ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE DRAINAGE SERVICE DELIVERY: “The stream is the natural component of the municipal ‘drainage service’. The elephant in the room is the unfunded liability for urban stream stabilization and restoration. The ‘drainage service’ is the neglected service and the cost of neglect grows over time,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC (May 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; and embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land, fish, and water in altered landscapes.
The edition published on May 10, 2022 addressed the question, what does “managing natural assets” actually mean in a municipal asset management context? Local governments need real numbers to deliver outcomes. EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, meets this test by providing a number that can be incorporated in an annual Asset Management Budget for stream system maintenance.
Natural Asset Management: Cutting Through the Rhetoric
Management of “natural assets” within a local government’s Asset Management Strategy is an idea whose time has come. This statement sounds good but what does “managing natural assets” actually mean in the local government setting?
Rhetoric without meaningful context or content is not helpful. In this edition, we cut through the rhetoric. How concepts are explained is crucial. Use plain language. What is easily understood and can be measured gets implemented.
Visualize a Monday night meeting of a municipal Council and reflect on how Councils make decisions. The mindset and focus of Councillors are on what happens at the parcel scale. Also, how do you get buy-in from a Council for the add-on cost of “natural asset management” when local governments are already grappling with the financial challenges associated with the “infrastructure deficit” for watermains, sanitary sewers and roads?
To help a continuum of audiences come to grips with the questions as posed, the visual shown above distils five cascading concepts. These underpin EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process. The visual is a mind-map for what follows in this edition of Waterbucket eNews.
EAP expresses stream system maintenance and management (M&M) as a measurable metric, the Riparian Deficit, which is the environmental equivalent of the Infrastructure Deficit. The riparian deficit is a measure of “loss of riparian integrity” due to land use intrusion into the regulated streamside setback zone.
EAP puts the environmental perspective on an equal footing with the engineering and accounting perspectives and thus bridges a gap.
“Words matter. In the local government setting, what is a natural asset, really? It is a vague term that has become a buzz word that is not helpful,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.
“Why not use plain language that creates a mental picture? Stream corridor systems, parks, and conservation areas – these are land uses that constitute “natural assets”. From a municipal asset management perspective, however, which is the most important, and why?”
“The answer is stream corridor systems because they provide a ‘package of ecological services’ – drainage, habitat, recreation, and enjoyment of property. Streams are a major focus for community involvement. Consider how much work stewardship groups do to improve conditions in streams. We can all visualize what a stream looks like. How intuitively obvious is the generic phrase ‘natural asset’? “
“The stream is the natural component of the municipal ‘drainage service’. The elephant in the room is the unfunded liability for urban stream stabilization and restoration. The “drainage service” is the neglected service and the cost of neglect grows over time.”
“The context for EAP is protection and restoration of stream systems. Two questions set the stage for EAP. First, what is the stream worth to the community? Secondly, how would a municipality operationalize EAP to pay for stream M&M? Three levels-of-understanding provide a frame of reference for EAP analyses.”
Asset Management for Sustainable Drainage Service Delivery
“If we know how to do a much better job of protecting ecological features and stream systems in our communities and on our landscape, then why aren’t communities doing a better job? Why are streams still being degraded? How do we change that?”
“The EAP program supports local governments that: one, intend to adopt an integrated approach to life-cycle maintenance and management (M&M) of the ‘drainage service’; and two, recognize that the drainage service comprises two inter-connected components, namely, constructed infrastructure and the stream system.”
“EAP is one of the ‘twin pillars’ for Asset Management for Sustainable Drainage Service Delivery and has evolved through an applied research program involving multiple local governments in southwest BC.”
Twin Pillars for Stream System Integrity: Historical Context
EAP has its origins in the 1990s “salmon crisis” in the Georgia Basin / Salish Sea / Puget Sound Bioregion. Listing of Coho salmon as an endangered species in Puget Sound was a catalyst for cross-border collaboration between BC and Washington State.
Richard Horner, Chris May, and others applied a systems approach, examined the interaction of all the variables, and correlated land use changes with impacts on stream system condition. They defined four limiting factors in order of priority. These factors provide the road map for action to protect and/or restore stream integrity.
Road Map for Protecting Stream Integrity
The top two factors are changes in hydrology on the land draining to the stream, and loss of riparian integrity (i.e., “the riparian deficit”) due to removal of vegetation and woodlands within a stream corridor.
The consequences of changes to the top two factors play out as degradation of aquatic habitat (#3) and deterioration of water quality (#4).
In 2015, the Horner and May “road map” led the Partnership for Water Sustainability to develop the “twin pillars” concept for reconnecting hydrology and stream ecology through asset management, for the “drainage service”.
Asset Management Context for EAP
Local governments need real numbers to deliver outcomes. Because the stream corridor is a land use, EAP defines the regulated zone as the Natural Commons Asset (NCA). This foundation has two primary metrics or measures.
The NCA financial value is expressed as $ per km of stream length; the annual M&M budget is 1% of the NCA value consistent with accepted practice for constructed assets.
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