Historical Importance of SmartStorm Forums (1999-2001): Series was the Catalyst for Looking at Rainfall Differently in British Columbia
Genesis for SmartStorm Forum Series
Circa 2000, the SmartStorm Forum Series comprised events on Vancouver Island (Nanaimo in January 1999) and the Sunshine Coast (Sechelt in September 1999), and in the Fraser Valley (Abbotsford and Pitt Meadows in March 2001).
The genesis for the series was a focus group workshop held in October 1997. Convened by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM), the workshop was part of the rollout process for the Fish Protection Act, enacted only a few months before.
The coming together of a group of change agents in October 1997 set in motion a chain of events that has reverberated through time.
Looking back, and in terms of ‘green’ rainwater management, much of what has happened in British Columbia can be traced back to October 1997 and who was in the room when UBCM convened the focus group workshop on the Fish Protection Act.
Science-Based Ecosystem Approach
At the workshop, Kim Stephens and Bill Derry led a discussion on a ‘science-based’ ecosystem approach to rainwater/stormwater management. Through their work with local governments, Stephens and Derry are recognized as having facilitated a paradigm-shift in British Columbia in the late 1990s.
They achieved this by translating the emerging Washington State science into a set of communication graphics. This approach enabled a common understanding among broad and diverse audiences about the impacts of urbanization on stream health. This helped local governments make informed decisions about urban watershed planning.
Early Champions Who Made a Difference
The idea for the first workshop in the SmartStorm Forum Series originated with Erik Karlsen, then with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Peter Law of the Ministry of Environment embraced the idea and got the ball rolling. He formed an inter-agency team to organize the Nanaimo event.
- Erik Karlsen was a principal author of a Watershed/Landscaped-Based Approach to Community Planning. Prepared by an interdisciplinary working group under the umbrella of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, the paper was released in 2002. The underpinning premise is that resource, land use and community design decisions will be made with an eye towards their potential impact on the watershed.
- Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia is a prime application of the ‘watershed/landscape-based’approach. Peter Law was Chair of the Stormwater Guidebook Steering Committee, formed in 2000 only a matter of months after the second in the SmartStorm Series. The Guidebook’s premise that land development and watershed protection can be compatible represented a radical shift in thinking in 2002.
When Brian Tutty of the Department of Fisheries & Oceans joined the organizing committee for the Nanaimo workshop, he advocated a bold vision for a transformational event. This started with moving the workshop from the Beban Recreational Centre to the Coast Bastion Hotel, and re-branding it as a forum.
This bold vision morphed into a transformational series once Mayor Barry Janyk of the Town of Gibsons became involved. His high profile involvement added political credibility. Mayor Janyk was the moderator for the last three in the series.
Integrated Approach Built on Puget Sound Research
“Among those leading change in the 1990s, Bill Derry had a profound influence on both sides of the border,” observes Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability, and principal author of British Columbia’s Stormwater Guidebook. “Bill’s contributions and accomplishments started with his leadership role in the founding of the Center for Urban Water Resources Management. Over a long period of time, his impact on practitioner thinking resulted from his skill at communicating the science in a way that resonated with local government audiences. The ripple effects of his cross-border teaching in BC are far-reaching.”
“In 1996, Richard Horner and Chris May published a seminal paper that synthesized a decade of Puget Sound research to identify and rank the four factors that degrade urban streams and negatively influence aquatic productivity and fish survival. At the top of the list was ‘changes in hydrology’ – that is, changes in how rainwater reaches streams,” continues Bill Derry. “This ranking shook conventional stormwater management wisdom in the Pacific Northwest to its foundation. This research made it clear that stormwater management was as much or more about land use decisions as engineering solutions.”
Vision for a Balanced and Integrated Approach to Land Use
“When the SmartStorm Forum Series introduced the term ‘smart development’ a decade and a half ago, the goal was to advance implementation of an integrated and balanced approach to land use,” recalls Erik Karlsen.
“To change the way people think and do, we defined smart development as protecting property and sustaining natural systems in a cost-effective manner,” states Mayor Janyk. He was first elected as a Councillor in the Town of Gibsons in 1996 and served four terms as Mayor (1999-2011).
“We made it clear that RAINwater management is at the heart of smart development. Whereas traditional STORMwater management is based on end-of-pipe solutions, a smart approach starts at the source – where rain falls.”
An Overwhelming Response
“The response to the SmartStorm Forum Series was simply overwhelming. For the first event, held in Nanaimo, the doors had to be closed when the surge of last-minute registrations reached the 250 seating capacity of the Coast Bastion venue.”
“When we decided to host the second event on the Sunshine Coast, the skeptics asked me who would come to the Sunshine Coast. Well, they did come and they came from far and wide, including a representative of the Ontario Ministry of Environment. We attracted a capacity crowd of some 225 to the local theatre in Sechelt.”
“We attracted comparable crowds in Abbotsford and Pitt Meadows. We created a buzz.”
Subsequent Chain of Events
The first SmartStorm Forum was held in 1999; the last two in March 2001. The kick-off consultation workshop for the Guidebook took place in Nanaimo on February 20, 2001. The SmartStorm Forum Series set in motion the following:
- The SmartStorm Forum Series begat Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released in mid-2002
- which begat the Water Balance Model for British Columbia, completed in 2003
- which provided early credibility for the Water Sustainability Action Plan for BC, launched in early 2004
- which led to the formation of the Green Infrastructure Partnership, launched in early 2004
- and laid the groundwork for the success of Convening for Action on Vancouver Island, launched in late-2006