Cross-Border Alignment: Connecting the Dots Between Land Use Planning, Development, Watershed Health AND Infrastructure Management

Note to Readers:

The purpose of the article below is to provide a consolidated reference for a number of articles recently posted on Water Bucket. Their significance lies in the way they connect the dots between recent developments in the United States and initiatives that are underway in British Columbia.

“A key message for our British Columbia audience is that we are observing a convergence of understanding. On both sides of the 49th parallel, light bulbs are going on about the inter-connectedness of green infrastructure and water sustainability, and the implications for watershed health,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“Two recent developments in the United States have caught our attention: the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative; and the Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference held in Philadelphia.”

Rainwater-in-Context Initiative

Formed in 2010, the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative is a sub-committee of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). In the United States, the CNU is the leading organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions.

Towards Sustainable Rainwater Management

“Federal, state, and local stormwater/rainwater regulations are very site-oriented rather than watershed or context-oriented.  The stormwater/rainwater industry is making a major positive shift to source-control practices, but in so doing, are pushing the site-specific agenda,” states Colorado-based Paul Crabtree, a driving force behind the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative.

“That one-size-fits all sites approach often ignores the watershed scale, and can have unintended negative consequences in regards to infill, Paul crabtree (120p) - rainwater in context initiativeredevelopment, and compact urbanism in general. The standards are typically easily achieved on low-density site and can be quite onerous on compact urban sites.”

“A key goal of the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative is to help get the United States on the correct path for sustainable rainwater/stormwater management practices.”

Integration At All Scales

“We are working to better match rainwater/stormwater management to the development context through the integration of rainwater into all planning scales from the region to the building, and utilizing a transect-based system for regulating the metrics and forms of rainwater practices,” continues Paul Crabtree.

“Rainwater-in-Context unites New Urbanism, rainwater/stormwater and watershed management, Smart Growth, water reuse, low impact, light imprint, and other sustainable practices toward a holistic approach to rainwater that utilizes the rural-to-urban transect and Charter for the New Urbanism,” concludes Paul Crabtree.

LEED for Neighbourhood Development

The LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national system for neighborhood design. The CNU’s Rainwater-in-Context Initiative has weighed in on changes proposed to the stormwater credit — now titled Rainwater Management.

Nora beck“The credit currently applies the same storage requirements to every site regardless of its regional context or density of development,” states Nora Beck of the CNU. “This is getting in the way of good placemaking as well as reducing the potential for net improvements in overall watershed health.”

LEED-ND resulted from a collaboration of the United States Green Building Council, the CNU, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

To Learn More:

A number of related stories are posted on the Water Bucket. To access them, click on the links below:

Laurence aurbach (105p) - rainwater in context initiativeCongress for the New Urbanism (CNU) recommends changes to LEED-ND Stormwater Credit to protect watershed health Modification urged because lot-level standards alone deliver lower overall performance than holistically-planned shared systems at the community or watershed scale.

Janice kaspersen - editor, stormwater magazineFrom Stormwater to Rainwater: A Reorientation for LEED — Separate credits for stormwater quality and quantity have been combined into a single Rainwater Management credit within the Sustainable Sites category.

John norquist (120p) - president and ceo, congress for the new urbanismUnited States EPA Stormwater Rules should Acknowledge Benefits of Urbanism — It is the redevelopment of previously developed land that can lead to the net improvements in watershed health that we need. Redevelopment triggers restoration activities of the existing built environment.

Robert hicks (120p)“The way we see the world is shaped by our vocabulary,” observes Metro Vancouver’s Robert Hicks — Other languages like French and German often use more exact terms than English for ‘stormwater’ and ‘wastewater’, and this changes how relationships and worth are perceived.

British Columbia’s Patrick Condon and Kim Stephens are members of the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative. Patrick Condon is the author of Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities. Rule #7 is Invest in lighter, greener, cheaper, smarter infrastructure.

Patrick condon - seven rules for sustainable communities (500p)

Urban Water Sustainability Leadership

In December 2010, the Clean Water America Alliance brought together green infrastructure leaders from around the United States at a conference on urban water sustainability leadership. They shared innovations, strategies, and best practices, for making green infrastructure the centrepiece of the urban water world.

Holistic Watershed-Based Approaches

Launched in 2008, the Clean Water America Alliance is exploring the complex issue of water sustainability; and is advancing holistic, watershed-based approaches to water quality and quantity challenges.

“The real challenge for large cities is to get different agencies within their city on the same page,” explains Howard Neukrug, Chair of the Alliance’s Urban Water Sustainability Council.

A number of themes emerged during the conference, including: Green infrastructure has multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits, but it must work within the greater quilt of water management that includes traditional gray infrastructure.

To Learn More:

Click on Urban Leaders Showcase Green Infrastructure, Sustainability Connection at Philadelphia Conference

Click on Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference in Philadelphia: Green Infrastructure as the Centerpiece of the Urban Water World

Click on Putting Green to Work: Green Infrastructure on the Rise from Coast-to-Coast

Designing with Nature in British Columbia

In British Columbia, a provincial goal is to advance this ‘new business as usual’: settlement change that is in balance with ecology. Commencing in 2003, consistent and repeated use of the phrase ‘design with nature’ has proven effective in facilitating a paradigm-shift in the local government setting.

The phrase is borrowed from the title of a seminal book by Ian McHarg, published in 1969. He was a renowned landscape architect and writer on regional planning using natural systems. His book Design with Nature pioneered the concept of ecological planning. Ian McHarg’s premise is simple: “that the shaping of land for human use ought to be based on an understanding of natural process.”

His philosophy was rooted in an ecological sensibility that accepted the interwoven worlds of the human and the natural, and sought to more fully and intelligently design human environments in concert with the conditions of setting, climate and environment.

Hierarchy of ‘Green’ Vocabulary

To develop a common understanding plus help advance a new way-of-thinking about land development, the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia developed the following hierarchy of ‘green’ vocabulary:

  • Green Valuemeans land use strategies will accommodate settlement needs in practical ways while protecting the ecological resources upon which communities depend.
  • Design with Nature is one approach to achieve Green Value, and is supportive of community goals that relate to building social capacity.
  • Green Infrastructure is the on-the-ground application of Design with Naturestandards and practices.
  • Water Sustainability is achieved through Green Infrastructure practices that reflect a full and proper understanding of the relationship between land and water.

This cascading vocabulary was unveiled at the Creating Our Future Workshop that was held in conjunction with the Gaining Ground Summit in Victoria in June 2007.

Settlement Change in Balance With Ecology

“British Columbia communities enjoy many natural amenities that are in the resources bank and producing returns. Lakes, streams, sea coast, forests, topography, flora and fauna are assets,” writes Tim Pringle, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

Tim pringle (120p)  - 2008 photo“These assets enable communities to draw on nature for infrastructure services needed for the built environment.  By designing with nature, as it were, communities lessen and sometimes avoid the expense of engineering and building various kinds of infrastructure: “

“Settlement and ecology are equal values and they must be as much in balance as possible for wellbeing of human and natural systems. Settlement is human actitivity of any kind upon the land. It is habitation. Ecology is natural systems. It is water, climate, flora and fauna…and their relationships.”

“While we are very good at measuring settlement, mainly in financial terms, we have not been that effective in quantifying the ecological impacts. This disconnect in measuring what matters has historically resulted in an unbalanced approach when making development and infrastructure decisions.”

Linkage to Infrastructure Asset Management

“In British Columbia, we are seeing a shift in the way some engineers and planners see the world. They are connecting the dots between land use planning, development, watershed health AND infrastructure managment,” states Kim Stephens.

Kim stephens (120p) - 2006“A catalyst for holistic solutions is this financial challenge: the initial capital cost of infrastructure is about 20% of the life-cycle cost; the other 80% largely represents a future unfunded liability….because ultimately gray infrastructure must be renewed as it ages and replaced when it fails.”

“We are seeing opportunities to bring together two streams of thinking: watershed-based planning and infrastructure asset management. This is a remarkable shift.”

To Learn More:

To read an article by Tim Pringle that elaborates on a ‘design with nature’ approach, click on The Most Efficient Infrastructure is ‘Design with Nature’ – Start With Water Sustainability. Also, click on the links below for more information about what is happening in British Columbia in the local government setting:

British Columbia’s Living Water Smart and Green Communities initiatives are encouraging ‘green’ choices that facilitate a holisitic approach to infrastructure asset management: Start with effective green infrastructure and restore environmental values within the urban fabric over time.