FACILITATING THE PARADIGM-SHIFT FROM STORMWATER TO RAINWATER: “Before the Water Balance Model for British Columbia was developed, the missing link urban hydrology was a tool that could easily quantify the benefits, at a neighbourhood or watershed scale, achieved by reducing rainwater runoff volume at the site level,” wrote Kim Stephens in an article published by Innovation Magazine (June 2004)
Rainwater management is at the heart of a contemporary approach to land development in balance with the natural environment. In 2004, Kim Stephens provided this perspective: “BC stormwater criteria and tools are receiving increasing recognition across North America because of their unique emphasis on solving both flooding and environmental problems at the source. This rethinking of traditional approaches to urban hydrology is helping to achieve higher levels of stream protection by integrating land use planning with volume-based strategies.”
FLASHBACK TO 2004: An approval by Agricultural Land Commission for Home Depot project in Courtenay required use of “Water Balance Model for British Columbia” to establish, test and meet performance targets for capturing rain on-site, where it falls, to protect agricultural lands downhill
The Home Depot project was one of the earliest applications of the Water Balance Methodology pursuant to the Stormwater Planning Guidebotok. “In 2003, the Home Depot development application in the City of Courtenay was to build a store and parking lot covering 90% of a four hectare second growth coniferous forest property,” stated Kevin Lagan. “The City required that post-development rainwater and stormwater flows leaving the site were equal to or less than the pre-development flows. For this property that was effectively zero.”
HARD WORK OF HOPE: “Our rivers are being reborn after a century of decline. This is a defining moment for all the communities that live in our Santa Cruz Watershed,” wrote Lisa Shipek, Executive Director, Watershed Management Group (Tuscon, Arizona)
“It’s not just the Santa Cruz that is being reborn. I have good news to share from other parts of our watershed. The nonprofit I direct, Watershed Management Group, has been monitoring creek flows across the Tucson basin since 2017,” stated Lisa Shipek. “Having flow in the Santa Cruz River downtown provides a daily visual of what a desert river looks like, which will help open the hearts and minds of the greater community to what is possible. We should rejoice alongside the Tohono O’Odham Nation and work with it to restore flow to our rivers and quicken our pace towards a more resilient future.”
THE STORM OF THE CENTURY COULD SOON HAPPEN EVERY YEAR: “The timescale [for major storms] is changing dramatically, and may become irrelevant in categorizing storms,” says Mandy Ikert, Director, Water and Adaptation Initiative – C40
A UN report warns extreme weather events that historically happened about once in 100 years could hit coastal cities yearly by 2050. Cities need to prepare now. “This is a wake-up call that we still need to do more to mitigate as much [climate impact] as possible. We’re not going back to normal—whatever normal once was,” stated Mandy Ikert. She says reports like this one are important: They help rally support from larger nations and financial institutions for protecting all cities from the effects of climate change.
HOW TREES COULD SAVE THE CLIMATE: “Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today, and it provides hard evidence to justify the investment,” stated Professor Thomas Crowther, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (July 2019)
Around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation, which could ultimately capture two thirds of human-made carbon emissions. This would be the most effective method to combat climate change. “We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage,” stated Thomas Crowther.
WHOLE-SYSTEM, WATER BALANCE TRAINING FOR ENGINEERS: “The Town’s experience is that the weak link in drainage analyses is always the assumptions,” stated Shelley Ashfield, Municipal Engineer, when she explained why the Town of Comox took on responsibility for an educational process to bridge a gap in practitioner understanding
How water gets to a stream, and how long it takes, is not well understood among land and drainage practitioners. “A lack of explicit identification and justification of the assumptions and simplifications made in the analysis of stormwater impacts has resulted in stormwater systems that address hypothetical as opposed to actual site characteristics and development impacts,” stated Shelley Ashfield. “Learning from this experience, the Town now requires that assumptions be stated and explained. We are saying WHAT is your assumption, and WHY.”
WATERSHED CASE PROFILE SERIES: “Town of Comox – A ‘Beacon of Hope’ for Citizen Science in Action & Reconnecting Hydrology and Ecology through the Water Balance Approach to Land Development” (released September 2019)
“Utilities, roads, parks and recreation take up the bulk of a municipal budget. Once we made the mental transition to view ecological services as core municipal services, and looked at the municipal budget differently, we then asked ourselves: how can we do things better? We stopped work on the rainwater management plan and changed the plan focus to the Package of Ecological Services – how can we get the best package for them? All plan elements were redesigned; and residential density was concentrated to maximize public access,” stated Marvin Kamenz.
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.”
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.
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’.