SUSTAINABLE WATERSHED SYSTEMS: Every urban creekshed comprises a ‘constructed commons’ and a ‘natural commons’, and each is a system – this way-of-thinking is foundational to the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) which looks at the value of the lands that underlie the natural commons
Note to Reader:
The “Beyond the Guidebook Primer Series” supports implementation of targets and actions listed in Living Water Smart: British Columbia’s Water Plan. The targets and actions establish expectations as to how land will be (re)developed so that stream and watershed health are protected and/or restored.
The Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) – A Methodology for Valuing the ‘Water Balance Services’ Provided by Nature is the seventh in a series of guidance documents that form the basis for knowledge-transfer via the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative (IREI). The foundation document for the series is Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released in 2002.
Demonstration applications for small creeksheds in the Cowichan and Comox valleys on Vancouver Island have been undertaken by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia to show how local governments would apply EAP to understand what the ‘water balance (ecological) services’ provided by nature are worth.
“The worth of a creekshed is a package of ecological services made possible by the hydrology, and enjoyed as natural commons,” states Tim Pringle, Chair, Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) Initiative
The way communities have historically developed and drained land has disconnected hydrology from ecology. The consequences of this disconnect are more erosion and flooding, loss of baseflow and aquatic habitat, and an unfunded infrastructure liability for stream stabilization.
The bottom-line is that decades of in-stream enhancement work will not be enduring if the hydrological function of the creekshed landscape is not first restored. (A creekshed is, by definition, a small watershed that is local in scale such that residents can relate to it.)
EAP Primer introduces a Valuation Methodology
Traditional approaches and practices are not leading to restoration of hydrological function. Alternative approaches and practices are urgently needed. Local governments need ‘real numbers’ to devise asset management strategies and deliver outcomes that account for nature’s services.
To help communities map a path forward, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia released the Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) in January 2019. The Primer introduces a valuation methodology that uses readily available financial information from the BC Assessment database. The methodology yields an asset value for the stream corridor. This value can then be used for budget purposes related to asset management.
The Ecological Accounting Process has the potential to be a catalyst for action by local governments. EAP is one of the twin pillars of Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management. In contrast to an economic rationale, EAP is underpinned by a simple strategy: approach the problem from a social point of view. What does the community think its ecological assets and services are worth?
A Key Finding:
EAP does not require special competence. It can be applied by local government and community collaborators.
Catalyst for Local Government Action
“The way we have historically developed and drained land has degraded the basic processes of creek hydrology and the dependent ecological services. Simply put, land development practices have disconnected hydrology from ecology. Compounding the situation, communities have for the most part failed to properly address root causes of ‘changes of hydrology’, as well as subsequent impacts of those changes on natural creekshed function,” states Tim Pringle, EAP Chair.
“Having a pragmatic methodology for valuing services provided by Mother Nature is key to turning this situation around. To both develop and prove out a methodology, the Partnership for Water Sustainability undertook demonstration applications for two creeksheds on Vancouver Island – one in the Comox Valley and the other in the Cowichan Valley. In this first stage of an eventual 3-stage program, we addressed the question of how do communities decide how much to invest in restoration?
View Choices Through the ‘Worth’ Lens
“The EAP demonstration application process has been a fruitful journey for the project team and collaborators. Along the way, our collective thinking evolved. We broke new ground with EAP. Insights and understanding that we gained are shared in the Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process,” continues Tim Pringle.
“These insights led us to look at creeksheds differently. The importance of viewing choices through the ‘worth lens’ became clear. In the Primer, we define the ‘worth’ of a creekshed in terms of a package of ecological services made possible by the hydrology.
“We landed on the notion of the natural commons as the starting point for calculating the financial value of a stream bed and riparian corridor. The methodology relies on the BC Assessment database to generate reasonable dollar amounts for investment decisions related to creekshed restoration.”
Point of Departure for EAP
Social Context Establishes “Worth”
“EAP is underpinned by a simple strategy: approach the problem from a social point of view. What does the community think its ecological assets and services (the natural commons) are worth? Worth will be reflected in investment of time, dollars and services to maintain and manage local ecological assets such as a stream and associated riparian areas. These are natural commons assets. To the extent that a community recognizes and wants to use and enjoy the ecological services, it would invest,” emphasizes Tim Pringle.
“It is not the technical-financial approach that allows us to quantify the worth of natural commons assets. Rather, it is how the community uses and understands the available ecological asset that determines the value. In other words, the social context establishes ‘worth’. In British Columbia, this is a starting point when we talk about EAP and valuing the package of ecological services made possible by the hydrology of a creekshed.
”Less emphasis should be placed on monetization of ecological services. Rather, it is more realistic to focus on the investment of resources – that is, the actual time and money spent on creekshed restoration – as well as aspirations of motivated intervenors,” concludes Tim Pringle.
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