Incorporating Natural Capital in Infrastructure Management: Gibson’s Eco-Asset Strategy
Note to Reader:
In September 2015, the BC Water & Waste Association (BCWWA) and the Metro Vancouver Stormwater Interagency Liaison Group co-hosted a webinar. Dave Newman, Director of Engineering with the Town of Gibsons, shared the story of how the Town has embraced natural capital valuation and integrated natural capital assets, and the ecosystem services they provide, into the Town’s infrastructure.
The webinar introduced a Metro Vancouver technical committee and a provincial audience to the Town’s approach.
Included in Dave Newman’s responsibilities is overseeing the management of the Town’s assets. He first began to explore the concept of Natural Assets when the Gibsons Aquifer, which supplies water to most of the Town, was mapped between 2009 and 2013. Since that time, Dave has been involved with a team of staff in raising community awareness of the benefits and importance of managing natural assets in a similar manner as engineered assets.
Leading Change in Canada!
Gibsons is one the first Canadian municipalities to explore managing the natural capital in their community, using infrastructure and financial management concepts that are systematically applied to managing engineered assets. Their rationale is that the natural services provided by these systems, in the form of rainwater management, flood control and water purification, have tangible value to the community.
The Town is developing a program, called Eco-Assets, which recognizes the role of nature as a fundamental component of the municipal infrastructure system, leading to a greater understanding of the value of ecosystems services and improved financial and operational management plans of the community’s natural assets.
The Town’s approach aligns with Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management, the branding developed by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC to an approach that integrates natural systems thinking and adaptation to a changing climate into asset management.
Nature is Our Most Valuable Infrastructure Asset
“Natural capital assets, such as green space, aquifers, foreshore area and creeks, can be as effective as engineered (or grey) infrastructure in water management,” stated Dave Newman. “In some areas, they provide clear advantages over engineered infrastructure as they:
- are cheaper to operate and maintain, if not degraded;
- may provide “free” ecosystem services;
- do not depreciate if properly managed; and
- are carbon neutral or even carbon positive.’
“Bringing these natural assets into the same asset management system as engineered infrastructure recognizes the quantifiable value they provide to the community and integrates them into the municipal framework for operating budgets, maintenance and regular support.”
Gibsons Established an Accounting Precedent
After much discussion, he reported, the Town’s financial auditors agreed to include the following note on the Town’s financial statements:
“The Town is fortunate to have many natural assets that reduce the need for man-made infrastructure that would otherwise be required. This includes the Gibsons aquifer (water storage and filtration), creeks, ditches and wetlands (rain water management) and the foreshore area (natural seawall). Canadian public sector accounting standards do not allow for the valuation and recording of such assets into the financial statements of the Town. As such, these natural assets are not reported in these financial statements. Nevertheless, the Town acknowledges the importance of these assets and the need to manage them in conjunction with man-made infrastructure.”
“The hope is that these beginnings will lead to a broader conversation in the municipal finance community, and ultimately the creation of an actual standard that communities can use for the valuation of their assets,” commented Dave Newman.
Quotable Quote by Dave Newman
“When considering the civil function that many of our natural assets perform, in many instances at a fraction of the cost of engineered assets, it makes good sense to recognize and manage them in a manner that reflects their true worth,” concluded Dave Newman.
To Learn More:
To download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation by Dave Newman, click on Town of Gibsons Asset Management.
To read a related story that provides the perspective of the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, click on Leading Change in British Columbia: “Bring nature into the DNA of decision-making to build resilient communities,” says Emanuel Machado, Town of Gibsons CAO.