GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE CONTINUUM IS A METAPHOR FOR HOPE: “The state-of-the-art in the United States is now close to where British Columbia was in 2005. In the meantime, we have continued to progress and evolve our systems approach, and this is why the story of EAP is an essential read,” stated Kim Stephens when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released a downloadable resource introducing the ‘green infrastructure continuum’ as an organizing idea (February 2022)

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the vision for Living Water Smart in British Columbia to build greener communities and adapt to a changing climate. The edition published on February 15, 2022 featured a conversation with Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and Tim Pringle, Chair of the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) initiative. Dr. Grabowski is the lead author of a nationwide survey titled What is green infrastructure? A study of definitions in US city planning.

Green Infrastructure Continuum as an idea is foundational to our Oral History

“The Partnership uses the termgreen infrastructure continuum’ to frame how green infrastructure understanding and the state-of-the-art around it are building on experience and evolving over time. The continuum idea provides context for milestones on the green infrastructure journey in British Columbia,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket News editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia,

“Our partners in provincial and local government tell us that the oral history, and the intergenerational sharing and learning that goes with it, are rapidly being lost. The ramifications of this “new reality” create a sense of urgency to inform and educate BC audiences. First, they need to know about the green infrastructure continuum. And secondly, they need to understand why it is significant, relevant and important as a foundational idea.

“The continuum idea is a metaphor for hope. It allows us to answer the question, how well are we doing? The green infrastructure continuum is the way we measure progress to achieve the Living Water Smart vision for creating liveable communities and protecting stream health. The lynchpin for achieving these “design with nature” outcomes is intergenerational collaboration, driven by systems thinking. Hope springs from a systematic and adaptive approach that builds on a solid foundation, and consistently gets it right.”

“There is a saying, look back to move forward. When each generation of practitioners understands and cares about the oral history of green infrastructure in a Living Water Smart context, then successive generations of land development and infrastructure servicing practitioners are more likely to select the right path forward at each generational inflection point. Another saying provides a time-based perspective for the intergenerational journey, measure progress by the distance travelled rather the distance still to go.”

EAP is a Game Changer

“EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, is the latest evolution in a journey that had its genesis three decades ago. In 1990, Tim Pringle coined the mantra that ‘use and conservation of land are equal values;. He also recognized that what is measured gets managed. This launched him on a career trajectory that has culminated in EAP. Now, local governments have a methodology and metrics for translating policies into actions on the ground,” continued Kim Stephens.

“When Tim Pringle was Executive Director of the Real Estate Foundation, he persuaded his Board of Governors to provide seed funding that ultimately launched the East Clayton Sustainable Community in Surrey. This was instrumental in overcoming fear and doubt, triggered a senior government grant for BC’s first ‘green infrastructure’ pilot project, and laid early groundwork for achieving water sustainability through implementation of green infrastructure practices.”

“This headline in an American publication caught my attention: Cities are murky on how they define ‘green infrastructure’. The headline distilled a key takeaway from the survey by the Cary Institute. So, Tim Pringle and I reached out to Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski (“Dr. Z”) to have a conversation and delve into the story behind the news release.”

“The conversation with Dr. Z revealed that the state-of-the-art in the United States is now close to where British Columbia was in 2005. In the meantime, we have continued to progress and evolve our systems approach, and this is why it is important for readers to know about, understand, and care about EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process.”

EAP is a Land Use Perspective

“The story of EAP is how we got to the idea of the stream corridor system as a Natural Commons and connecting it to the challenge for streams to survive in an urban or urbanizing setting. The driver is degradation of stream channels and streamside riparian setback zones. EAP establishes the methodology and metrics for tackling the Riparian Deficit,” explained Tim Pringle.

“The strength of EAP is in how it looks at and values streams as systems, as natural commons assets, and as a land use. A stream corridor is a land use because it satisfies two criteria: it is defined in the Riparian Areas Protection Regulations Act, and it has a financial value. One can draw a direct line from EAP to the Act, renamed in 2016 after originally becoming law in 1997 as the Fish Protection Act.”

“The land supports assets that provide services. And decisions are made at the parcel scale. Thus, we are tied to the past through historical subdivision of land. This means we must understand the biology of land use. The human analogy is DNA.”

“Getting it right starts at the parcel scale and recognizing that every parcel is interconnected within a system. EAP is the only ecological methodology that deals with the parcel. Getting it right at the parcel scale is a shared responsibility. Everyone involved in land use and development, from start to finish, must understand the goal in doing business differently because the status quo is resulting in unacceptable consequences.”

Operationalizing EAP for Stream System Management and Maintenance

“EAP is the culmination of a systems-oriented approach, the evolution of which extends over three decades. It has been a building blocks process to get from where we started with an idea in the 1990s, to where we are today with a methodology and metrics for maintenance and management of stream systems,” continued Tim Pringle.

“The essence of EAP is expressed as follows: What is the environment that supports the “package of ecological services” in a stream corridor? This term refers to the combined range of uses desired and supported by the community, namely – drainage, habitat, recreation, and enjoyment of property. This is a land use perspective.”

“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. EAP uses BC Assessment data to find the NCA values of streams. BC Assessment parcel data are accurate, recent, and reflect the motivations of buyers and sellers over time. This means parcel values include social, ecological, and financial trend information.”

“The NCA value, a measure of the Riparian Deficit, provides environmental planners with a starting point for conversations with engineers and accountants about the services that natural and constructed assets both provide.”

EAP supports local governments that intend to include stream systems in asset management calculations and the maintenance and management, or M&M, of drainage services. Through use of EAP, local governments can make a financial case for stream systems. The provincial umbrella for EAP is Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework.”

BC Framework Incentivizes Changes in Practice:

“Eligibility for senior government infrastructure grants is the incentive for local governments to embrace the BC Framework and thus fulfil this Living Water Smart policy objective: Governments will develop new protocols for capital planning that will look at the life-cycle costs and benefits of buildings, goods and services. EAP is a game changer,” concluded Kim Stephens.

What is Green Infrastructure, Really?

Released in January, a nationwide analysis of 122 plans from 20 United States cities found that many plans fail to explicitly define green infrastructure. When they do, concluded the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, they tend to focus on stormwater management, favouring engineered facilities over parks and larger urban green spaces. The study is the first systematic review of the use and definition of the green infrastructure concept in local government plans in the United States. The findings may also be viewed as applicable to Canada.

The nationwide survey of plans was by Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski, as part of a larger project examining the equity of green infrastructure planning led by two senior scientists (Dr. Steward Pickett and Dr. Timon McPhearson). Originally seeking to identify how cities plan for green infrastructure, the survey was confronted with a diversity of plan types and green infrastructure concepts.

This unexpected diversity required the elaboration of three lines of analysis: the types of local government plans that define green infrastructure, how it is defined, the types of things considered part of green infrastructure, along with its functions and benefits.


To read the complete story published on February 15th 2022, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Design With Nature Framework for Integrating Across Infrastructure Systems.

This legacy  document in the Living Water Smart Series has two parts. Part 1 delves into the “story behind the news release” to understand what the nationwide analysis revealed. It highlights from a conversation with “Dr. Z” and Tim Pringle, Chair of the Partnership’s Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) initiative. Part 2 introduces the idea of the “green infrastructure continuum”.