Design with Nature: Peter Law provides historical context for Inter-Regional Education Initiative



Note to Reader:

The State of the Island Economic Summit hosted by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA) is an important meeting place for building collaboration between communities. A featured breakout session in 2012 was the “Forum within the Summit” organized by the CAVI (Convening for Action on Vancouver Island) initiative.

The Forum showcased how the CAVI initiative has brought together four regional districts – Capital, Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo and Comox Valley – as partners in an Inter-Regional Education Initiative, one that will result in collaboration, alignment and consistency up and down the east coast of Vancouver Island.

In a panel session that brought to life defining moments along the ‘CAVI timeline’ for the period 2006 through 2012, Peter Law provided a regulatory perspective on why the province has embraced an educational approach to rainwater management in a watershed sustainability context.

Formerly with the Ministry of Environment, Peter Law chaired the inter-governmental steering committee that was responsible for Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released in 2002. As an outcome of Peter Law’s leadership, the Guidebook is recognized internationally as being a catalyst for a ‘design with nature’ approach to achieving water sustainability through implementation of green infrastructure policies and practices.


Bridging the Implementation and Integration Gap

“My background is working 33 years for the Ministry of Environment. I was the guy who was actually trying to enforce environmental regulations here on Vancouver Island. It was a tough time period though the 1980s and 1990s. I was involved in many court cases involving fish, water quality and water quantity. We went to court many times and I acted as an expert witness many times for various court cases,” Peter Law told the VIEA audience.

“My background was one of trying to seek decisions that would move the issue forward in protecting the environment. However, I could see through my involvement in that process that the courts were very slow to act, and defendants were absolutely ignorant of the environmental issues that they were not addressing in their developments.  So, it became obvious to me that to go after land development violations, one guilty plea at a time, just was not going to make a difference. We needed another approach.”


Washington State Research

“Also, at the same time in the 1990s that we were coming to this realization about enforcement, a series of very good research papers were published in Washington State. The research associated the consequences of land development with the changes in hydrology of watersheds. It also dealt with the changes to riparian conditions, fish habitat and water quality. The Washington State research demonstrated that the development of watersheds was being carried out in an unsustainable manner.”


Educational Foundation

“Starting in 2000, I worked with Kim Stephens and others to produce the Stormwater Guidebook. Released in 2002, the Guidebook has a strong educational approach because it recognizes that this is going to take time; it is not going to be top-down; and in fact it is going to require a bottom-up approach in order to be successful. This is a case of educating everyone in the process, from the backhoe operator right up to the smalltown politician.”

“We need to ensure that we learn by doing. This is the Guidebook theme. This has been the foundation for the CAVI initiative over the past few years. This past year, the Partnership successfully implemented the proof-of-approach for an Inter-Regional Education Initiative. We held outreach and/or training events in the Comox Valley, Nanaimo Region, Cowichan Valley and Capital Region.”


Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration

“As the Deputy Minister of Environment recently stated in a letter to the Partnership, collaboration is the pathway to a consistent approach to water sustainability and green infrastructure policies and practices up and down the east coast of Vancouver Island. As we look ahead, we believe that the Inter-Regional Education Initiative will help all regions bridge the ‘implementation and integration gap’ in moving from awareness to accepted practice,” predicted Peter Law.


In 2002, looking at rainfall differently initiated a paradigm-shift to protect stream health

“The Guidebook is standing the test of time because the foundation material is science-based,” states Peter Law. “A decade ago, looking at rainfall differently led the Province to develop the Guidebook and initiate a paradigm-shift in the way rainwater is managed.”


Water Balance Methodology

“The Guidebook formalized the Water Balance Methodology in order to establish performance targets. The Guidebook did not go on the shelf. Ten years later, we are still here, and we are still moving the initiative forward. We are providing tools and training to protect stream health.”

“A key goal is to improve the technical basis for local government decisions. Hence, the Partnership is working with local government planning and engineering staff to help them “use” the tools, rather than wait for “expert” reports. We strive to make these materials easy to use in answering some basic land use questions concerning how water influences the site and watershed.”

“At the core of the Guidebook is a ‘learn by doing’ philosophy. The Water Balance Methodology is dynamic; and it is being enhanced over time to incorporate fresh insights resulting from science-based understanding,” concludes Peter Law.


To Learn More:

Click on Released in 2002, ‘Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia’ has proven to be a catalyst for action