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)


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.

The road map for protecting stream system integrity – an outcome of seminal research at the Center for Urban Water Resources Management in Seattle – is the inspiration for the Twin Pillars Concept for linking “water balance accounting” and “ecological accounting” through asset management.

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

In 2015, EAP was an idea. The methodology and metrics recognize the importance of the stream in the landscape. It has been a 6-year journey to test, refine and mainstream the EAP methodology and metrics through a building blocks program of applied research.

Water Balance Accounting, pillar number one, addresses changes on the land draining to the stream. Ecological Accounting, pillar number two, addresses changes within a stream corridor. Integration of the two is the goal.

Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework provides local governments with an incentive to go down this path. The provincial expectation is that local governments would integrate “natural assets” into asset management processes. EAP shows them how to do it for stream systems and water assets such as wetlands.

An Asset is an Asset

Whether constructed or natural, an asset is an asset. And in the built environment, each asset type requires a budget for maintenance and management (M&M). The desired outcome is that BC local governments would apply EAP metrics to establish annual budgets for stream corridor systems.

Stream M&M would then be a line item within an Asset Management Strategy that accounts for both constructed and natural assets.

EAP is a Land Use Perspective

The strength of EAP is in how it looks at and values streams as systems and as a land use. A stream corridor is a land use because stream setbacks are defined in regulation. Also, a proxy financial value is readily determined from the BC Assessment database.

EAP is made possible by the Riparian Areas Protection Regulation Act. The regulation defines the setback zone as a land use. Originally titled the Fish Protection Act when it was enacted in July 1997, the Act established a first in North America. In 2016, it was renamed the Riparian Areas Protection Regulation Act by the Water Sustainability Act.

BC Assessment land parcel values 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 Bottom-Line 

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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