INTEGRATING NATURAL ASSETS INTO INFRASTRUCTURE ON BC’S SUNSHINE COAST: “During construction, we experienced a few 50mm rain events that we had to manage with fire pumps that pumped into the forest, dispersing through sprinklers. Amazingly though, we could see there was no pooling or surface movement. It was our first time seeing in real time what the forest could manage,” stated Michael Wall, Manager of Asset Management & Strategic Initiatives, qathet Regional District


On British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, Michael Wall and his team recognized an opportunity, and seized the moment to do business differently and integrate a “natural asset solution” into the landfill closure plan for the Powell River region. Michael Wall is the Manager of Asset Management and Strategic Initiatives with the  qathet Regional District.
Because of frequent confusion between the identical names of Powell River Regional District and City of Powell River, the regional district’s name was changed in 2018 to qathet, meaning “working together” in the language of the Tla’amin Nation. The name was gifted by the Elders of Tla’amin Nation and is intentionally lower case.

Readers have a choice of scrolling down to read this story entirely online, or alternatively, download a PDF copy of the report-style version for later ease of reference and sharing.

DOWNLOAD: Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Integrating Natural Assets into Infrastructure on BC’s Sunshine Coast.



Editor’s Perspective on what “Living Water Smart in action” looks like

“It was Wally Wells, Executive Director of Asset Management BC, who first drew my attention to the innovation demonstrated by the qathet Regional District in daring to do business differently with a landfill closure plan. Wally was so impressed that he featured the qathet story in the Winter 2021 edition of the Asset Management BC Newsletter. He also urged me to share the story with the Waterbucket eNews readership,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“The landfill closure plan revolved around site drainage and control of runoff discharging to a salmon stream. The essence of the story is that the qathet Regional District rejected an engineered solution in favour of a natural asset solution. Doing business differently saved $700,000 which was 80% 0f the original capital budget. Plus, Michael Wall reports, we saved about 1 hectare of beautiful second growth forest from destruction.”

Sustainable Service Delivery

“The qathet landfill closure story illustrates why and how innovation is most likely to occur when the focus is on the end goal of Sustainable Service Delivery. Michael Wall and his team channelled the words and wisdom of Wally Wells when they stepped back and asked themselves: “What is the service we are trying to provide, and what is the most sustainable way to provide it?”

“Upon interviewing Michael Wall and Gracelyn Shannon, co-authors of the Asset Management article, it was immediately apparent to me that ‘the qathet story’ is one that needs to be told and re-told. The design with nature solution for restoration of the water balance at the landfill showcases ‘Living Water Smart in action’. It is already a success story. There is no need to wait for performance monitoring over many years.”

“In the conversation that follows between Michael Wall and Gracelyn Shannon, this duo provides insight into the Natural Asset Solution that has preserved green space and resulted in immediate savings to Powell River taxpayers. That, in a nutshell, is the story, Well done, qathet Regional District!”

Written by Gracelyn Shannon, asset management professional, the qathet storyline is structured in three parts: 1) Preamble; 2) Gracelyn’s conversational interview with Michael Wall; and 3) Conclusion.


PART ONE / PREAMBLE: “…inter-generational collaboration…”

“Kim, we are on our way to a big success story that could change how we deliver services. If only we could get 10 to 20 years of long-term monitoring data,” Gracelyn Shannon says.

“I was thinking out loud on an introductory Zoom call with Kim Stephens about qathet Regional District’s latest natural asset solution. The landfill closure project has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and a significant area of forested land from being cleared, not to mention all the harder-to-measure co-benefits, but I sensed much still remains to be done before it is common practice.”

“Kim calmly listened to me talk through the frustration of trying to find 20 years of funding to collect ecological data that may convince other local governments to consider similar solutions, before wisely pointing out to me: The success story is already here, we just have to tell it.”

“The financial and ecological savings already speak for themselves. But then why do natural asset solutions still feel far from status quo consideration, I wondered.”

“… water sustainability outcomes…”

“Michael Wall is the Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Asset Management at qathet Regional District, as well as a certified Forestry Technician,” continues Gracelyn Shannon. “On one of Michael’s projects in 2020, the team was presented with an $850,000 engineered solution to manage runoff at the landfill closure site. Michael and his team questioned the proposed engineered solution and wondered if there may be a way to better use the surrounding forest instead.”

“Michael and a small army of local professionals were able to develop a natural asset solution to manage the landfill runoff. The new green infrastructure plan saved $700,000 of taxpayer money and 0.5 hectares of second growth forest.”

“With a water management service being provided at the same level in a more sustainable way, we start to wonder why natural asset considerations are not a local government infrastructure design default consideration.”

“What is the context at qathet Regional District that allowed them to see the opportunity and follow through? What can other local governments learn from the qathet Regional District’s success story?”

“With these questions in mind, I sat down with Michael to talk about qathet Regional District’s path to their natural asset solution success.”


Watch the video of Gracelyn Shannon in conversation with Mike Wall

“…green infrastructure policies and practices…”

GRACELYN: Welcome Michael. Let’s set the scene with who you are, and the project that kicked this whole thing off.

MICHAEL: I work at qathet Regional District. My focus over the last few years has been capital projects, strategic initiatives, and asset management. Around 5 years ago, we secured a grant for a landfill closure which included the cleaning and restoring of the dump site, as well as the build out of a state-of-the-art solid waste recovery facility. qathet lead the project development with the support of the City of Powell River, who has historically owned and operated the site.

GRACELYN: And as a part of the landfill closure, you saw an opportunity for a natural asset solution?

MICHAEL: Well, not just me. We received a proposal to manage stormwater using pipes, ditches, and a large sedimentation pond. It was going to cost roughly $850,000 and they were going to clear around a hectare of forest. A senior planner from the City of Powell River and I went on site to look around and we thought “why are we clearing a forest to put in infrastructure to manage run-off, when we know the forest can provide that service to some extent?”

GRACELYN: To some extent?

MICHAEL: We tried to look for any similar case studies for a “volume of water per area of forest” that cand be safely managed, but we could not find anything. We had to get a hydrogeologist and professional engineer to take a look and give the go ahead.

GRACELYN: You got the professionals on site, you settled on a new design, and started construction?

MICHAEL: Construction was not easy either. We experienced a few 50mm rain events that we had to manage with wildland fire pumps that pumped into the forest dispersing through sprinklers. Amazingly though, we could see there was no pooling or surface movement, it was our first time seeing in real time what the forest could manage.

GRACELYN: Construction was cheaper, and you could see that the service was going to be provided at the same level as the engineered solution, if not better?

MICHAEL: Exactly. And it is not just that. A solution like this is going to be less maintenance and we are not going to have to replace it, that is savings for future generations. Also, there are added benefits like shade, air filtering, erosion control, biodiversity, recreation, cultural, and education.

GRACELYN: And now construction is completed, money has been saved, forest has been saved and benefits are innumerable. You are done now, and everyone is high-fiving in celebration?

MICHAEL: Not quite. We are continuing on with the rest of the landfill closure, cleanup, and site restoration project. But it’s provided even more wins. We are finding creative ways to reuse waste materials as resources on site, saving money and reducing GHG emissions with less being transported away. We also have a lot of educational material being developed with the help of our Let’s Talk Trash team, providing consulting on this project as well as environmental public education.

GRACELYN: Well, I will high-five you.

MICHAEL: You know, I get what it is like. We are busy as local government staff, sorting through the day to day and the hundreds of emails in the inbox. It is hard to step out of that mindset especially when we’ve been in these roles for so long. But just keeping an eye out for opportunities, continuing with that lens of “what service are we trying to provide, what options are available, and how do we decide the best way?” Challenging the norm, paying attention, stepping back, and recognizing the opportunities.

GRACELYN: Thank you Michael for sharing with us, and may the cool projects continue into your retirement.


“On a final Zoom check in before the article is published, Kim sat down with both Michael and me”, states Gracelyn.

“I’m surprised when I meet resistance for natural asset management, where’s that coming from?”

Kim laughs. “Is that rhetorical or do you want the answer?”

“There’s an answer?”

“Part of one…” Kim begins.

Kim explains how the guiding philosophy of the late Erik Karlsen, who taught a course about change management and human behaviour at Royal Roads University after he retired from a career with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, has influenced the work of the Partnership. Erik Karlsen’s teachings are integrated into the Partnership Mission and Vision which reminds us to be careful where we invest our energy, and to lift up the champions and tell the success stories.

“We need to know more about the Michael Walls of the world.”

East receiving apron showing even distribution of rainwater runoff to the surrounding forest.

About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

Incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia as a not-for-profit society on November 19, 2010 was a milestone moment. Incorporation signified a bold leap forward. The Partnership evolved from a technical committee in the 1990s, to a “water roundtable” in the first decade of the 2000s, and then to a legal entity. The Partnership has its roots in government – local, provincial, federal.

The umbrella for Partnership initiatives and programs is the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. In turn, the Action Plan is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Released in 2008, Living Water Smart was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments.

Conceptual Framework for Inter-Generational Collaboration

Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.

The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. To achieve the goal, the Partnership is growing a network in the local government setting. This network embraces collaborative leadership and inter-generational collaboration.

Application of Experience, Knowledge and Wisdom

The Partnership believes that when each generation is receptive to accepting the inter-generational baton and embracing the wisdom that goes with it, the decisions of successive generations will benefit from and build upon the experience of those who went before them.

The Partnership leadership team brings experience, knowledge, and wisdom – a forceful combination to help collaborators reach their vision, mission, and goals for achieving water sustainability. When they are successful, the Partnership is successful.

The Time Continuum graphic (above) conceptualizes the way of thinking that underpins the inter-generational mission of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.  Influence choices. Capitalize on the REACHABLE and TEACHABLE MOMENTS to influence choices.