Think and Act like a Watershed: Harness Nature to Adapt to a Changing Climate in British Columbia

Note to Reader:

In the late 1990s water resource practitioners in British Columbia, who learned from Washington State research, embraced an “ecosystem-based approach” to integrated stormwater management planning. Although this interdisciplinary way-of-thinking underpinned Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released by the Province in 2002, use of the ecosystem term failed to take root in the drainage practitioner culture.

Two decades later, however, research undertaken at Simon Fraser University creates a window of opportunity to connect the present to the past, and build on historical knowledge and understanding to educate and inspire a new generation of practitioners to “think and act like a watershed” and implement ecosystem-based solutions.

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“Ecosystem-based Adaptation” (EbA) – influence land use & infrastructure practices in urban watersheds

Historical Context

In 1996, Richard Horner and Chris May (University of Washington) published their seminal research that correlated land use, cumulative impacts and stream health. Their findings shook conventional stormwater management wisdom in the Pacific Northwest to its foundation. Their work became part of the curriculum for cross-border sharing via a workshop series conducted by Bill Derry and Kim Stephens for local governments.

The workshops generated interest in the ecosystem-based approach and led to the SmartStorm Forums, four transformational events held between January 1999 and March 2001. Organized by a partnership comprised of federal, provincial and local governments, the SmartStorm Forums advanced an ecosystem-based approach to stormwater management. A notable outcome was Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia.

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Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)

Fast-forward to May 2016. At a meeting of the Metro Vancouver Stormwater Interagency Liaison Group (SILG), a forum for local government representatives, Julia Berry presented the findings from her Master’s thesis. A graduate of the School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Julia Berry applied original thinking to apply core concepts and produce:

Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change in Urban Areas: An Evaluation of Rainwater Management Practices in Metro Vancouver

The core concept of the research project, EbA, is a combination of two other significant concepts: EBM (ecosystem-based management) and climate change adaptation. The value of the work by Julia Berry is two-fold: picks up threads from the 1990s; and reminds practitioners to focus on outcomes not output – What does the community want? What is the goal? How will actions restore hydrologic integrity?

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Application of an Evaluation Framework

“Adapting to climate change will require a combination of approaches, from man-made infrastructure to holistic approaches. British Columbia’s Stormwater Planning Guidebook promotes a holistic approach to rainwater management, which views rain as a resource and aims to mimic the natural hydrological cycle by allowing rainwater to return directly to the ecosystem,” notes Julia Berry.Julia Berry_SFU student_120p

“Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is a novel approach to planning and adaptation that prioritizes ecosystem services, enhancing biodiversity, as well as human health and wellbeing. My research uses a framework of EbA principles to evaluate select watershed plans from the cities of Surrey and Coquitlam in the Metro Vancouver region.”

“While the intended purpose of Integrated Stormwater Management Plans (ISMPs) is not directly to address climate change, the results of my research show that these two municipalities are already successfully implementing the principles of EbA through ISMPs in the urban context,” concludes Julia Berry.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change in Urban Areas: An Evaluation of Rainwater Management Practices in Metro Vancouver, the project by Julia Berry.

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Assessment of the Thesis Committee

“We were very grateful to the numerous people who agreed to participate in Julia’s study. Their enthusiasm for the topic and their generosity to share their knowledge and experience was critical for the success of the research,” notes Sean Markey, Senior Supervisor, Thesis Committee. Dr. Markey is an Associate Professor in the School ofSean Markey_3SFU prof_120pResource & Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University

“Julia did a great job of integrating concepts and testing the evaluation framework on her two case cities. Hopefully the work continues to advance our understanding of EbA – particularly how to make these concepts accessible and measurable to help guide and promote implementation”

Future Application of Evaluation Framework:

Kim Stephens_IMG_1554_120p“The research by Julia Berry provides rainwater and adaptation planners with an overview of EbA from principles to practice in British Columbia. The evaluation framework developed by Julia Berry can be used to assess and score the extent to which provincial, regional or municipal documents incorporate EbA principles,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. He was co-supervisor on the thesis committee for Julia Berry’s project.

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Approach to the Research

“The aim of the research was to demonstrate the implementation of EbA principles through stormwater management plans in Metro Vancouver and highlight how ISMPs facilitate resilient infrastructure in urban areas,” continues Julia Berry.

“A systematic assessment of ISMPs for the inclusion of EbA principles was conducted to investigate whether ISMPs are implicitly implementing EbA principles in urban areas. Prior to the evaluation, a literature review was completed to understand the core concepts of the research, such as adaptation planning, ecosystem-based management (EBM), EbA, as well as the context of stormwater planning in BC.”

“In addition, the literature was instrumental for creating the evaluation framework, which was developed specifically for this research project. The evaluation was completed on two ISMPs from the City of Surrey and two IWMPs from the City of Coquitlam.”

“In addition, non- ISMP documents were evaluated, such as municipal, regional, and provincial policy, adaptation planning, and stormwater management guiding documents to illuminate connections between the ISMPs and broader planning context. Key stakeholders were interviewed to assist with the evaluation process.”

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