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.
BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK 2022 / FINANCIAL CASE FOR STREAMS: “Green infrastructure state-of-the-art in the United States is now close to where the BC state-of-the-art was in 2005” – based on an interview with Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski, lead researcher for the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, this is the key takeaway from the first systematic review of the use and definition of the green infrastructure concept in local government plans in the United States
“There are a lot of ‘greening’ and sustainability initiatives, but they are not conceptually unified. They are neither thought about in terms of interdependencies nor systemically. We had this moment of realization about the diversity of plans when it clicked in our minds about analyzing all the plans in terms of three big buckets: something that is very stormwater-focused, something that is very land-focused, and something that is trying to integrate the two. In the process, we started to uncover this grain of systems thinking within green infrastructure planning,” stated Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski.
ARTICLE: “EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, considers the entirety of the stream corridor system—a ‘natural commons’—and seeks to ensure that streams survive in an urban or urbanizing setting, without suffering from degradation of stream channels and streamside riparian setback zones” (Water Canada magazine, May-June 2022)
“I reached out to Kim Stephens of the Partnership for Water Sustainability BC with an invitation to share more about the people, policy, and projects in BC, through penning an article for Water Canada magazine and sharing of relevant information. I am very keen on showcasing real world water projects, and the people whose lives they impact, with our national audience. The Ecological Accounting Process is a topic the Water Canada audience would really benefit from and that is why we featured it in the May-June 2022 issue,” stated Jen Smith, magazine editor.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROECESS: “Because local governments need real numbers to deliver outcomes, we landed on a concept which we call the Riparian Deficit,” stated Tim Pringle, EAP Chair (Waterbucket eNews, June 2022)
“It is amazing that we have been able to produce a methodology that defines what a stream is, can find the value of the stream using impartial BC Assessment data, and add to that a riparian assessment that looks at the 30m zone and a further 200m upland area to evaluate the water balance condition and what is happening to water pathways,” stated Tim Pringle. “Because local governments need real numbers to deliver outcomes, we landed on a concept which we call the Riparian Deficit. This expresses three measures of value in a single number.”
SYNTHESIS REPORT ON ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS, A BC STRATEGY FOR COMMUNITY INVESTMENT IN STREAM SYSTEMS: “The EAP story is about a journey, one that began circa 1990. Three decades later, parallel tracks have converged in the form of EAP. It has been a building blocks process,” stated Kim Stephens when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released a guidance document flowing from a 6-year program of applied research (June 2022)
“Know your history. Understand the context. These are key thoughts, and they provide perspective for the story of EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, as told in the Synthesis Report. EAP provides local governments with the philosophy, methodology and metrics they need to make the financial case for stream systems. Maintenance and management (M&M) of stream systems can now be integrated into a Local Government Finance Strategy for sustainable infrastructure funding. The 6-year program of applied research to test, refine and mainstream EAP provides local government with a path forward to address the Riparian Deficit,” stated Kim Stephens.
LAND DEVELOPMENT AND WATERSHED PROTECTION CAN BE COMPATIBLE: “1997, a presentation on the science of land use change by Kim Stephens and Bill Derry helped an inter-ministry working group realize that we needed more than a setback to protect aquatic habitat. The science shows that communities also need to tackle what is happening on the land that drains to streams,” stated Peter Law, Chair of the former Guidebook Steering Committee, on the 20th anniversary of Guidebook publication (June 2022)
“I found the opportunity to ‘look beyond the stream’ and address poor water quality from drainage runoff in the Waste Management Act. The opportunity resided in the non-point source provision for Liquid Waste Management Plans. The term non-point source pollution was used by my colleagues in the Waste Management Branch to highlight poor quality of runoff from developed and/or developing lands. But this provision was not being applied to the issue of how land is developed. So, I asked my colleagues, why not use this mechanism to connect the dots between changes to the land and impacts on streams,” stated Peter Law.
APPLICATION OF EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “Through the EAP work, the concept of ‘Riparian Deficit’ in the natural commons area highlights the shared responsibility of rural and urban landowners to maintain Bertrand Creek, an important asset in the Township of Langley,” stated Melisa Gunn, Agricultural Planner with the Township of Langley in the Metro Vancouver region
The EAP focus on Bertrand occurs in a framework of policy and actions which protect the environment and natural assets. “Township staff are working on a long-term Ecological Services Initiative program. The EAP analysis will be used to establish the baseline funding for payment to farmers. We are also planning on sharing the EAP results with the Township’s Asset Management Planning team for use in their natural assets inventory. In the future, we can use EAP to expand the program to other watersheds. Overall, the EAP findings support Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery,” stated Melisa Gunn.
YOUTUBE VIDEO: “In researching tools for local governments to manage natural assets, we discovered EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process initiative, and were intrigued by both their focus on stakeholder collaboration and their unique and straightforward method of valuation,” stated Judy O’Leary, Network Coordinator for the Climate Caucus (May 2022)
“The Climate Caucus is really interested in learning about local government staff experience with EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, and other approaches to managing natural assets. The goal of our project is to provide our elected members with a better understanding of this area. how much of this work could local govt staff do themselves? Where could they get data and outside help if needed? Could small places with minimal capacity manage this? Could it apply to natural assets other than riverine habitats? How is it different from MNAI’s approach?” stated Judy O’Leary.
COLLABORATION, CAPACITY, CULTURE AND COUNCIL: “Implementing asset management can happen at every level in local government. But to effectively achieve organization-wide Sustainable Service Delivery it must be led by the CAO and supported by Councils and Boards,” stated David Allen, Past- Chair (2012-2020) Asset Management BC Community-of-Practice
“Collaborating with external agencies opened our minds to thinking of AM practices in far broader terms, so that they might be applied in any community, regardless of size. We didn’t realize it, at the time, but it led to us eventually conclude that operationalizing AM would involve four separate, interconnected initiatives that would be the pathway for our journey toward Sustainable Service Delivery: They coalesced into what we locally refer to as The 4C’s – Collaboration, Capacity, Culture, and Council,” stated David Allen.
AVOID THE PAIN, BE DELIBERATE, FUND THE PLAN: “Different local governments will always be at different points and different levels of maturity along the asset management continuum. This is why we focus on outcomes and do not prescribe what to do in BC,” stated Glen Brown, Chair of Asset Management BC
Glen Brown coined the term Sustainable Service Delivery in 2010. He synthesized three themes – financial accountability, infrastructure sustainability, service delivery – into an easy to remember phrase. “My inspiration came from Guy Felio. He said, ‘It’s all about the service’, because infrastructure/ assets are worthless IF they do not provide a service. That is what resonated with me. Also, Guy Felio said, for any asset management approach to be successful, it must not focus on the infrastructure asset by itself. That way-of-thinking applies to nature and the environment as well,” stated Glen Brown.
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)
“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. 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, the most important is stream systems because they provide a ‘package of ecological services’ – drainage, habitat, recreation, and enjoyment of property. Streams are a major focus for community involvement,” stated Kim Stephens.