have lower life-cycle costs, decrease stresses applied to creeks, and enhance urban liveability,” concludes Glen Brown.

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Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool Helps Local Governments Save Money & Demonstrate Innovation

Federal funding support provided through Natural Resources Canada’s Regional Adaptation Collaborative Program enabled the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia to develop the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool.

Kim Stephens_May2014_120p“The web-based Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool is designed to help local governments implement a watershed-based approach, one that results in affordable and effective Asset Management. In an era of fiscal constraints and increased emphasis on accountability, the tool allows local governments to demonstrate prudent use of scarce financial resources to achieve more at less cost,” reports Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director.

District of North Vancouver Demonstration Application:

“The Partnership wishes to draw attention to the leadership role played by the District of North Vancouver. District staff stepped up to the plate and provided the demonstration application for tool development. Now, the tool is accessible to any local government that wishes to use it for broad-brush infrastructure evaluation purposes.” 

“Although housed on the same website as the Water Balance Model (WBM) decision support tool, the web-based Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool is actually stand-alone from the WBM.”

“The Screening Tool addresses a different evaluation need on the part of local governments. The WBM is used for green infrastructure evaluation whereas the Screening Tool is applied to drainage conveyance systems,” states Kim Stephens.

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An Intermediate Step in the Assessment Process

“The need for the screening tool was identified in response to a concern identified by Metro Vancouver municipalities and highlighted by the advisory Reference Panel during development of the Metro Vancouver region’s Integrated Liquid Waste & Resource Management Plan,” continues Kim Stephens. He served as Chair of the Reference Panel (2008-2010).

“This is a regulatory tool that was approved by the BC Minister of Environment in 2011. It incorporated the Reference Panel’s recommendations. The Reference Panel Final Report stated that plans that did not integrate land use and drainage planning had resulted in unaffordable multi-million dollar infrastructure budget items that had become municipal liabilities, without providing offsetting stream health benefits. The report pointed out that this was resulting in paralysis.”

“A year later, recognition of the need to look at drainage analysis differently resulted in Ministry of Environment support and federal funding to develop the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool to add to the practitioner toolbox.”

Is There a Drainage Problem Needing Detailed Analysis?

Jim-Dumont_2011_120p“The Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool is an intermediary step in the assessment process that also happens to include the opportunity to provide a look at how climate change will affect the drainage systems,” adds Jim Dumont, the Partnership’s Engineering Applications Authority. “It is about looking for simpler methods to determine if there is a problem that needs detailed analysis.”

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Achieve More At Less Cost: Local Governments Can Rate Drainage System Capacity Without Need for Expensive Modelling of Every Pipe

“By applying  the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool, it is now quite easy for local governments to check and verify the relative impact of a changing climate on conveyance capacity. The resilience of a system depends on the capacity a system has now and how drastic future climate change might be,” continues Jim Dumont.

Use Same Tool for Climate & Land Use Change Assessment:

“The tool also makes it is easy to assess the relative significance of changes in land use, in particular densification. Local governments can now consider both climate change and land use change at the same time, and with the same tool.”

“Every pipe within each catchment is evaluated by examining the INSTALLED PIPE CAPACITY. Based on detailed modelling experience, we know that ‘problems’ fall within a narrow range. The lesson learned is that one need not model every section of pipe. This is why the screening tool compares installed pipe capacity to design discharge. This ratio establishes a level-of-service,” explains Jim Dumont.

Apply Level-of-Service Methodology to Achieve a Balance between Cost, Affordability and Willingness to Pay:

“Level-of-Service is the integrator for everything that local governments do. What level of service does a community wish to provide, and what level can it afford? Everyone will have to make level-of-service choices. Because a Level-of-Service Methodology is embedded in the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool, use of the tool provides local governments with a point of departure for saving money and demonstrating innovation,” observes Kim Stephens.

“The process of establishing an acceptable ‘Level-of-Service’ will require local governments to reassess the rationale for existing practices and standards; and determine whether and what changes may be necessary in future to achieve a balance between cost, affordability and community willingness to pay,” adds Jim Dumont.

“If, for example, application of new standards that accommodate climate change would trigger a costly upgrade of existing drainage infrastructure to provide greater system capacity, one could question whether the perceived benefit would justify the cost – particularly if there is no extensive history of widespread flooding and damage resulting from rainfall or storms. One could then ask whether different criteria might result in a lower cost solution.”

“A shift to a ‘Level-of-Service’ approach would be a more rational way of providing community infrastructure with acceptable levels of service and cost. Implementation of the level-of-service concept may then need to include a revision of the design standard to a uniform  drainage capacity rather than one subject to changing design frequency and intensity.”

Identify Relevant Information for Capital Planning:

“The methodology embedded in the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool is founded on experience and lessons learned. The tool meets the test of achieving more at less cost because it expedites the supporting analysis necessary to establish priorities and make decisions.”

“The Level-of-Service approach is inexpensive and provides relevant information for capital planning. It does this without the detailed and expensive simulation of the drainage system.”

“The process establishes existing system capacity and then identifies those parts that do not meet this standard. These can be prioritized and entered into a capital plan,” concludes Jim Dumont.

Screening Tool_findings

To Learn More:

For an introduction to the Level-of-Service approach to Sustainable Service Delivery, click on the links below to download copies of two magazine articles:

And for additional informational about the Drainage Infrastructure Screening Tool: