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Water-Centric Planning

Plan with a view to water – whether for a single site, a region or the entire province. Choose to live water smart. Prepare communities for a changing climate. What happens on the land matters – therefore, take into account potential impacts of land use and community design decisions on watershed function. Look at water through different lenses. When collaboration is a common or shared value, the right mix of people and perspectives will create the conditions for change.

Latest Posts

WATER SUSTAINABILITY ACTION PLAN: The Partnership’s Water-Centric Planning community-of-interest provides a legacy record for preserving stories about “Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan” and adapting to a changing climate


“The partnership umbrella provided by the Water Sustainability Action Plan has allowed the Province to leverage partnerships to greatly enhance the profile and resulting impact of Living Water Smart. In effect, the Action Plan partners are functioning as the on-the-ground Living Water Smart implementation arm with local government, allowing my team to focus on legislative reform. Living Water Smart comprises 45 commitments grouped into five themes. The Action Plan has played a key delivery role in two of the five,” stated Lynn Kriwoken.

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WATER SUSTAINABILITY ACTION PLAN: Metro Vancouver guidance document for a “Watershed / Landscape-based Approach to Community Planning” is the genesis for an actionable vision for water-centric planning in British Columbia


Published in March 2002 by the Greater Vancouver Regional District, the “Watershed / Landscape-Based Approach to Community Planning” was developed by an interdisciplinary working group and is the genesis of “water-centric planning”. “An important message is that planning and implementation involves cooperation among all orders of government as well as the non-government and private sectors,” stated Erik Karlsen.

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WATER SUSTAINABILITY ACTION PLAN: Historical context for evolving from a community-of-interest on the waterbucket.ca website to implement and mainstream “Water-Centric Planning” in British Columbia


“Originally, this COI was to be called Watershed-Based Planning for consistency with the community planning element of the Water Sustainability Action Plan. However, federal and provincial funding enabled us to broaden the scope of the COI to encompass a spectrum of perspectives, ranging from provincial watershed planning to local government community planning. This expanded scope is an ambitious undertaking. We are excited by the challenges that integration of perspectives involves,” stated Robyn Wark.

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LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Avoid the Pain, Be Deliberate, Fund the Plan: Waiting for municipal infrastructure to fail means that you are forced into one path. And this is probably the most expensive path. Do not wait until things go wrong,” stated Dan Horan, Director of Engineering & Public Works, District of Oak Bay


“One of the biggest challenges is to create awareness and understanding of why communities need to take sustainable service delivery seriously. A key message is that the level of service to the community can be so much better when asset management is done properly. Another key message is that you do not have to tackle every challenge at once. Dealing with life-cycle realities is such a challenging area of engineering and utility asset management to think about. Many other fields of engineering have already been through multiple life cycles of the asset. They have already felt the pain of not doing it right,” stated Dan Horan.

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TO REVIVE A RIVER, RESTORE ITS LIVER: “A stream is a system. It includes not just the water coursing between the banks but the earth, life and water around and under it,” wrote Erica Gies (Scientific American, April 2022)


“Across North America and the world, cities have bulldozed their waterways into submission. Seattle was as guilty as any until 1999, when the U.S. Department of the Interior listed Chinook salmon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That legally obligated the city to help the salmon when undertaking any new capital project that would affect the fish,” wrote Erica Gies. But restoration projects were failing because they were overlooking a little-known feature damaged by urbanization: the stream’s “gut.”

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FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 4): “B.C. First Nations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could bring more intense and frequent flooding and wildfires, with many reserves and treaty lands located close to water or forest, yet minimally protected,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


“First Nations jurisdiction must be recognized in all areas, including emergency management,” the B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional chief, Terry Teegee, said after the November 2021 floods. “We are the most at risk during these catastrophic climate events, which are sadly no longer isolated incidents but ongoing repercussions of climate change.” A 2015 study by the Fraser Basin Council found 61 reserves and other parcels of treaty lands in the Lower Mainland could be inundated in either a major Fraser River flood or a coastal storm surge flood.

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LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Cut through the rhetoric and recognize the importance of the stream in the landscape,” stated Tim Pringle, Chair of the Ecological Accounting Process initiative


“The land supports assets that provide services. And decisions are made at the parcel scale. Thus, we are tied to the past through historical subdivision of land. This means we must understand the biology of land use. The human analogy is DNA. Only EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, deals with the parcel. Decisions by elected Councils and Boards are made at the parcel scale. Thus, getting it right about financial valuation of ecological services starts at the parcel scale and recognizing that every parcel is interconnected within a system. EAP bridges a gap. The methodology and metrics recognize the importance of the stream in the landscape,” stated Tim Pringle.

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FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 3): “There are more than 350 communities, First Nations and regional districts in B.C. trying to figure out if they have a wildfire problem, each trying to figure out what the solution might be, each trying to come up with a prevention plan, each fighting for the same small pot of money,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


The increased wildfire risk and potential for more frequent, larger fires is exacerbated by warming temperatures. It’s why a paradigm shift is needed, one where forests are managed for resilience on a much larger scale and not just mainly for their commercial timber value, says Lori Daniels, a University of B.C. forestry professor with expertise in wildfire. It also means targeting priority areas rather than relying on ad hoc grants that do not target priorities. “We’ve set ourselves up for a total lose-lose situation,” she said.

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FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 2):”Local governments, responsible for much of the mitigation work after the province reduced its role in 2003, face huge costs they cannot pay, putting people, homes, businesses and infrastructure at increasing risk,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


“Provincial efforts have fallen far short of what is needed to properly prepare for and reduce risks from an expected increase in both the frequency and intensity of floods and wildfires in the face of climate change. Our four-month investigation found a majority of B.C. communities do not have a comprehensive, costed, flood-mitigation plan. For those that have a costed plan, the total bill tops $7.74 billion,” wrote Glenda Luymes. “As a result of climate change, experts believe what is now considered a 500-year flood, meaning a river level that in the past occurred once in 500 years, could become more frequent.”

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FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 1): “The devastation, driven in part by climate change, say experts, is expected to worsen with drier, hotter summers, more frequent floods and rising oceans,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)


“Many communities face both wildfire and flood risks. Underpinning the findings is the fact local governments, which the province had made responsible for much of the risk reduction work, face huge costs they cannot pay,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra, lead author for the 7-part series. Four-month examination drew from responses to questions put to more than 85 municipalities, First Nations and regional districts; thousands of pages of government-commissioned, academic and other independent reports, and community wildfire and flood protection plans.

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LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “In 1995, I got involved in a Local Area Plan that was under development and started advocating for changes in watershed and stream protection policies. To draw attention to the need for action, I organized a series of community walks and developed a ‘watershed tour’ slideshow and took it around the community,” stated Ian Graeme, community leader and founder, Friends of Bowker Creek Society


“Technical knowledge is not enough. You learn that technical competence alone is not going to get you there. That is what I want to pass on to people. If you have a technical problem, it is relationships that matter most. Strong relationships help make the Bowker Creek Initiative agile. We need agility because we do not have the time and resources. At one level, all of us are too busy. At another level, and given the challenges posed by the issues of the day, we need to move on opportunities very quickly. Over a career, you do learn that it is all about understanding people. Technical knowledge is incidental sometimes,” stated Ian Graeme.

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LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “The Asset Management ‘plan’ addresses life cycle assets related to the service they provide and the basis for replacement or upgrade over time. The risk and consequences of not taking action are substantially higher and more consequential than for Master Plans for water, sewerage and drainage,” stated Wally Wells, Executive Director of Asset Management BC


“Asset Management is an awkward term. We have managed assets for decades and understand what that is and what we are doing. Suddenly we took two very simple words, reversed them, and went from managing assets to asset management. The result? We confused everyone. Too much attention is given to only the Asset Management Plan as opposed to all elements of the process. Even then, should we be calling the outcome the ‘Asset Management Plan’? But we do need to be careful in how we communicate what we do and what the expectations are with the results,” stated Wally Wells.

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CHALLENGES & GAPS IN THE WSA: “Why we need to talk about unvested water in British Columbia” – the story behind the story as told by Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei, retired senior civil servants in the Ministry of Environment (April 2022)


When BC’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) came into force in 2016, “certain things were left behind”. Released in January 2022, the government’s Discussion Paper on Watershed Security Strategy represents a once per decade window of opportunity to revisit assumptions and decisions that defined the WSA scope, reflect on the context for those assumptions and decisions, and determine what action should be taken in light of new understanding. “It is possible that no water-related legislation, bylaw, plan or strategy can be applied to unvested water,” stated Mike Wei.

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