CASE FOR WHOLE-SYSTEM, WATER BALANCE APPROACH ON VANCOUVER ISLAND: “The survival of Coho salmon in the Englishman River depends on a healthy Shelly Creek,” states Peter Law, Vice-President, Mid Vancouver Island Enhancement Society

Note to Reader:

A panel and town-hall segment is the heart of the Day #2 program for the Nanaimo Water Symposium on April 11-12, 2018. The theme is Community Empowerment & Sustainable Partnerships with Local Government. The team leader for the panel session is Peter Law, representing the Mid Vancouver Island Enhancement Society (MVIHES).

In addition to his coordinating role, Peter Law will share the story of the Shelly Creek Water Balance & Sediment Reduction Plan.

MVIHES has morphed from Stewards of the Englishman River Recovery Plan to Stewards of the Watershed. The Shelly Creek Plan is a provincial precedent. Community-driven action can restore watershed hydrology, prevent erosion and ensure fish survival.

Shelly Creek Water Balance & Sediment Reduction Plan

“Shelly Creek is a tributary of the Englishman River, a major watershed system on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Shelly Creek is important to salmonids, and this is why it is necessary to understand what is causing the Shelly Creek stream channel to fill with sediment, as well as what can be done to ensure fish survival over time.” states Peter Law.

“Approximately 6.5 km long, the Shelly Creek stream channel drains a watershed (or ‘creekshed) area of 5 km². The KEY MESSAGE is this: The survival of Coho salmon in the Englishman River depends on a healthy Shelly Creek!

“Over the past 80 years, land alterations in the creekshed have included clearing and ditching for farming, ditching for road development and land subdivision, logging, linear developments (highway, railway,  hydro transmission), and residential and industrial developments.”

Understand Core Concepts

“A creekshed is an integrated system – with three types of flows, each with a different time scale,” continues Peter Law. “Yet long-standing drainage engineering practices for servicing of land ignore, overlook or eliminate two of the three. Such practices are the root cause of stream and aquatic habitat degradation, with these impacts: more flooding; more stream erosion; and less streamflow when needed most.

“Among land and drainage practitioners, how water gets to a stream and how long it takes, is not well understood.

“Drainage engineering practice for servicing of land still relies on very simple formulae and methodologies to calculate peak rates of flow. Such analyses are empirical, not science-based. Andy Reese, a well-known American water resources engineer and textbook author, coined the term voodoo hydrology to describe this situation.

“Standard engineering practice only considers surface runoff in analyses. Yet the flow of rainwater from cloud to stream is comprised of three water balance pathways: surface runoff; shallow interflow; and deep groundwater. The other two pathways are ignored by designers. Time, a critical factor, is also ignored.

“There is a growing awareness of what ought to be done differently. But missed opportunities ‘to get it right’ persist. Opening minds to accept changes in practice is a challenge.”

Embrace Shared Responsibility

“Through their involvement in MVIHES, community stewardship volunteers are demonstrating what it means to embrace ‘shared responsibility’ and take the initiative to lead by example. A paramount goal is to ‘get it right’ in the stream channel,” reports Peter Law.

“MVIHES secured funding from multiple agencies, in particular the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and including the Partnership for Water Sustainability, and developed the Shelly Creek Water Balance & Sediment Reduction Plan. Two questions defined the conceptual framework for the ‘whole-system, water balance’ approach which underpins the plan:

  • What is causing the stream channel to erode and fill with sediment?
  • How can community action restore the stream’s health?

“The challenge for MVIHES is to facilitate the community’s journey from awareness to action, expressed as follows: Once a community as a whole acknowledges that there is a problem, and also understands why there is a problem, what will the community do about it?”

To Learn More:


Download  Shelly Creek Water Balance & Sediment Reduction Plan. 

Note to Reader:

The image below conceptualizes the evolving nature of the educational journey, commencing with release of the Guidebook. In 2018, British Columbia is at a tipping point. How will we bridge the gap between UNDERSTANDING and IMPLEMENTATION? 

It is one thing to provide practitioners with tools and resources. It is another matter for them to apply the tools, and use them correctly.

From Awareness to Action

“The process to adopt, change or evolve standards of practice is slow. Bridging the gap between policy and action – that is, a new standard of practice – relies on local governments that lead by example and undertake how-to-do-it demonstration applications. In the case of Shelly Creek, it is MVIHES that has provided the type of leadership necessary to move down the path to getting it right,” explains Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

“Kudos to MVIHES. The Shelly Creek Water Balance Analysis has established a provincially significant precedent. The Shelly Creek case study has demonstrated how to apply an understanding of regional hydrology to downscale verifiable targets for site design, and thereby accrue cumulative benefits that would (over time) prevent increased stream erosion, prevent increased risk of flooding, and protect aquatic habitat.

“For this reason Shelly Creek is profiled in a guidance document titled Water Balance Approach on Vancouver Island, released by the Partnership  in January 2018.

“This demonstration application created an opportunity to make this distinction: without restoration of the hydrology of the watershed, channel remediation measures by themselves are not likely to be successful in restoring the fisheries productivity of Shelly Creek.

“The Shelly Creek demonstration application is an element of the capacity-building program to inform and educate local governments about the whole-system, water balance approach that is branded as Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management,” emphasizes Kim Stephens.