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Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management

BE GUIDED BY A VISION FOR INTER-GENERATIONAL COLLABORATION: “Looking through an inter-generational lens, the term permaculture is what resonates with me. It has three guiding principles. The first is care of land. It is foundational because the other two build on it. The second principle is care of people, and the third is care of the process,” stated Director Ben Geselbracht, Regional District of Nanaimo


“When I think about sustaining the watershed protection legacy from one Board to the next, it is about viewing it within a larger vision for creating sustainable human settlement. When our perspective is the watershed, water is fundamentally what keeps everything moving. The watershed is the foundational scale of consideration, and therefore we must base our design of human settlements upon it. A long-term and shared community vision is necessary to integrate all the care of land considerations such that Design With Nature is on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” stated Ben Geselbracht.

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FLASHBACK TO 2009: “Re-focus Integrated Stormwater Management Plans on on watershed targets and outcomes so that there are clear linkages with the land use planning and development approval process; move beyond pilot projects to a watershed-based approach to achieving performance targets for rainwater management and green infrastructure” – Metro Vancouver Reference Panel recommendation


Metro Vancouver’s Integrated Plan established the framework for moving beyond regulatory compliance to transitioning Metro Vancouver to an approach that would achieve the Sustainable Region Vision. “Think about it – the Reference Panel has influenced the waste committee, the finance committee and the way we make decisions overall. It is great. The community benefits when there is collaboration and a true partnership between local government staff and community members in a working group,” stated (former) West Vancouver Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones.

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ASSET MANAGEMENT BC NEWSLETTER (February 2021): “Restoring land drainage and stream corridor system integrity for a creekshed would require looking beyond the stream corridor to the surrounding landscape – that is, reconnect hydrology and stream ecology by design,” stated Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC


“EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, focuses on drainage and the condition and/or integrity of stream corridors. Both natural and constructed assets need to be addressed in the drainage context. Both are systems and therefore require similar M&M strategies. Drainage infrastructure, or lack thereof, is typically an unfunded liability that grows over time. It is the elephant in the room. EAP supports local governments intending to adopt a life-cycle approach to M&M of natural assets much as it would apply to constructed assets,” stated Kim Stephens.

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APPLICATION OF ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS TO SHELLY CREEK ON VANCOUVER ISLAND: “As a result of alterations to the hydrology of the creekshed, the Shelly Creek ‘riparian ecosystem’ has been reduced to a number of ‘riparian zones’ as defined in regulations. We view this finding as one of the key takeaways from the financial valuation of the Shelly Creek natural commons and the package of ecological services that it provides,” stated Tim Chair, EAP Chair


“The Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) considers use and conservation of land to be equally important values. Historically, land use and property development in our communities have been given priority over ecological systems such as streams. Too often the result has been remnant ecological services that fall far short of the benefits that these natural commons can provide. The research findings suggest that the diminution of stream functions gradually will draw the attention of property owners and the community to the ‘no harm’ rule in land appraisal.,” stated Tim Pringle.

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IMPROVE WHERE WE LIVE: Ecological Accounting Process and Water Balance Methodology – the twin pillars of a whole-system, water balance vision for restorative land development in British Columbia


“The vision for EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, is that it would help local governments progress along the Asset Management Continuum for Sustainable Service Delivery. Once a life-cycle approach is standard practice, the next logical step is to integrate ecological services from natural systems into asset management,” stated Tim Pringle. “The principal focus of EAP is on the investment of resources already made by many stakeholders, as well as their aspirations concerning prevention of degradation to and work on enhancement of ecological services in the creekshed.”

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DESIGN WITH NATURE / IMPROVE WHERE WE LIVE: Hubristic and techno-utopian, 50 years ago Ian McHarg’s emphasis in his landmark book on creating a rational, systematized design process expanded the fields of landscape architecture and environmental planning, pulling practitioners out of gardens and small parks and into territorial-scale design


Alongside Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring, Design With Nature helped activists translate the energy of the 1960s into a string political victories in the 1970s, including: the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), the Endangered Species Act (1973), and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (1970). Much of that regulatory regime remains intact today, indispensable to the broader aims of environmental stewardship and climate action.

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IMPROVE WHERE WE LIVE: “Since the problem of environmental generation amnesia has its genesis in childhood, I suggest that childhood is a good place to start solving the problem,” says Peter Kahn, Professor of Psychology, University of Washington


While communities cannot restore lost diversity, they can halt its decline and consciously direct efforts into bending the trend-line in an upward direction. First, however, they must understand the psychology of why we unwittingly allow environmental degradation. “People take the natural environment they encounter during childhood as the norm against which they measure environmental degradation later in their life. Each generation takes that degraded condition as the non-degraded condition, as the normal experience,” explains Peter Kahn. He describes this phenomenon as ‘environmental generational amnesia’.

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IMPROVE WHERE WE LIVE THROUGH RESTORATIVE DEVELOPMENT: “In the 1980s, the lack of science was a real issue. Science is no longer the issue. We have enough science to know what needs to be done to reconnect hydrology and ecology,” stated Bill Derry in his keynote address at the Parksville 2019 Symposium


Bill Derry provided a critically important historical perspective when he explained the origins of the science-based approach to understanding how ‘changes in hydrology’impact on stream stability and health in the urban environment. An early pioneer in an emerging practice circa 1990, Bill Derry chaired the local government committee that framed eight key questions. These then defined areas of research at the University of Washington. “Context is everything. Four decades ago, understanding was scant,” stated Bill Derry. A program goal for Parksville 2019 was to bring to life the phrase “reconnect hydrology and ecology”.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM, WATER BALANCE APPROACH: “We know there are development practices that could help restore our environment, increase resilience to climate change, and reduce infrastructure costs,” says Emanuel Machado, CAO of the Town of Gibsons. “So why are we having so much trouble implementing them?”


“Last October’s Meeting of the Minds was invaluable,” said Emanuel Machado, Gibsons’ Chief Administrative Officer. “One of the key impediments to implementing a whole-systems, water balance approach is the many policies, practices and ideas the various players within a particular watershed bring to their work. Our roundtable session helped promote a better understanding of the challenges faced by peers and provided the opportunity to brainstorm solutions to perceived roadblocks.”

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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


Professor John Henneberry in the United Kingdom and the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC have identified the same methodological problems – that is, natural systems do not dissect conveniently in order to be quantified and given financial value. ”Quantifying and valuing nature are complex tasks. Undertaking them alters our conception of nature. As a result of it, nature appears more fragmented because we have to slice it into categories and dice those categories into bits before we can value bits of those bits,” states John Henneberry.

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