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Rainwater Capture: Planning

URBAN TREE CANOPY: “A new science of valuing nature will shape our urban projects of the future,” says Bonnie Keeler – her area of expertise at the University of Minnesota is natural capital and the value of ecosystems


Bonnie Keeler reviewed 1,200 scientific studies on increasingly popular green infrastructures such as urban forests, parks, rain gardens, and wetlands and found in a recent paper that it’s unclear how well any of them stack up against “gray” solutions like concrete storm sewers and air conditioning. “There is a huge interest in expanding funding for green infrastructures,” she said. “But we don’t have a tool to understand their value.”

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LIFE AFTER CARBON: “The emerging idea inverts the modern-city hierarchy, restoring nature, instead of the city, as the dominant context,” wrote Peter Pastrik and John Cleveland in their book about cities that are reinventing themselves to combat climate change (published in 2018)


“Part of urban renaturing is a restorative exercise, a way to reinstate balance and sustainability to the city’s relationship with nature,” wrote Peter Pastrik. “When cities renature themselves, they pursue three distinct, interrelated applications of the idea. They expand the use of green infrastructure. They protect and enhance ecosystems and biodiversity. And they provide people with ways to immerse in nature. Each of these methods involves innovative practices used at multiple urban scales.”

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LOS ANGELES COUNTY’S BOLD PLAN FOR RAINWATER CAPTURE: “Measure W gives Los Angeles County and its 88 cities the chance to transform urban hardscapes into more nature-based, green infrastructure,” wrote UCLA’s Mark Gold in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times


The county is developing a plan to supply 20% of annual water demand from rainwater capture. “Going forward, every street improvement initiative should be viewed as an opportunity for greener streets that facilitate water absorption and ensure that remaining runoff is treated. New park projects should include ways of capturing runoff on site for local irrigation or to augment groundwater supplies. With funding from Measure W to supplement existing funds, these goals now seem possible,” wrote Mark Gold.

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URBAN TREE CANOPY: “What the economy really needs is more trees” – Ross Gittins, the Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor


“Planting trees in parks, gardens or streets has many benefits, helping to cool cities, slowing stormwater run-off, filtering air pollution, providing habitat for some animals, making people happier and encouraging walking,” wrote Ross Gittins. “Shading from strategically placed street trees can lower surrounding temperatures by up to 6 degrees – or up to 20 degrees over roads. Green roofs and walls can naturally cool buildings, substantially lowering demand for air-conditioning.”

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USE OF ‘MACHINE LEARNING’ TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN TREE CANOPY AND TREES: “Trees are pretty hard to map. So, what’s the solution if we want to map tree canopies in places with complex geographies? How do we fill in the gaps between official street tree census and trees in parks and on private property?” – Tim Wallace, geographer for the New York Times


“(Tree) surveys are expensive to conduct, difficult to maintain, and provide an incomplete picture of the entire extent of the urban tree canopy. Both the San Francisco inventory and the New York City TreesCount! do an impeccable job mapping the location, size and health of street trees, but exclude large chunks within the cities, like parks,” wrote Tim Wallace. “This data gap is neither accidental nor purposeful. The trees they mapped were a product of bureaucratic choices and limitations.”

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BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK PRIMER SERIES: “The purpose of the Primer is to connect the dots and disseminate information on the ‘science-based understanding’ that underpins the vision for Sustainable Watershed Systems,” stated Peter Law, formerly with the BC Ministry of Environment, when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released the Primer on Application of Ecosystem-based Understanding in the Georgia Basin (September 2016)


“An interface is needed to translate the complex products of science into achievable goals and implementable solution for practical resource management. This interface is what we now call a science-based understanding,” stated Peter Law. “Understanding how land development impacts watershed hydrology and the functions of aquatic ecosystems provides a solid basis for making decisions to guide action where and when it is most needed. This understanding will help multiple audiences ask the right questions so that communities make informed decisions.”

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BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK PRIMER SERIES: “It is helpful to reflect on the historical context to understand that the water balance approach had its genesis in the Stream Stewardship Series,” stated Erik Karlsen, formerly an Executive Director in the BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs, when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released the Primer on Water Balance Methodology for Protecting Watershed Health (February 2014)


“Released circa 1993, Stream Stewardship: A Guide for Planners and Developers document was an early, and in some respects the first, local government focussed design with nature guide,” recalled Erik Karlsen. “Looking back, if the Stewardship Series was the first wave, the work of UBC’s James Taylor Chair on Sustainable Urban Landscapes was the second, and the Water Balance Approach is the third. Each of these ‘waves’ was initiated by different ‘groups’; but over time they merged from one to the other.”

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BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK PRIMER SERIES: “The Primer is a ‘bridging document’ – it illustrates how to seamlessly integrate the legal and administrative parts of land development,” stated Tim Pringle when the Primer on Land Development Process in BC was released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability (September 2013)


“While much attention is given to the technical and legal aspects of the Land Development Process, we are not aware of anyone who has addressed administration. At the heart of the Primer, then, is the discussion at the end of Section 6 about Administrative Process Requirements. This piece of the puzzle is the key to implementation of effective rainwater management systems on private property,” stated Tim Pringle. “The Primer will assist practitioners whose work addresses land subdivision concerns.”

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BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK PRIMER SERIES: “Pioneer research in the Englishman River watershed on Vancouver Island led us to look at groundwater differently from a water balance perspective,” stated Craig Wightman, Senior Fisheries Biologist with BC Conservation Foundation, when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released the Primer on Integrated Rainwater and Groundwater Management for Lands on Vancouver Island and Beyond (April 2012)


“The Primer introduces the issue of the ‘unfunded infrastructure liability’. Viewing the watershed through an asset management lens provides local governments with a driver to require that development practices mimic the Water Balance,” states Craig Wightman. “Parksville’s OCP Review provided a great opportunity to formally recognize the value and inter-dependence of the City’s small stream and groundwater resources, and their importance to people and the region’s highly diverse fish and wildlife populations.”

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‘Green roof’ bus shelter incorporates the concept of forest architecture: “The prototype and research will help justify whether a larger investment into such an idea would be worth it,” said Tabinda Shah, UBC student


The roof or shelter would be made of treated wood that can withstand the elements and host a layer of plants that are hardy and succulent, and can thrive in not just the rain but the dry months too. The excess water from the roof would run off into the ground to recharge the water table. “We’re hoping to have the prototype constructed along Wesbrook Mall at the University of British Columbia, but in an ideal world, we would want these all over the city street networks of Vancouver,” Tabinda Shah said.

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