Rainwater Management in a Watershed Context – What’s the Goal?
Note to Reader:
In its November-December 2010 issue, Stormwater magazine launched the Green Infrastructure & Community Design Series. Articles in the series have been contributed by members of the Rainwater-in-Context Initative. Led by Paul Crabtree, a Colorado-based engineer, the initiative works to institute rainwater management practices that strengthen and fully complement “new urbanism” at all scales.
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.
The most recent article in the series was co-authored by Kim Stephens and Jim Dumont, Canadian contributors to the Rainwater-inh-Context Initiative. The article elaborates on how science-based understanding has informed the process for moving from awareness to action in British Columbia.
“Their article, “Rainwater Management in a Watershed Context” is a thoughtful review of the divergent goals of rainwater management in the US and Canada written from a British Columbia perspective,” states the CNU’s Michael Carney in his rainwater blog.
Responsible Rainwater Management
In both Canada and the United States, there is a growing green infrastructure movement. This reflects a heightened public awareness of the need to build our communities differently. Also, land use and infrastructure professionals increasingly appreciate that effective green infrastructure is at the heart of responsible rainwater management.
The View From British Columbia
“The article is written from a British Columbia perspective,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. “The article connects the dots between recent developments in the United States, such as A Strategic Agenda to Protect Waters and Build More Livable Communities Through Green Infrastructure released by the United States EPA in April 2011, and comparable initiatives that have been underway in British Columbia for the past decade.”
“While land use and infrastructure professionals are using a similar vocabulary on both sides of the border, our goals appear different. The apparent divergence has significant implications for rainwater management in a watershed context.”
“The approach we have taken in British Columbia differs from that of the EPA due to the nature of the root problems being solved,” continues Jim Dumont. “The critical issue in British Columbia is the damage and loss of habitat caused by development and erosion of the headwater streams. The focus is in direct response to Canada’s Fisheries Act that prohibits damage of fish habitat.”
“EPA has focussed upon water quality in the main stems and coastal waters and seeks to restore the resources of those waters through the goals and objectives of the Clean Water Act.”
Stimulating a Cross-Border Dialogue
“We hope that the article will stimulate a cross-border discussion on the relative effectiveness of an educational versus prescriptive approach to leading and implementing change,” states Jim Dumont.
“This is a bountiful article with a number of provocative statements,” comments Laurence Aurbach, a founding member of the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative. He is an independent editor and researcher specializing in urban planning and design, new urbanism, and smart growth topics.
Is EPA Moving in the Right Direction?
“Dumont and Stephens acknowledge the landmark research done by Richard Horner and Chris May at the Center for Urban Water Resources Management at the University of Washington in 1996. Their research rattled the conventional wisdom of rainwater management of the time,” writes Michael Carney.
“Horner and May identified four factors that negatively affect stream health. In rank order they were: (1) Changes in hydrology; (2) Disturbance and/or loss of integrity of riparian corridor; (3) Degradation and/or loss of aquatic habitat within the stream; and (4) Deterioration of water quality.”
“The two key messages delivered by this research was that (1) fish would already be gone by the time pollutant loading is a factor; and (2) if we get the hydrology right, water quality will typically take care of itself.”
“Policymakers in Canada and particularly British Columbia have taken this research to heart in regards to planning for watershed health. The authors lament the US EPA’s focus on water quality, but see hints of the Agency moving in the right direction in recent years with the release of such reports as the National Lakes Assessment and A Strategic Agenda to Protect Waters and Build More Livable Communities Through Green Infrastructure.”
“Dumont and Stephen’s notion that ‘land development and watershed protection can be compatible’ is right in line with the CNU’s Rainwater-In-Context Initiative,“ concludes Michael Carney.
About the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative
“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 Paul Crabtree.
“That one-size-fits all sites approach often ignores the watershed scale, and can have unintended negative consequences in regards to infill, redevelopment, 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.”
To Learn More:
To read two stories posted previously on the Water Bucket website, and featuring Paul Crabtree, click on:
- Cross-Border Alignment: Connecting the Dots Between Land Use Planning, Development, Watershed Health AND Infrastructure Management
- REPORT FROM STORMCON 2011: “Changing the Rules: How Will New Stormwater Regulations Affect Municipal Programs in the United States”
Also, click on Stormwater Magazine publishes “Green Infrastructure and Community Design Series” for the list of articles that preceded the article by Stephens and Dumont.