REPORT ON: “Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley” (Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC; released September 2018)

Note to Reader:

The concept of natural capital and natural assets can be a challenge to integrate effectively into asset management practices. Local governments need “real numbers” to deliver outcomes and support decision making. EAP – Ecological Accounting Process – deals with a basic question: what is a creekshed WORTH, now and in future, to the community and various intervenors?

WORTH is defined as use by the community of a “package of ecological services” made possible by the hydrology. Ecological services are diverse, and provide environmental, social and traditional (core) services to the community via a natural asset – in this case, a creek/riparian area.

Stage 1 tested the concept for leveraging the BC Assessment database to establish a financial value for the “Commons Asset” (the land comprising the stream corridor and riparian zone). Two demonstration applications were undertaken on the east coast of Vancouver Island, one in the Comox Valley (Brooklyn Creek), and the other in the Cowichan Valley (Busy Place Creek).

Brooklyn Creek is the subject of this post: Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley

COMOX PENINSULA: An aerial impression of creekshed urbanization, with emphasis on the Brooklyn Creek Park riparian area in foreground

Brooklyn Creek EAP Demonstration Application

The Brooklyn Creek watershed lies within the bounds of three local governments; Town of Comox, City of Courtenay, and the Comox Valley Regional District.   Historical land use changes and on-going urbanization have degraded hydrological systems and dependent ecological services throughout the creekshed (stream of the 1st order).

The Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) considered these impacts. It assessed the current functioning condition of the stream and riparian areas of the creekshed and reviewed the actions of authorities and collaborators to manage and maintain its ecological services.

Context for EAP Demonstration Application

“Selection of Brooklyn Creek as an ‘EAP Demonstration Application’ was made possible by the willingness of the Town of Comox to participate in a program funded by the governments of Canada and British Columbia,” reports Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

“EAP is one of the twin pillars of the ‘Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management’ program. The other pillar is the Water Balance Methodology.

“The insights and understanding gained through this demonstration application will be shared with other local governments participating in the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative.”

Overview Assessment of Creekshed Condition

“The EAP review confirms that the Town of Comox has managed and improved the functioning condition of Brooklyn Creek (lower creekshed catchment) though its long range plan and strong collaboration with community partners and external funders,” reports Tim Pringle, Chair, EAP Initiative. He is the principal author and lead researcher for the EAP demonstration applications.

“Unfortunately, in the mid and upper catchments of the creekshed, the hydrologic conditions remain threatened and degraded. Without improvements there, the permanence of the work in the lower catchment will remain limited.”

To Learn More:

To read the entire report, download a copy of Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley

Creekshed Management

“Three local government jurisdictions have some management capacity concerning the creekshed. Each reflects different views of the worth of available ecological services.  ‘Worth’ refers to the present and future uses that the community derives from the hydrology and ecological services of the creekshed,” explains Tim Pringle.

“The Town of Comox is the management authority in the lower catchment of the Creekshed. During the past eleven years, the Town has made considerable investment in maintenance (prevent degradation) and management (enhancement).  The managers in the middle and upper creekshed have made scant investments in maintenance; and, none in enhancement.”

Changes in Hydrology

“The research applied the Water Balance Methodology as the tool to assess the current functioning condition of the hydrology.  Decades of constructing engineered drainage infrastructure to collect and convey away rainfall has caused the creekshed to lose much of its capacity to spread, retain and infiltrate rainwater,” reports Tim Pringle.

“As a result, flooding has increased as has erosion, sedimentation, debris blockages and loss of aquatic and terrestrial habitat.”

In the Lower Catchment Area

“The Town of Comox strategy began with the Master Drainage Plan (1999) which confirmed the loss of capacity to retain and infiltrate rainwater throughout the creekshed. In the early 2000s flooding pushed the Town to construct a diversion facility (2005) at the cost of $1.98 million,” continues Tim Pringle.

“At this juncture the Public Works Department, Parks Department and Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society collaborated to devise and adopt a long-range strategy to maintain and enhance the creek corridor and riparian areas.

“Since that time about $780,000 has been invested in annual projects with funding provided by the Town of Comox, external sources, and donated labour and expertise by the Watershed Society and others.

“This enhancement work has been invested in lands owned and/or acquired by the Town for parks and greenway purposes (including 2.46 acres at the former Brooklyn Elementary in 2013 at a declared value of $292,375).

“Overall, the investment secures ecological services: the stream corridor, riparian areas, fish habitat, portions of the urban woodlands, as well as natural areas to enhance parks, trails, etc.  The investment also maintains the conveyance capacity of the creek which is part of the municipal drainage systems.”

Where To From Here?

“The EAP analysis established that intervenors involved in management of three catchments of the Brooklyn Creekshed have very different views of the worth of its ecological systems,” observes Tim Pringle.

“Past and continuing land use (development) practices have considered hydrology only in a superficial manner which includes the rapid disposal of any water to allow the ground surface to dry as quickly as possible following any rainfall.

“The impacts of these practices include increased downstream flooding and increased downstream bed and bank erosion. In contrast, the natural systems contain the rainwater for longer periods and thus attenuate flooding.’

What We Learned

“The Brooklyn Creek demonstration application of the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) has endeavoured to establish what the creekshed may be worth from the point of view of investments made in the lower catchment by the Town of Comox and other intervenors / managers,” emphasizes Tim Pringle.

“As well, this demonstration application of a systems approach provides context for identifying future opportunities to access more ecological services from the middle and upper catchments of the creekshed to serve human demands as well as the intrinsic needs of nature.

“Given the foregoing frame of reference, then, the Brooklyn Creek EAP Demonstration Application may be viewed as the first step in creating a comprehensive Creekshed Plan that would identify and provide the value of the components and services provided by the natural features of the creekshed.

“The insights and understanding gained through the EAP research process – combined with development of a valuation of worth methodology that is founded on real numbers – would help intervenors / managers to consider, design and implement strategies and practices to manage and maintain ecological systems in a stream corridor, riparian zone, or other ecological system.”

To Learn More:

Watch the video of Tim Pringle’s presentation to Comox Town Council on September 5, 2018.