At the 2017 Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium: “The engineer cannot tell you what value a natural asset has, nor how important its function is, nor how to maintain that function,” stated Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority, Partnership for Water Sustainability

Note to Reader:

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. Jim Dumont elaborated on the thinking that is shaping development of the Ecological Accounting Protocol.

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Ecological Accounting Protocol

“We have been working on an ecological accounting protocol approach that recognizes the importance of the stream in its natural state. It is not a thing that carries stormwater,” stated Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

“We asked the question – how can we superimpose a drainage function while maintaining that natural function? This is a different way of thinking from saying that we have a drainage system in which we want to have some natural features. It is a completely different question.”

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Bring the ‘State-of-the-Art’ into ‘Standard Practice’

“In a natural system, water reaches a stream via three pathways (surface runoff, horizontal interflow, and deep groundwater). In standard engineering practice, however, only surface runoff is considered. That’s it! The other pathways are ignored,” continued Jim Dumont.

“So what do we need to do? Well, we need to design infrastructure to optimize all the pathways and mimic what is happening in nature. If we are going to disrupt it, then we better fix it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“This means we need to change the standard of engineering practice to become the state of the art. We cannot wait and we need not wait for the Public Sector Accounting Board, PSAB, to change asset management practice to include valuation of natural assets. We can start incorporating changes in engineering and valuation practice right away.

“If communities are to truly benefit from use of nature’s assets as infrastructure, then we need to recognize that the assets are vital, and that protecting them in a natural condition is vital.

“In terms of what we do going forward, however, an impediment is a widespread lack of understanding of the relationship between flow and duration in the stream. Fish don’t breathe without water. They need flow for some period of duration to survive.

Educate, Educate, Educate:

“But in standard practice, the only thing that engineers worry about is peak discharge. That way of thinking is an impediment that we must overcome. And the way we overcome it is through education.

“We need to educate the public. We need to educate the accountants. We need to educate the engineers. And we need to educate government staff. Through sessions like this Symposium, we are doing that educating.

“Then, the next thing that we have to do is achieve widespread application of a standard of practice that is in fact state of the art, reflects real-world hydrology, and actually addresses the flow paths to the stream. That is what we need to do,” concluded Jim Dumont.

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