FLASHBACK TO 2014: “We cannot look at individual municipal services in isolation. Asset management is about a much bigger Umvelt,” stated David Allen, City of Courtenay CAO, when the Comox Valley Regional Team hosted the 4th in the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Collaboration Workshop Series

Note to Reader:

In 2014, and under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia, the program for the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative (IREI) comprised a series of five Inter-Regional Collaboration Workshop Sessions up and down the east coast of Vancouver Island. The fourth in the series was hosted by the Comox Valley Regional District, and held in the City of Courtenay in June 2014.

Launched in 2012, the IREI provides local governments on Vancouver Island and in Metro Vancouver with a unique mechanism to share outcomes and cross-pollinate experience with each other. It is a program of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

In 2014, each of the five regions participating in the IREI hosted a workshop session that highlighted what they had done and where they were going in terms of watershed/rainwater management. A session theme was assigned to each regional district based on the focus of their work.

Towards a Watershed Health Legacy in the Georgia Basin

“Watershed/stream health and rainwater/stormwater management have long been priorities for communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland region. For years, communities have been struggling with the question of how best to move forward on the Watershed Health issue, particularly in light of a changing climate and financial drivers to provide higher levels-of-service at reduced levels-of-cost,” reports Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director, and organizer/facilitator of the 2014 Inter-Regional Collaboration Workshop Series.

“Inter-regional collaboration helps each region understand what the other regions are doing, what works and what does not. At the end of the day, collaboration will help everyone better deliver on regulatory requirements, especially for the watershed/rainwater component of Liquid Waste Management Plans (LWMPs).

“In 2014, when we launched the collaboration workshop series, it was clear that the collaborating regions viewed the Watershed Health issue through complementary lenses that together form a complete picture. Each region has something unique to contribute to the mix:

  • Metro Vancouver – watershed plan effectiveness
  • Capital Region – water quality assessment
  • Nanaimo Region – leveraging partnerships
  • Cowichan Valley – climate change adaptation
  • Comox Valley – sustainable service delivery

“The vision shared by the five partners was that collaboration would result in implementation of standards of practice that would be affordable and effective in maintaining healthy watersheds and streams. The mantra for inter-regional collaboration was framed in these terms:

Through sharing and learning, ensure that where we are going is indeed the right way.

“At each regional session, the goal was to inform and educate the local audience about necessary actions to fulfill regulatory objectives, commitments and requirements in the host region.”

Moving Towards Sustainable Service Delivery
in the Comox Valley

The Comox Valley-CAVI Regional Team chose Moving Towards Sustainable Service Delivery for the session theme. This allowed the team to reflect on their journey since 2011. It also articulated the destination (outcome resulting from collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries):

Sustainable Service Delivery connects land use planning, life-cycle costing and watershed-based solutions. It ensures that infrastructure services are sustainable over time, both fiscally and ecologically. It reduces unfunded ‘infrastructure liability’.

“The Inter-Regional Collaboration Session held in the Comox Valley in June 2014 achieved two outcomes,” recalls Kim Stephens. “First, it provided the Comox Valley-CAVI team with a driver and a milestone for showcasing progress while also raising local awareness of the benefits of collaboration. Secondly, the June 2014 event had legacy value in that it bridged and provided a springboard to 2015 and beyond, for both the IREI team as a whole and the Comox Valley-CAVI team in particular.”

Think like a Watershed to Reduce Infrastructure Liability

“The session introduced the notion of progressing along the ‘asset management continuum’ to achieve the goal of Sustainable Service Delivery, states Kim Stephens. “Two local government CAOs, both of whom are asset management champions in BC, provided a picture of what can be. They articulated the vision for integration of natural systems thinking and adaptation to a changing climate into asset management.

Asset Management is Systems Thinking:

David Allen, City of Courtenay CAO, introduced the strategic context as laid out on Figure 31 (scroll down). Also, he is the Co-Chair of Asset Management BC. He introduced the audience to the Umvelt concept (German word for ‘environment’ or ‘surroundings’).

“Although the surrounding environment is common to all, each organism experiences the environment in a different way. Applied to asset management, this means that the Umvelt is larger in scope than the triple bottom line,” stated David Allen.

“We cannot look at individual municipal services in isolation. Asset management is about a much bigger Umvelt (refer to Figure 30). Climate change, for example, correlates with the impacts of what has typically been called stormwater management. The shift to the term rainwater management is great because it reflects a ‘systems thinking’ approach.

“Asset management is a ‘systems thinking’ method applied to organization-wide problem solving.”

To Learn More:

Download a copy of You are invited to the launch of “A Guide to Water-Wise Land Development in the Comox Valley”.

To view the presentation by David Allen, click on the link below to watch the YouTube video.

Nature is Our Most Valuable Infrastructure Asset:

Emanuel Machado, CAO, introduced the Town of Gibsons Eco-Asset Strategy.

“The Town has recognized, formally and in practice, that nature, and the ecosystems services that it provides, are a fundamental and integral part of the Town’s infrastructure system. The Town’s financial statement includes an auditor’s note that establishes an accounting precedent,” stated Emanuel Machado.

“Our plan is to develop a model to manage our natural assets the same way that we manage our engineered assets. We believe there are many things that we can do right away.”

“We are not suggesting that all ecosystem services provide a municipal function. Trees, soil, green spaces and water provide all the services that we are talking about. As I tell my Council, this is not about habitat. This is about municipal infrastructure.”

About the Watershed Health Goal

“Since the late 1990s, and largely due to heightened awareness as an outcome of the impact of the ‘salmon crisis’, governments have recognized the need to restore and protect watershed health,” explains Kim Stephens.

“By 2002, looking at rainfall differently led the Province to adopt the Water Balance Methodology, initiate a performance target approach to capturing rain where it falls, and initiate changes in the ways rainwater runoff is returned to streams. Released in 2002 to support and facilitate the ‘rainwater component’ of Liquid Waste Management Plans, the underlying premise for Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for BC was expressed as:

Land development and watershed protection can be compatible. Science-based understanding bridges the gap between policy and site design.

“The Guidebook presents a framework for implementing an ‘adaptive approach’ to watershed-based actions – that means learn by doing; and change direction when science-based understanding leads to a better way.”

Vision and Objectives for Collaboration

“Watershed health has long been a priority for local governments throughout the Georgia Basin. In 2012, the Regional Boards for the Comox Valley, Nanaimo Region, Cowichan Valley, Capital Region and Metro Vancouver Region agreed to collaborate under the umbrella of the Georgia Basin  Inter-Regional Education Initiative. At the time, all five regions had over-arching plans that were watershed-based and established a vision,” states Kim Stephens.

“In 2014, then, everyone was primed to move from talk to ‘implementation and integration’. There was consensus that collaboration would accelerate affordable and effective outcomes within each region. Thus, a core group of local government champions representing the five geographic regions came together to function as an inter-regional leadership team.

“Their vision for collaboration was that a series of working sessions would inform and educate the leadership team and others about watershed health because:

  • All regions are dealing with challenges associated with watershed monitoring
  • Each region is at a different point along the Watershed Health continuum
  • Each region has something unique to contribute to the mix

“The vision for collaboration boiled down to three objectives:

  • Share experience on how to measure watershed health, and how to monitor progress
  • Understand what each regional district is doing, what works and what does not
  • Understand the elements of a performance monitoring framework that can be used to  adjust actions and inform community planning that maintains healthy streams

“Going forward from the 2014 series, a guiding principle for collaboration was to leverage ‘science-based understanding’ of the relationship between land use changes and resulting stream health (and also financial liability) consequences in order to influence community planning.”