DEMONSTRATION APPLICATION OF ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: Millstone River in the Regional District of Nanaimo, completed in March 2021

Note to Reader:

In May 2021, the Partnership for Water Sustainability released Millstone River – A Natural Commons in the Regional District of Nanaimo: Operationalizing the Ecological Accounting Process for Financial Valuation of Stream Corridor Systems within an Asset Management Plan, the fifth in a series of reports on EAP demonstration applications.

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. Millstone River is the first of six  Stage 3 case studies.

On April 27th 2021, the RDN Regional Board established a BC-first when it approved this recommendation by staff: “That the Millstone River Ecological Accounting Process report be used to inform future Corporate Asset Management Planning.”

The Millstone River is situated within RDN Water Region 5.

Drinking Water & Watershed Protection (DWWP) program sets the context for Millstone River EAP Project

“The Millstone River and EAP project are a vignette for the bigger mandate of the DWWP. Both demonstrate project level partnerships with stewardship groups; as well as partnerships across local government jurisdictions,” stated Julie Pisani,  Program Coordinator for the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Drinking Water & Watershed Protection Program.

“The stewardship thread that is pulled through the Millstone EAP project centres around the involvement of Bernie Heinrichs. His group, Island Waters Fly Fishers, has been involved in the RDN’s surface water quality sampling program since 2011. There was little data at the start, but now with longer datasets we start to see trends and are able to better understand the health of our region’s creeks.”

“The data findings then direct efforts – for example, riparian area education for farmers and streamside landowners. Then it leads to restoration, often led by community volunteers which we support through stewardship seed funding. Now EAP represents the potential for innovative policy that aligns stewardship with the novel aspect of ecological accounting.”

An Overview of the Millstone River EAP Project

“The EAP methodology reflects the understanding that landowners adjacent to the stream corridor and setback zone (30 metres on both sides of the stream) and the broader community share responsibility for and benefit from the condition of the stream as well as the financial and ecological value of the land it occupies,” continued Julie Pisani.

“The study’s intent was to pilot the EAP in the context of the Millstone River, an important ecological feature in the Nanaimo region that includes RDN Electoral Area C upstream and City of Nanaimo downstream, to test the methodology and take away learnings for further refinement in future applications.”

Take-aways from Millstone River EAP Project 

“Engaging a project steering committee and conducting a community survey on how landowners nearby to the stream value its presence and understand its worth, were important qualitative inputs alongside the number-crunching. Through this process, the importance of riparian vegetation was highlighted and led to an additional desktop assessment of riparian cover in the river corridor, which provides a high-level basis for strategizing where to prioritize investment in restoration of riparian woodlands to improve the health and functioning condition of the river.”

“Ultimately, the study found that the 15 km of stream length from Brannen Lake to Nanaimo Harbour, with 7 km in the City of Nanaimo and 8 km in Electoral Area C, had the combined Natural Commons Asset value of $5.5M per kilometer or $79.7M total, based on BC Assessment data.”

“It also found that community investment per year (based on the past decade) is roughly $560,000 between the City and the RDN – including parkland purchases, infrastructure improvements, stewardship and monitoring. This shows there is already a level of investment as an expression of what the river is ‘worth’ to the community.”

“The report suggests a general framework for local governments to consider in using the lens of ecological accounting within Corporate Asset Management Plans to prevent degradation and improve stream corridor condition for the benefit of the community at-large. It is not the only methodology to account for natural assets, but it certainly increases our understanding and gives us some language and tools to advance the conversation,” concluded Julie Pisani.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Millstone River – A Natural Commons in the Regional District of Nanaimo: Operationalizing the Ecological Accounting Process for Financial Valuation of Stream Corridor Systems within an Asset Management Plan.