A PROPERLY FUNCTIONING ‘NATURAL COMMONS’ SUPPORTS A PACKAGE OF ECOLOGICAL SERVICES: Ecological Accounting Process, EAP, is a pragmatic ‘made in British Columbia’ approach to financial valuation of the ecological services supplied by a stream

Note to Reader:

EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, is an initiative led by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. Through a series of demonstration applications, the EAP initiative is helping to change the language that we use in the local government and stewardship sectors to describe and value ecological systems and services they provided. In particular, EAP has introduced three types of ‘commons’ – natural, constructed and institutional. The article below paints a broad-brush picture of some key concepts underpinning the EAP approach to financial valuation of ecological assets.

The parallel concepts of the NATURAL COMMONS and the CONSTRUCTED COMMONS enable residents, elected persons, and practitioners to consider ecological services and use of land (development) as equally important.

EAP is a Decision Support Tool

“EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, is a pragmatic ‘made in BC’ approach to valuation of the ecological services supplied by a stream (one of our most common ecological systems). Think of it as a decision support tool for use by the community and local government,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“EAP considers the system as a whole, takes into account social values, and is guided by how the community uses the natural commons, including  influences on nearby parcel values.

“Application of the EAP methodology and metrics can help to inform an investment strategy for protection and/or restoration of ecological-hydrological function in the natural commons. EAP is particularly relevant to urban and suburban creeksheds drained by a 1st order stream.”

To Learn More:

Download the Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) – A Methodology for Valuing the ‘Water Balance Services’ Provided by Nature, the seventh in a series of guidance documents that form the basis for knowledge-transfer via the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative (IREI). The foundation document for the series is Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released in 2002.

Download the booklet: An Introduction to EAP.

EAP is a Three-Stage Initiative

“The EAP program has three stages: Test / Refine / Mainstream. During 2017 and 2018, two Stage 1 demonstration applications tested the concept, and demonstrated EAP relevance to local government. In 2019, two Stage 2 demonstration applications resulted in working definitions and consistent application of the EAP methodology,” continues Kim Stephens.

“In 2020 and 2021, six Stage 3 demonstration applications will mainstream use of EAP. The grand total of ten demonstration applications will encompass a range of land use situations in five regional districts. Each case study is unique. Partner communities frame creekshed-specific questions to be addressed by the EAP application.”

Three Types of Commons

“Natural assets provide ecological services that human communities draw on to support quality of life and property enjoyment. EAP uses the parallel concepts of the natural commons and the constructed commons as a way for residents, elected persons, and practitioners to understand that ecological services deserve equal consideration.   These are foundational concepts,” explains Tim Pringle, EAP Chair, and a founding Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.

“The quality and desirability of neighbourhoods are influenced considerably by the commons services available – natural, constructed and institutional. An implied social contract exists.

“The contract terms are that core services would be supplied through commons systems; and, maintenance and management (M&M) would take place. Thus, there is a social contract expectation that M&M would ensure that commons services would be available in the future. This implies that the assets are valued both socially and financially.”

Constructed Commons:

Communities rely on a range of services such as roads, underground utilities and parks to support life-style and property enjoyment.  These are commons.  Through taxation, they are maintained and managed in order to ensure the availability of desired services.

Institutional Commons:

Services such as fire protection and schools are a related kind of constructed commons.

Natural Commons:

As defined by the EAP, a natural commons is an ecological system that provides ecological services used by nature and the community.

Implications for Asset Management Strategies and Plans

“The idea of a natural commons supporting a ‘package of ecological services’ which the community wants and expects to have implies that approved plans for land development should not result in ecological services being merely residual outcomes. Should the community simply be happy with what is left? Clearly not,” says Tim Pringle.

“The natural commons approach aligns with and supports the Asset Management BC vision as described in its precedent-setting guidance document titled Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework.

“Asset management for sustainable service delivery occurs alongside associated evolution in community thinking as exemplified by the Partnership’s contemporary application of the centuries-old natural commons concept. By managing the built and natural environments as integrated systems, local governments would incrementally move towards a water-resilient future as an outcome.

“A way was needed to conceptualize this process diagrammatically, and thus communicate what the journey by a local government to a Water-Resilient Future would look like. This led us to another concept – that of a continuum of steps (refer to image above). The goal of peer-based learning, as championed by the Partnership, is to build local government capacity to transition to Step Three.”

Natural Commons is a Land Use

“During Stage 2 of the EAP program, we arrived at an important insight about ecological assets; that is, an ecological commons is a land use. Regulations define stream functions and setback requirements. Whether it is a pond, wetland or riparian zone, it can be measured.

“The assessed values of adjacent parcels can be used to provide a value for the natural commons. The inference is that the area of the natural commons would be zoned residential or whatever if the stream was not there.

“BC Assessment provides longitudinal measures of property values, distinguishing the values of land and improvements. Assessments of parcel values are comprehensive and comparative based on sales of interests in properties.

“An important perspective on assessment data is that it captures the preferences of purchasers and sellers. Not only is the sales price of transactions reflected, so is the quality of worth”

Are you aware that Ecological Systems provide Core Municipal Services?

“Streams (as defined in the Riparian Areas Regulations) intercept and detain rainwater, convey flows from storm sewers, provide alignments for trails and greenways while supporting local aquatic and terrestrial life.

“These and other services influence quality of life and the financial value of land parcels. Maintenance and management (M&M) of ecological assets should therefore be planned as core municipal services.

“Residents and property owners are familiar with constructed commons services – roads, potable water, storm sewers and many other ongoing services.  They expect these services to endure. Similarly, communities expect the ecological services provided by the natural commons to be enduring.”

Are you aware that the ‘No Harm Rule’ for Land Appraisal could be applied to streams?

“The research findings suggest that the diminution of stream functions gradually will draw the attention of property owners to the NO HARM RULE used in land appraisal. Simply put, this means the potential value of a property should reflect the ‘highest and best use’.

“The No Harm Rule establishes a financial expectation. Applied to the ecological functions of the stream, this would encourage persons with property interests to ensure that they understand how land use decisions may harm or help the stream.

“The community may rely on the stream system being in good functioning condition as a feature in parks, as a natural area bordering residential parcels, etc. Adjacent property owners have an obligation to recognize these values and avoid activities on their property that might harm the stream and have a negative impact on parcel values,” emphasizes Tim Pringle.

Package of Ecological Services

“Kudos to Marvin Kamenz, Municipal Planner with the Town of Comox, for coining the term PACKAGE OF ECOLOGICAL SERVICES. It is an example of an Aha Moment that occurred during a conversation that Marvin had with Tim Pringle. Each gives the other credit for the phrase. Marvin made an observation. That triggered a thought by Tim. In an instant, the phrase clicked,” continues Kim Stephens.

“The term Ecological Services is not intuitively obvious to most folks. But Tim Pringle and Marvin have made a major, and profound, contribution to our collective understanding  of what it means in practice. They have done this by defining Ecological Services as the RANGE OF USES DESIRED BY THE COMMUNITY.

“Three key words capture the essence of what we mean by ‘range of uses’ – drainage, recreation and habitat. These three words immediately conjure a word picture in our minds. They are visual. They make real what is an abstract concept to most people.”