University of British Columbia Brings Rainwater Management Science into the Community
Tree Canopy Research Project engages Clovelly-Caulfeild Neighbourhood in West Vancouver
Collaboration between researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Greater Vancouver region’s three North Shore municipalities — North Vancouver District, North Vancouver City, and the District of West Vancouver — has opened the door to a long-term partnership to bring science into the community. Clovelly-Caulfeild in West Vancouver is the first North Shore neighbourhood to step forward and participate in the UBC Tree Canopy Interception Research Project. Clovelly-Caulfeild is situated in the western end of the municipality.
Project Overview: Precedent-Setting
The purpose of the project is to quantify the proportion of rainfall intercepted by the tree canopy in an urban forest. According to Dr. Markus Weiler, the lead researcher for the Tree Canopy Interception Project and the Chair of Forest Hydrology at UBC, “While considerable research has been undertaken in forest stands in the natural environment, very little has been done in an urban setting anywhere in North America. One of our research interests is to determine the effectiveness of a single tree versus that for a cluster of trees. We will explore and quantify the variables influencing the interception process. We will also investigate the effects of tree density, tree structure and tree species on rainfall interception.”
Breadth of Partnership
The project is precedent-setting, both in terms of the research scope and the coalition of funders. The Province of British Columbia, the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia funded the project start-up. When the University of British Columbia recently obtained a research grant from the Canadian Water Network, this brought a national focus to the project.
A total of 60 stations have been installed across the North Shore. Five are located on private properties on three streets in the Clovelly-Caulfeild area of West Vancouver. Another seven stations have been established in the old growth forest in nearby Lighthouse Park.
Introduction to Clovelly-Caulfeild Neighbourhood
Clovelly-Caulfeild is distinguished from most other West Vancouver neighbourhoods because it has a recorded history that dates back to the late 1800s. Furthermore, the form of development for more than 100 years has reflected and respected the ‘design with nature’ vision of the man who founded this community, namely: Francis Caulfeild. (Photo credit: West Vancouver Archives. See note at bottom). An Englishman of independent means, a scholar and lover of nature, Francis Caulfeild was West Vancouver’s first planner and developer. For more information on Francis Caulfeild and his principles and practices, please click here.
North Shore Inter-Municipal Partnership
An inter-municipal coordinating team developed tree/site selection criteria and, with the assistance of Dr. Markus Weiler, developed an innovative system for capturing rain that makes it through the tree canopy. “There is a human interest side to this part of the story”, adds the District of North Vancouver’s Richard Boase (the team leader), “The District of North Vancouver partnered with the North Shore Mentally Handicapped Association to mass produce the wooden support structures for the tree canopy climate stations. The District was really gratified to see this partnership featured prominently in the North Shore News. We truly can say there is broad-based North Shore community participation when you consider this in combination with what is happening in Clovelly-Caulfield.”
To Learn More:
To learn more about the involvement of the North Shore Mentally Handicapped Association, click on District of North Vanouver Partners with North Shore Association for the Mentally Handicapped to Build Tree Canopy Climate Stations.
Clovelly-Caulfeild: An Overview
Clovelly-Caulfield has a forested setting. Development along natural contours and siting of homes ‘amidst nature’ has been the defining characteristic of the neighbourhood. Other character-defining elements of Clovelly-Caulfeild include: varied topography and natural rock outcroppings; a system of small parks, trails and open spaces; varied lot shapes and sizes; and buildings of diverse architectural styles, that ‘fit’ with the natural setting. Streetscapes – the roads and boulevards – narrow and winding in the older parts, are an important element of the neighbourhood’s character, providing the public realm.
The impetus for participation of Clovelly-Caulfeild residents in the UBC project is an outcome of a neighbourhood planning process. Recent redevelopment has altered considerably some existing streetscapes and landforms. Historically, drainage has not been an issue in the Clovelly-Caulfeild area. But this has changed – as trees have been removed, drainage has emerged as a problem under both rainy weather and drought conditions. The pervasive effects of not ‘designing with nature’ have been becoming more and more visible, and have been extending across a larger and larger area.
According to Paddy Sherman, Chair of the Council-appointed Clovelly-Caulfeild Neighourhood Plan Working Group, “We are impressed by the innovative and easy-to-install system that Dr. Markus Weiler of UBC and Richard Boase of North Vancouver District have developed for capturing rain that makes it through the tree canopy. The community volunteers are excited to play a part in this project. This on-the-ground research by UBC will inform the neighbourhood planning process by bringing science into the discussion of the role that trees play in the urban environment. It will also advance the state-of-the-practice in rainwater management.”
Sustainable Future: West Vancouver’s Business Plan
The Clovelly-Caulfeild neighbourhood planning process was undertaken by the District of West Vancouver as a pilot project under the terms of the Official Community Plan, focusing particularly on the “built form and neighbourhood character” policies as described in the Official Community Plan.
The over-arching framework for the Clovelly-Caulfeild process is described in a document titled Sustainable Future, which lays out West Vancouver’s 3 Year Corporate Business Plan for the period 2006-2008. The Business Plan identifies five sustainability priorities. Under the Governance priority, “Design with Nature “is defined as a Council goal, with implementation to be undertaken over a two-year period:
- Council envisioned the updating of “development policies (blasting, soil replacement and removal, slope treatment, retaining walls, tree removal) to ensure that housing development respects the natural environment wherever possible and supports community sustainability goals”.
- Council designated the Clovelly-Caulfeild Neighbourhood Plan as a means of identifying pilot changes to Council policies and bylaws that may be applicable to other areas of the District.
- Council anticipated that the experience gained and the lessons learned from the Clovelly-Caulfeild process would become input into the Community Dialogue on housing choice and character, leading to implementation of appropriate changes to community-wide bylaws and policies.
The report of the Clovelly-Caulfeild Working Group highlighted that drainage impacts are cascading and risks to property and creek systems will be magnified as the Clovelly-Caulfeild housing stock is replaced over time, one property at a time. Therefore, the Working Group recommended implementation of a science-based approach that quantifies the benefits of the tree canopy and landscape-based solutions in preventing the creation of rainwater runoff. “The goal is ‘no net increase’ in runoff volume after redevelopment of individual properties”, notes Paddy Sherman.
The Right Trees in the Right Places
The genesis for the UBC Tree Canopy Interception Research Project was provided by the initial collaboration between UBC and an Inter-Governmental Partnership in 2005 to develop a ‘Tree Canopy Module’ for the web-based Water Balance Model for British Columbia. This online tool calculates annual runoff volumes under different combinations of building coverage , rainfall, soil type and depth, tree canopy coverage, and source controls. To complement the Water Balance Model, West Vancouver and the other Greater Vancouver municipalities commissioned a set of Source Control Guidelines for landscape-based solutions for reducing rainwater runoff volumes.
At the time of initiating the Tree Canopy Module, Ted van der Gulik (Chair of the Inter-Governmental Partnership) stated that: “For the past three
years we have been educating practitioners and others on the importance of soil depth as a rainwater management tool. Looking ahead, implementation of the Tree Canopy Module is the first step in developing a similar science-based understanding regarding the benefits of maintaining a tree canopy in the urban environment.”
The UBC research project will directly inform urban planning in neighbourhoods such as Clovelly-Caulfeild, and will be used to populate the Water Balance Model with rainfall interception data. According to Dr. Markus Weiler:
- “In theory, it is highly probable that interception losses of a tree that stands in an urban setting is larger compared to a tree within a forest stand. There may be even an optimum of tree density and structure whereby the interception is largest for a certain tree density.If this density can be determined, or even the relation of tree density to interception loss, local governments could provide urban developers with guidance as to how many trees need to be maintained within a residential lot to maintain a certain interception effect.This observation underscores the importance of maintaining some tree cover on residential lots. Also, it leads one to articulate the counter-intuitive argument that fewer trees is actually better from a rainwater management perspective – provided there is still a reasonable canopy.”
Tree canopy interception is the process of storing precipitation temporarily in the canopy and releasing it slowly to the ground and back to the atmosphere. It is an important component of the water balance, easily accounting for up to 35% of gross annual precipitation. Removing trees will in general decrease interception and thus increase annual runoff and rainwater runoff. Vegetation also reduces rainfall intensity due to the temporal storage effect.
Acknowledgements and Links:
The following documents on the Clovelly-Caulfeild Neighbourhood Planning Process can be downloaded by clicking on the links:
- Final Working Group Recommendations, January 2007
- Rainwater Management: Context for Designing with Nature, January 2007
Photo Credit: West Vancouver Archives photo (004.WVA.CAU) of Francis William Caulfeild seated outside the Pilot House, Caulfeild, BC, circa 1923.