ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “There has been much talk recently about including natural assets and green infrastructure in asset registers and asset management plans. However, to do this, you need to determine appropriate values for assets in these categories,” wrote Bernadette O’Connor, Editor, in the Summer 2021 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter

Note to Reader:

The Summer 2021 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter includes an article by Bernadette O’Connor titled Tips & Tactics: Valuing Natural Assets and Green Infrastructure. She is the Editor and a regular columnist for the Quarterly Newsletter, Her article provides a springboard to highlight an initiative underway in British Columbia The initiative is EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process: A BC Strategy for Community Investment in Stream Systems.

Led by the Partnership for Water Sustainability, the purpose of the EAP program is to demonstrate how to operationalize maintenance and management (M&M) of stream systems under the umbrella of a local government’s Asset Management Plan.

Valuing Natural Assets and Green Infrastructure

“Each natural / green asset can be recorded in a similar way to built assets (i.e. asset type, relevant size attribute, relevant material type, and possibly an install date). Many natural assets, however, will not have a beginning date and they will not have a fixed lifespan. For example, assets such as open waterways are maintained in perpetuity and do not have a forecast time when the waterway would cease to exist or require replacement,” stated Bernadette O’Connor.

“Once natural / green assets are listed in an asset register  or inventory, you need to consider how to report the current value, the replacement value, and if the asset is to be included or excluded from a replacement program.”

To Learn More:

To read the complete article, download a copy of the Summer 2021 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter

EAP Methodology and Metrics for Integration of Natural Assets into Local Government Asset Management

EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, bridges a gap. It provides local government with a methodology and metrics for integrating natural assets, notably stream corridor systems, into municipal infrastructure,” states Tim Pringle, Chair of the EAP Initiative, and a founding Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“The EAP methodology and metrics recognize the importance of the stream system in the landscape. A stream is a land use because the stream corridor is defined in regulations and has a financial value.”

“The EAP program supports local governments adopting an integrated approach to life-cycle maintenance and management, or M&M, of the drainage service. The integrated approach recognizes that constructed infrastructure and stream systems are inter-connected components of the drainage service. Effective M&M of natural assets, in particular stream systems, requires local government commitment backed by line items in an annual report.”

The EAP methodology focuses on the historical and current land use practices that have changed landscapes, modified hydrology, and have led to present-day community perceptions of the worth of the stream or creekshed and the ecological services it provides. A whole-system understanding is the starting point for developing meaningful metrics,” emphasizes Tim Pringle.

Context for Integration of Stream Systems with Engineered Assets

“The driver for EAP is degradation of stream channels and streamside protection areas. EAP addresses the elephant in the room which is the unfunded cost (hence liability) to protect, remediate or enhance stream systems in urban and rural landscapes,” continues Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director.

The provincial umbrella for EAP is Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework. The BC Framework emphasizes the services that assets provide and the life-cycle costs. Over time, M&M represents 80% of the total life-cycle cost; the first 20% represents the initial capital investment.”

“In 2019, with release of the Primer on Integrating Natural Assets into Asset Management, UBCM and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs established an expectation that grant applicants would integrate natural assets into their asset management processes. EAP shows them how to do it for stream systems.”

“Released in November 2015, Beyond the Guidebook 2015 introduced the vision for EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, as one of the twin pillars for integrating stream systems within an Asset Management Plan. The other pillar is Water Balance Accounting.”

Evolution of EAP Methodology

“The leap forward explicit in the vision for “sustainable drainage service delivery” is whole-system action on the landscape that ensures stream system integrity. Whether constructed or natural, an asset is an asset. And in the built environment, each asset type requires an annual budget for M&M, that is – maintenance to prevent or avoid degradation; and management to improve the condition of ecological assets in the stream corridor.”

“The  Partnership’s EAP initiative is a 3-stage program for testing EAP in 2018, refining it in 2019, and mainstreaming it in 2020 through 2022. Demonstration applications have been completed in five regions on the east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland. It is a building blocks process. Each case study yields key lessons and fresh insights. It has been a 6-year journey to evolve the methodology from concept to application.”

Use the Ecological Accounting Process to Establish the ‘Financial Case for the Stream’

“The end goal is to stablish an annual budget for stream corridor system M&M as a line item within an Asset Management Plan. Use of EAP to establish the ‘financial case for the stream’ would put maintenance and management (M&M) of stream corridor systems on an equal footing with constructed assets (municipal infrastructure). This would be a giant step forward,” explains Tim Pringle.

“EAP uses real numbers, not hypothetical assumptions, to establish the financial value of the stream corridor system. The stream is a land use because it has an area defined by regulation and therefore it has a financial value. If the stream did not exist, the land it occupies would be used for nearby development, residential or other.”

“EAP defines the regulatory setback zone as the Natural Commons Asset, or NCA for short. The NCA calculation is the foundation piece for EAP. It determines the financial value of the stream for all or any portion of its length. The NCA calculation uses BC Assessment data for the financial analysis.”

Ecological Services are Core Services

“Core services such as utilities, roads, parks, and recreation take up the bulk of a local government budget and are the traditional focus of asset management. Prior to release of the Primer on Integrating Natural Assets with Asset Management by Asset Management BC in 2019, ecological services were not typically part of the asset management mind-set.”

“At best, ecological services have been considered as an add-on. They are not intuitively understood by the public, elected representatives and asset managers. To stimulate awareness and advance uptake of a ‘whole-system approach’ to asset management, it helps to define ecological services in terms of drainage, recreation and habitat uses.”

“Once communities make the mental transition to view ecological services as core local government services, and then look at their budgets differently, the change in mind-set should lead to this question: how can we do things better? This shift in perspective logically leads to the next question:

How do we establish an annual budget for M&M that sustains the ‘package of ecological services’ in a stream system that humans depend upon for drainage, recreation, habitat, and enjoyment of property uses?”

“EAP interweaves financial, social, and ecological perspectives within a single number to establish the financial case for a stream corridor system. This aggregate number is the Natural Commons Asset (NCA) value. The NCA value provides environmental planners with a starting point for a balanced conversation with engineers and accountants about the services that natural and constructed assets both provide. This alone is a game-changer,” concludes Tim Pringle.

To Learn More:

Download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Accounting for Stream Systems in Asset Management.