RAIN GARDEN INNOVATION: “Delta implemented an integrated design team with Sarah Howie as the landscape architect, a design engineer and drafting staff to work with local stream keepers. Engineering operations staff provided in-field installation and implementation expertise,” stated Hugh Fraser, retired Deputy Director of Engineering, City of Delta
Note to Reader:
The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia has honoured Hugh Fraser as a Lifetime Member. Hugh Fraser’s engineering career spans four decades, from his graduation in 1983 until his retirement in 2021. His experience is Canada-wide. In 1997, he joined the City of Delta, the 10th largest city in British Columbia with a population of over 100,000 people. Below, Hugh Fraser reflects on his journey and provides a window into his career highlights as a professional engineer and a local government leader in the Metro Vancouver region. His reflections make for an interesting and entertaining read.
The Partnership is led by a team of community-minded and mission-focused elders. These individuals believe 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. Thus, the Partnership hopes that Hugh Fraser will have future opportunities to pass on his knowledge, experience and wisdom to those who wish to accept the baton!
Hugh Fraser, M.A.Sc., P.Eng., FEC
“High school students often have a difficult time making a career choice. I was no exception as there are so many options from which one can choose.” recalls Hugh Fraser. “I enjoyed the sciences in high school and was not particularly taken with writing essays. I also wanted to learn land surveying and so decided to pursue a degree in civil engineering; little knowing the numerous career options available in that area of study.”
The early 1980s was a period of high unemployment in Canada
“After six years of study at University of Toronto, the last two with Dr. Barry Adam’s, I graduated in the spring of 1983 with a Master of Applied Science, in water resources and environment. The fall of 1982 was a time when the economy was heading into a recession. I attend a storm water management conference in Ottawa in the fall of 1982 and although work prospects were not great Dr. Paul Wisner kindly offered me work as a research assistant at the University of Ottawa. Through that assignment I made many contacts, helped with the IMPSWM program, assisted with coding of OTTHYMO, assisting with organizing seminars / conferences.”
A decade of experience in Ontario provided a career foundation
“In 1985 I joined Cumming Cockburn Associates in Ottawa and was involved in development projects, watershed studies and flood plain analysis. Small firms offer great learning opportunities for junior engineers. In the fall of 1987, I joined UMA Engineering in Toronto as the Ontario, Manager of Water Resources and led a team of professionals working on the analysis of the Metro Toronto sanitary and combined sewer systems.”
“The projects involved integrating sewer system modeling with sewage treatment plant process models. This allowed the team to evaluate the impact on the treatment plant of different sewer system operational strategies. The models assessed the treatment plants hydraulic and biological operational strategies during dry and wet weather conditions.”
“UMA provided me with consulting opportunities across Canada which ultimately led to my being transferred to the BC Regional office in Burnaby. Once in BC I volunteered with Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (EGBC) at the New Westminster branch and also chaired the Association’s Mentoring committee for several years.”
The move to local government in British Columbia
“In 1997, Mr. Peter Steblin P.Eng. provided me with the opportunity to join Delta’s utility division. At the time, little did I know the range of projects in which I would participate over the next two decades. Delta, an oasis in Metro Vancouver region, has many unique infrastructure elements that present a range of engineering challenges.”
A Range of Infrastructure Challenges:
“One of my first tasks was to develop long range plans for each of the utilities. This took several years but provided a longer term operational, capital and financial framework for utility operations. The engineering works are Delta are extensive and can be taken for granted. For example the lowland pumped storm water system capacity exceeds 30 cubic metres per second. This is more than the storm runoff discharge of many streams and small rivers in Ontario.”
“The communities of Ladner and Tsawwassen rely on a sewage pump system that is approximately 20 km in length and must operate safely and continuously in the worst of storm conditions. The community has an extensive dike system that is about 67 km in length to protect the lowlands from the potential of daily inundation.”
“During the summer months the agriculture land depends on an extensive irrigation system which forms an important component of regional food production. Farms that supply food to the local region rely on a good supply of fresh irrigation water. The province and Delta upgraded the system as part of the SFPR highway construction project.”
“The highway has improved the transportation network in the region and the irrigation system upgrade has enhanced the water supply. For utility operation decisions the SCADA and GIS systems have been significantly improved over the past decade. They assist many Delta staff in the day to day work responding to local residents and informing staff about system’s operational performance.”
“Delta is proactively working to maintain and improve the local environment through foreshore improvement projects and Burns Bog restoration projects. In this regard, as a member of Delta staff, I worked with Dr. Sarah Howie, Dr. Richard Hebda, Don Demill (a consultant), and the Burns Bog Scientific Advisory Panel in the design and implementation of a monitoring and water management strategy for the Bog. Ongoing storm water management initiatives in the community have involved numerous neighbourhood level projects.”
Delta’s Innovative Rain Garden Program:
“Delta implemented an integrated design team with Sarah Howie as the landscape architect, a design engineer and drafting staff to work with local stream keepers. The engineering operations staff provided in-field installation and implementation expertise at many of the locations.”
“To assist with student education a rain garden implementation program was jointly developed with the Ms. Deborah Jones, of Cougar Creek stream keepers, Delta School District and the City of Delta. Elementary school students in conjunction with engineering staff were provided with hands on planting experience. As the Partnership for Water Sustainability’s Kim Stephens knows from his experience, Deborah is an incredible volunteer, a great motivator and a community champion.”
“Throughout the years I was involved in several committees, numerous Council meetings and public meetings. As Deputy Director for more approximately 15 years this involved participating in the technical, financial and management aspects of the department. I enjoyed the team camaraderie fostered by Directors Mr. Ian Radnidge P.Eng. and Mr. Stephen Lan P.Eng. and our administrative assistant Lyn Lappin. I look forward to maintaining the friendships developed with staff and community members for years to come,” concludes Hugh Fraser.
Hugh Fraser, Green Infrastructure Champion
“Hugh Fraser is a green infrastructure pioneer in the Metro Vancouver region,” states Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director. “In the early 2000’s, Hugh was a leading voice on Metro Vancouver’s Stormwater Interagency Liaison Group, known by the acronym SILG. Comprising representatives from three levels of government, this group had energy and made things happen under the umbrella of the rainwater component of the region’s Liquid Waste Management Plan. SILG is a foundation piece in the history of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.”
“Funded by SILG, one of the Partnership’s early capacity-building initiatives was the Metro Vancouver Showcasing Green Infrastructure Series, held in both 2006 and 2007. This idea for the series was an outcome of the Green Infrastructure Consultation Workshop hosted by the City of Surrey in 2005, and organized by the Partnership. Hugh Fraser was a key participant. His sharing of Delta’s early rain garden experience certainly influenced the conversation around the table.”
“Framed from a local government manager perspective, and guided by the leadership of Paul Ham (Surrey’s General Manager of Engineering), we designed the 2005 workshop to engage the Metro Vancouver Regional Engineers Advisory Committee (REAC). We wanted REAC input into our work plan for developing policy and technical communication guides for elected officials and senior managers, respectively.”
Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation Series
“The workshop proved to be a revelation for all those who participated,” recalls Raymond Fung, Partnership Director. At the time of the workshop he was the Director of Engineering & Transportation with the District of West Vancouver. “As we went around the table, the stories came out as to what Metro Vancouver municipalities were doing. A common refrain was: ‘We didn’t know you were doing that!’ The energy in the room just kept building and building.”
“At the end of the day, we literally tore up our Partnership work plan. It was clear that practitioners did not need another guidance document that would go on a shelf. Rather, they needed to network and learn from each other. The 2005 workshop truly was a dynamic and transformational event. We witnessed the motivational power of celebrating successes. We also recognized the need to get the story out about the leadership being shown by local government. This influenced everything that followed, including the work on Vancouver Island.”
“Fast forward to 2007. Delta hosted one of three showcasing events with the enthusiastic support of (former) Mayor Lois Jackson who was then Chair of the Metro Vancouver Regional District,” adds Kim Stephens.
Statement by Lois Jackson to open the 2007 Series:
“It was exactly a year ago that I met Paul Ham, Kim Stephens and Ray Fung. I remember that first meeting quite clearly,” stated (former) Mayor Lois Jackson. “At first I was not sure I understood what was meant when they talked about ‘green infrastructure’ and ‘celebrating successes’. And then the light went on when I realized they were talking about things like Delta’s sidewalk retrofit strategy and our program for transforming ditches into landscaped amenities that beautify roadways.”
“I remember saying now I get it! – the point being that when you have examples of what can be done, and projects are being built, you can then wrap your mind around the green infrastructure vision and say to yourself: ‘what’s the big deal….this is really common sense….if we can do this, then we can do more.’ And before you know it, the ball is rolling and the landscape is changing for the better. “
Delta’s Rain Garden Program Demonstrates Shared Responsibility
“Delta is making ‘green infrastructure’ a standard practice in our community. These are no longer just ‘pilot projects’. When we re-build roads in Delta, streetscape enhancement is part of the capital budget. In addition, each year we invest in two or three community rain gardens,” Hugh Fraser stated in 2014.
“Everyone in the process, students, designers, managers and constructors, must understand and care about the big-picture goal. This requires an ongoing educational process that instills an ethic. This is a team effort. Nothing would have happened without all working together and continuing to work together.”
“Creating a watershed health legacy will ultimately depend on how well we are able to achieve rain water management improvements on both public and private sides of a watershed. There is a huge up-side if the private sector embraces their contribution to shared responsibility.”
An Implementation Perspective
“The ‘pioneering’ days of Delta’s rain garden program were a great time of trial and error. We enjoyed the creative challenges of figuring out ways to work around underground utilities, move water across sidewalks and down slopes, deal with unexpected high water tables and poor drainage, and predict which plants would survive the particular site conditions of each garden,” stated Dr. Sarah Howie in 2020.
“The most interesting part of designing rain gardens was that every single garden was unique to the site, so there were no cookie-cutter designs. We always got to try something new. If it worked out, we would use the best elements in the next garden, in a process of continual refinement.”
“The success of Delta’s rain garden program is largely thanks to the leadership and committed involvement of the Cougar Creek Streamkeepers. Their energetic and dedicated volunteers keep the rain gardens functional and beautiful, which gives the city confidence to do more of these types of projects.”
To Learn More:
Download a copy of Creating the Future in The Corporation of Delta: Rain Gardens Help Restore Nature, published by the Partnership in January 2015 to help celebrate launch the second decade of Delta’s rain garden program.
Download a copy of Delta’s Rain Garden Program for Urban Landscape Enhancement: Sustaining the Legacy through the Second Decade and Beyond, published in 2020.