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Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management

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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CONTEXT FOR RESTORATIVE DEVELOPMENT: “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” – a famous quotable quote written by Aldo Leopold, professor and author of A Sand County Almanac (1949)


In his presentation at the 2018 Engineers & Geoscientists BC Annual Conference, Kim Stephens quoted Aldo Leopold – legendary American professor, author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. “The Land Ethic,” a chapter in his book A Sand County Almanac, popularized the idea of ecological thinking — that animals, plants, soil, geology, water and climate all come together to form a community of life — that they are not separate parts, but integrated pieces of a whole.

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SUSTAINABLE WATERSHED SYSTEMS: “The support of the Utilities Committee has been an important ingredient in the success of the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative,” stated Kim Stephens when he updated Metro Vancouver’s Utilities Committee (September 2018)


In September 2018, the Metro Vancouver Utilities Committee invited the Partnership for Water Sustainability to provide an update on inter-regional collaboration. “The meeting marked the 10th anniversary of my first presentation to the Utilities Committee. It was also an opportunity to recognize and celebrate a decade-long working relationship with Mayor Darrell Mussatto, the Chair. The Partnership honoured him as a Champion Supporter,” stated Kim Stephens. “We depend on the goodwill of community leaders such as Mayor Mussatto to provide political support for the unique bridging role that the Partnership plays in the local government setting.”

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OPINION PIECE: “Entrenched beliefs and a reluctance to change 20th century engineering practices have consistently resulted in missed opportunities to ‘get it right’,” wrote Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability (Vancouver Sun, September 2018)


“In the absence of a regulatory requirement, the process to adopt, change or evolve accepted practices is painfully slow. Reinvigoration of the provincial oversight function is essential to help local governments be effective in moving B.C. towards restorative land development,” wrote Kim Stephens. “The good news is that – starting with ‘Living Water Smart, B.C.’s Water Plan’ in 2008 – a provincial policy, program and regulatory framework is in place to achieve this desired outcome.”

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SUSTAINABLE WATERSHED SYSTEMS: An understanding of Daniel Pauly’s “Shifting Baseline Syndrome” is a foundation piece for reconnecting hydrology and ecology, and turning the clock back to move towards restorative development


The phrase Shifting Baseline Syndrome describes an incremental eroding of standards that results with each new generation lacking knowledge of the historical, and presumably more natural, condition of the environment. Each generation then defines what is ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ according to current conditions and personal experiences. “Every generation will use the images that they got at the beginning of their conscious lives as a standard and will extrapolate forward. And the difference then, they perceive as a loss. But they don’t perceive what happened before as a loss,” stated Daniel Pauly.

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