RIPARIAN AREAS – WHERE CULTURE JOINS ECOLOGY: “Fighting the negative effects of climate change is hard work. Our creeks are our frontline of climate change mitigation,” stated Paul Chapman, Chair of the Vancouver Island Symposia Series on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate, in his presentation to Nanaimo City Council (June 2020)

Note to Reader:

In June 2020, Paul Chapman made a presentation to Nanaimo City Council. He is Executive Director of the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust (NALT). He is also Chair of the Vancouver Island Symposia Series on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate. The purpose of his presentation was to inform and educate members of Council that actions on the land have consequences for stream health. His presentation is posted on YouTube.

How and Why We Protect a System, Like a Watershed, Like a Creek, Like Cottle Creek in the City of Nanaimo

“I’ve heard the argument that these riparian setback regulations were decided by looking at a map and determining the setbacks from that rather than looking at the properties along the creek,” stated Paul Chapman.

“This is true. When you look to protect a system, this is the scale you do it at, you consider the landscape, in this case the watershed. This was how the provincial regulations were determined, and then using a more detailed map and local knowledge this is how the City determined the size of the riparian areas. This is how it is done. This is how you create effective riparian regulations to protect the values of a creek.

“Why? Which values are we protecting?

“The environmental values are obvious. Riparian areas provide for the distribution of nutrients from the upper reaches to the lower reaches, from the creek banks to surrounding areas and vice versa. Riparian areas provide rich habitat and corridors of connection for a robust diversity of species that rely on this habitat and these corridors.

“These riparian areas support the towering trees and iconic animals that we think of when we think of our home landscape. These are an essential element of our sense of belonging, of our sense of place. This is where culture joins with ecology.

Creeks – Frontline of Climate Change Mitigation

“Intact riparian areas also support the healthy functioning of the ecological assets that natural systems provide to our community. They provide for the percolation of rainwater into the ground contributing to interflow and aquifers. What does this mean? During intense rain events, healthy riparian areas slow down surface water and gradually introduce it into the ground and to the creek. This is flood control.

“During times of drought, this ground water contributes to sustain creek water flow and provide ground water for natural and community use. Our climate change models predict increasingly intense periods of rainfall interspersed with prolonged periods of dry and drought. This is flood control; this is drought relief.

“Fighting the negative effects of climate change is hard work. Our creeks are our frontline of climate change mitigation. Protecting our natural systems to preserve natural water balance is one of the most effective things we can do to be a resilient community in the face of climate change. Let’s not make the hard work harder by degrading the systems we are going to need to increasingly rely on.

“The solution is healthy functioning watersheds, the problem is riparian development coupled with the effects of climate change and the ever-increasing cost and invasiveness of engineered solutions seeking to mimic natural function. When you make a decision about development in a riparian area, you are making a climate change decision.

“Our watersheds and creeksheds and the riparian protections that preserve their function are a common good.

A Climate Change Decision

“So that’s the how and why of protecting our riparian areas. So that leaves us with how do we lose the values and services offered by healthy functioning creeks?

“We protect our creeks and streams at the landscape scale, we undo those protections address by address.

“Each time we choose to allow a riparian setback variance, we degrade the system we are meant to protect, we devalue a common asset and transfer that common good to private hands.

“You can be certain that preserving the values this creek provides is much easier than trying to restore function to a damaged creek. Preserving the services of this creek is much easier and more efficient than trying to reproduce them with built infrastructure.

“So again, we protect our creeks and streams at the landscape scale with riparian setback regulations, we degrade them by decisions made address by address.

“This decision is a climate change decision.”