At the 2017 Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium: “Shifting baseline syndrome, whole-system approach, and cathedral thinking – those are the three thoughts that I hope you will leave with in your head,” stated Kim Stephens in his keynote address on the role that ecosystem services can play in an infrastructure strategy

Note to Reader:

The Comox Valley on Vancouver Island is facing a long list of challenges as more frequent and intense winter storms and summer droughts overwhelm engineered infrastructure and natural systems (that have been degraded over time by land use activities). It is feast AND famine! 

In March 2017, the 22 environmental and ratepayer groups comprising the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership hosted a symposium to explore ‘design with nature’ solutions.The symposium spotlight was on the potentially powerful and cost-effective role that ecosystem services can play in an infrastructure strategy.

What Happens on the Land Matters!

Kim Stephens delivered the keynote address on the day of the Symposium. His task was to prime the audience so that they would be mentally ready for the workshop sessions that were the focus of the program.

KimStephens2_June2017_500pKim Stephens is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. In 2003, he was asked by the provincial government to develop the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia, released in 2004.

Ever since, Kim Stephens has been responsible for Action Plan program delivery and evolution. This program includes leading the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative. Five regions representing 75% of BC’s population are partners in the initiative.

To Learn More:

Download What Happens on the Land Does Matter! – Moving Towards “Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management” to view the storyline for the keynote address by Kim Stephens.

Download the Agenda and Presenters List for the 2017 Eco-Asset Symposium.

Visit the homepage for the Symposium on the Vancouver Island Water community-of-interest:

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Symposium is a “Watershed Moment” in a Journey

“Too often we talk about water and land as silos,” stated Kim Stephens in his opening remarks. “But what happens on the land does matter! It is whether and how we respect the land that really affects what happens with water. That is a key message. It is why we are moving forward with Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management.

“The Partnership for Water Sustainability has been supporting the Comox Valley for the past decade. In 2007, the Province and the Real Estate Foundation co-funded an initiative on Vancouver Island called CAVI. In 2007, we asked the regional districts to partner with their largest municipalities to co-host the Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation Series. This was the start of the current journey.

“The Symposium is about celebrating the past 10 years, and beyond that, and then springboarding to the future. In 2007, we began the process of building collaboration among local governments.

“The significance of the Comox Valley in this process was in bringing together local governments and the stewardship sector at the same table, to work together to align efforts and collaborate to work towards a shared vision.”

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Convening for Action

“Convening for action means what will you do after you leave this room. But I also want to introduce three big ideas that provide a backdrop for the journey ahead. Again, this is a journey. This symposium is but one step in that journey. It is a pretty significant moment, but it is only part of the journey,” continued Kim Stephens.

“Shifting baseline syndrome, whole-system approach, and cathedral thinking – those are the three thoughts that I hope you will leave with in your head.”

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Shifting Baseline Syndrome

“Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of BC, coined the term Shifting Baseline Syndrome in 1995. It was a 2-page think piece that captured a way of thinking. The term has taken on a life of its own in explaining why it is that we allow things to progressively decline over time,” continued Kim Stephens.

Daniel Pauly

Daniel Pauly

“Daniel Pauly pointed out that, with each new generation, your view of the world is based on the world as you see it now. Those images of ‘now’ are in your head. So, when change happens, you have no knowledge of what happened before you.

“Our approach in British Columbia is to say ‘hey, we can make a difference’. We have to think differently about how we develop on the land. The experience and tools that we are developing is key to reversing the trend and making things better.Communities can re-set the ecological baseline.”

Whole-System, Water Balance Approach

“A watershed is an integrated system,” stressed Kim Stephens. “We don’t tend to think integrated or in a whole systems way. We tend to silo.

“How does water reach a stream? Well, there are three pathways. Guess what – when we develop, we have to think about those pathways as infrastructure assets. They provide water balance services. That is the key message.”


Cathedral Thinking

“Cathedral thinking aptly describes the vision for  Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management,” concluded Kim Stephens.

“And why is that? Think about when cathedrals were built a thousand years ago. They took 100 years, and sometimes up to 200 years, to build. When people started on those projects, they knew they would not see the end. But they still committed to doing it. We can learn from that.

“We have to think inter-generationally. The foundation for cathedral thinking is something very pragmatic. You do have to have a far reaching vision. You do have to have a well thought-out blueprint for action. And then you have to have a shared commitment to long-term implementation.

“In this room today, we will not see the end of the process. But if we set things in motion, there will be an outcome to achieve the vision for the Comox Valley.”

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