What is “Green Infrastructure”? – Looking back to understand the origin, meaning and use of the term in British Columbia
“Two complementary strategies can ‘green’ a community and its infrastructure: first, preserving as much as possible of the natural green infrastructure; and secondly, promoting designs that soften the footprint of development,” wrote Susan Rutherford. “Green infrastructure design is engineering design that takes a ‘design with nature’ approach, to both mitigate the potential impacts of existing and future development and growth and to provide valuable services.”
“The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia is the keeper of the GIP legacy,” observes Paul Ham, a Past-Chair of the Green Infrastructure Partnership
“I see my years of chairing the Green Infrastructure Partnership as helping to get the ball rolling and ideas disseminated, on green infrastructure, all of which has subsequently been taken up by others to a much greater degree of implementation and success. Our efforts a decade ago moved the state of-the-art of green infrastructure to a more mainstream level,” said Paul Ham.
ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Asset management reduces my risk and gives me confidence so I can focus on optimization, performance and efficiency at the Wastewater Treatment Plant,” stated Anna Agnew, the Town of Gibson’s level 4 lead operator, in an article written for the Asset Management BC Newsletter (October 2021)
“Imagine yourself as the lead water and wastewater operator at your organization. At the front lines of it all managing or preventing failures, one after the other. You know the system inside and out and have grown a professional pride and ownership over the system. However, potential mechanical failure or permit violation is always on your mind. You know you need a better system in place than you have,” stated Anna Agnew. “We had the right combination of the people on the team, the right support and tools at the right time, a clear road map we set up, leadership’s support, and a stubbornness and commitment to the end goal. We started small.”
ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Experience with a great many consultants over the past 20 years reveals that in the absence of client stated clearly defined parameters, most consultants tend to default to cookie cutter report formats,” wrote Joe McGowan, Director of Public Works (retired) with the City of Cranbrook, in an article written for the Asset Management BC Newsletter (October 2021)
“The majority of consultant asset management (AM) related reports describe a catastrophic scenario where the municipality is in a crisis situation due to large portions of its infrastructure deemed to be past its useful life. The reports often communicate the need for immediate replacement of assets at costs that are multiples, if not tens of multiples of the municipality’s annual capital budget. So, why is this occurring? Municipal governments are not providing outside consultants with clear direction as to the nature of the problem being explored and the specific details required by the client of any analysis,” stated Joe McGowan.
SHARED RESPONSIBILITY EXPLAINED: “Policy and legal tools can help developers, regulators and designers collaborate to implement green infrastructure solutions and ensure responsible outcomes. Each party in the process has a responsibility,” stated Susan Rutherford, former Legal Counsel with West Coast Environmental Law, during capacity-building presentations delivered under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan in the first decade of the 2000s
“If someone says something is not working – that barriers prevent success – then our challenge for them is: Think about what would make it work, and what are you going to do to make that alignment of goals happen? Our theme is ‘imagine’. Once we know what we want our watersheds and neighbourhoods to look like, the next step is to decide what the tools are that will get us there. What this underlines is that we are all interconnected – our actions influence whether others will succeed, and our own achievement of goals is influenced by how we’re supported,” stated Susan Rutherford.
ADAPTING ASSET MANAGEMENT TO CLIMATE REALITIES: “Climate change impacts are risks which can be addressed by aligning asset lifecycles to performance or change thresholds which consider how levels-of-service are likely to deteriorate in response to climate changes impacts. Lifecycles must therefore be considered and re-aligned with the new changing ‘normal’ conditions,” stated Robert Hicks, Senior Policy and Process Engineer, City of Vancouver (November 2021)
A constant challenge for planning is not to prevent past events, but instead is to use past experiences to inform and create flexible strategies for the present and the future. Furthermore, this need for flexibility is not restricted to the immediate scope of the problem at hand; but must also consider the broader juggling of evolving local government priorities and service demands This leads to the challenge of assessing problems with sufficient complexity to arrive at flexible and resilient solutions. while at the same time not being overwhelmed and paralyzed by over-analysis,” stated Robert Hicks.
REPORT ON: “Bowker Creek – A Natural Commons in the Capital Regional District: Using the Ecological Accounting Process to Establish the Financial Case for the Stream” – the sixth in the series of EAP demonstration application projects undertaken as part of a multi-year program of applied research by the Partnership for Water Sustainability (October 2021)
“Decision-making is the key. In the City of Victoria, we are creating new ways of making decisions about what we do with our assets, whether they be natural or hard. Embracing EAP would introduce a structured asset planning approach. It provides metrics for integrating natural assets into the municipal infrastructure inventory and place them on an equal footing with constructed/engineered assets. This provides a starting point for a balanced conversation about the services that the natural and constructed assets both provide. EAP will be used for Bowker Creek, and for future planning and decision-making,” stated Trina Buhler.
EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS, IS GAME-CHANGING: “EAP provides communities with a philosophy, pragmatic methodology and metrics to make the financial case for annual investment to prevent degradation and improve the condition of ecological assets that constitute a stream corridor system,” stated Kim Stephens, when the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC released its report on the Financial Case for Bowker Creek in the Capital Regional District (October 2021)
“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). Once local governments embrace a guiding philosophy that ecological services and use of land for development are equally important, then the next step is for them to include M&M budgets for stream systems in their Asset Management Plans. This would begin the process of reconnecting hydrology and stream ecology by design.” stated Kim Stephens.
DEMONSTRATION APPLICATION OF ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: Bowker Creek in the Capital Regional District, completed in October 2021
“Asset management and ecological frameworks are merging closer than ever before. This is good news as Saanich continues to catalogue and valuate storm water natural assets with the intent of establishing resources to steward both hard, linear infrastructure and natural systems alike. Modern asset methodologies can sync well with other frameworks, such as EAP, which provides additional tools and metrics to improve maintenance and management across the District, and in collaboration with our regional partners on such initiatives as the Bowker Creek Initiative,” stated Lesley Hatch.
EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS, IS GAME-CHANGING: “With all the talk about integrating natural assets into asset management, the players forget that nature is a system. They focus too much on specific aspects of the system, rather than its interrelated functions,” stated Tim Pringle, EAP Chair, when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released a downloadable resource about the EAP program as part of its Living Water Smart Series (October 19, 2021)
“Once communities make the mental transition to view ecological services as core local government services, the change in mind-set should lead to this question: how can we do things better? EAP interweaves financial, social, and ecological perspectives within a single number to establish the financial case for a stream corridor system. This aggregate number 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,” stated Tim Pringle.
IN MEMORIAM: “The University of Sheffield’s John Henneberry (1952-2021) was a source of inspiration for me when we were initially developing the methodology and metrics for EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process. He identified the same methodological problems that we experienced in quantifying the financial value of ecological services. Natural systems do not dissect conveniently in order to be quantified and given financial value,” stated Tim Pringle, EAP Chair (October 2021)
The range of issues John Henneberry (1952-2021) tackled was formidable. He worked alongside botanists, hydrologists, psychologists as well as economists, political scientists, geographers, planners and landscape architects, impressing all colleagues with his keenness to work with them and to grasp debates in other disciplines. He was especially good at motivating colleagues and bringing them together to work on socially relevant research. His approach was an inspiration to all. It was also why John was a great teacher and much admired by all his students.
COMMUNICATING WITH PLAIN LANGUAGE IS A GUIDING PRINCIPLE: “What I am trying to discover in my thesis is what are the existing trends in urban stormwater policy within developed cities. One area I am particularly interested in is communication, or the lack thereof,” stated Charles Axelesson, PhD candidate, University of Venice
“A lot of fantastic studies are misinterpreted outside of scientific circles because the language, style and meaning of science writing is very different to non-specialists. With climate change studies, this can lead to a serious disconnect between climate change policy and the supporting research. With other stakeholders also invested in management, good policy is reliant on strong communication of everyone’s interests. I am trying to take these competing voices and understand how these groups’ visions of future stormwater management differ from each other,” stated Charles Axelsson.