STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “There is a special type of courage that Council needs to have to say, ‘give us the naked truth’. There is not a lot of political up-side to shining a light on infrastructure challenges,” stated Christopher Paine, Director of Financial Services, District of Oak Bay
Note to Reader:
Every local government in British Columbia has aging municipal infrastructure. Currently, the spotlight is on constructed assets (i.e., pipes and buildings). Everyone is challenged with tackling the infrastructure funding gap (liability) that grows year-by-year. The EAP vision is to integrate stream systems into local government asset management processes. But the big picture context for EAP is whether a local government has a strategy for its constructed assets.
Embed a Sustainable Service Delivery Culture
“Every local government in British Columbia. Everyone is challenged with tackling the infrastructure funding gap. This over-arching context is defined by a local government finance strategy that produces a Sustainable Funding Plan. ‘The vision’ establishes the reason to embrace EAP. ‘The plan’ is the lynchpin for progressing step-by-step along the Asset Management Continuum,” explains Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability.
“Success over the long-term depends on local government political commitment to the guiding principles of sustainable service delivery. The infrastructure funding gap is a pressing reality, with profound implications for levels of service. It also poses affordability challenges for financing a long-term program of replacement and/or renewal.”
“Once all is said and done, however, the ‘sustainable infrastructure mission’ has two clear objectives: stem the incremental erosion of levels of service in the short-term; and translate an intergenerational perspective into a life-cycle plan of action for perpetual infrastructure renewal.”
“District of Oak Bay experience is helpful in gaining perspective on what is involved in building trust and facilitating a process that results in everyone pointing in the right direction strategically. A unique aspect for Oak Bay is that the engineering and finance departments are so much in lockstep on a unified vision for sustainable service delivery.”
There is no free infrastructure
“Communities that have not embedded sustainable service delivery concepts into their funding structure are playing major catchup. And this is at a cost to the community of foregone investment revenues and debt servicing costs,” emphasizes Oak Bay’s Christopher Paine.
“In the first phases of a community’s development, it feels like you have free infrastructure. When someone moves into a new neighbourhood which has all these wonderful capital services, it feels free because the maintenance costs on those services are so much less than they are at the end of their life cycles.”
“We must provide life-cycle information to Council and the community – as to how far we are through the life cycles of assets; what is the cost of replacement; whether we are saving, or not, for that future expense – so that policy makers can provide direction and vision.”
“A slow incremental erosion of our capital service levels happens when staff cannot demonstrate the impact in the long-term in a financial way. That is why forward looking long-term financial statements are so important to good decisions. Council is in control. They can choose to accept a slow erosion of service levels and increased risk, or not. But they cannot make that judgement in the absence of information.”
Why communities must focus on ‘Service Levels’
“If a community is happy with what it has today, static funding is not going to sustain that. The levels of service are going to decline over time. Unless we increase funding, the negative impacts of system failures are going to be felt by residents,” continues Daniel Horan, Oak Bay’s Director of Engineering and Public Works.
“Think about it from a business perspective. Discussion of the service municipalities provide really comes down to whether our customers, our residents, are happy.”
“Council and community are always asking questions about why the utility rates are what they are, or why the rates are increasing, what does that get you and so on. Answering these questions comes down to educating them about levels of service and their willingness to invest in sustaining a desired level of service.”
To Learn More:
Read the Part B of the EAP Synthesis Report which is titled: Story Behind the Story of Sustainable Drainage Service Delivery
To understand the complete story of EAP, download a copy of Ecological Accounting Process, A B.C. Strategy for Community Investment in Stream Systems (2022). This Synthesis Report is a distillation of over 1000 pages of case study documentation into a storyline that is conversational and written for a continuum of audiences that includes land use practitioners, asset managers, stream stewards, and local government decision-makers.