LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: In 2008, Premier Gordon Campbell issued a call to action: “All land and water managers will know what makes a stream healthy, and therefore be able to help land and water users factor in new approaches to securing stream health and the full range of stream benefits.”
Note to Reader:
Water defines British Columbia, and the rhythms of water are changing. We are at a tipping point. Will we adapt? Will we restore balance to the water cycle? How? Will we get it right? Yes – provided the right people are in the right place at the right time to apply an understanding of science and technology to make better decisions.
The challenge for engineers/geoscientists is to grasp the inherent complexity and unpredictability of working with natural systems. Engineers/geoscientists are always trying to shove nature into some form that would make it predictable and controllable. And that is not real world.
In October 2018, Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, was invited to speak at the Annual Conference of Engineers & Geoscientists BC. The title of his presentation was Moving Toward a Water-Resilient Future: Reflections on Engineers, Science & Getting It Right.
The focus of his presentation was on what it will take to achieve the vision for the whole-system, water balance approach branded by the Partnership for Water Sustainability as Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management.
A legacy of past community planning and infrastructure servicing practices is….
“We have all been to major conferences where the inspirational speaker tells a story of personal survival to make a point about life and why we do what we do. In my case, it is my ongoing battle with cancer that provides me with the reason to speak from the heart and share how this life-changing experience has influenced my perspective on the ethical responsibilities of land and water practitioners,” stated Kim Stephens.
“Given the New Normal of floods and droughts in BC, we are at one of those ‘watershed moments’ in time where we need to challenge folks to elevate their horizons. In October 2018, my presentation at the Engineers & Geoscientists BC Conference allowed me to road test the audience response to the idea of restorative development and what it would mean for the way the engineering profession does business. Telling the story of my battle with cancer was a way to capture the attention of my audience, and open minds as to what really matters.
Reflections on What We Need to Do to “Get It Right”
“Speaking as a professional engineer with 45 years experience, I believe that the engineering profession is a weak link in making the adjustments that will be necessary to adapt communities to a changing climate. We do not have the luxury of time as we grapple with the challenge of ‘where to from here?’ in order to restore the water balance.
“Storm Cunningham, author and restorative development guru, expressed it succinctly when he wrote: 80% of the revitalizing work done by urban planners and civil engineers in the 21st century will undo 80% of the work their predecessors did to cities and nature in the 20th century.
“In a conversation with Storm, he told me about his observation that the civil engineering profession has trouble adopting the restorative mind-set. The main problem, he says, is that engineering is all about control and certainty. Urban planners have a similar problem. But living systems – like watersheds and cities – resist control, and exhibit surprising behavior when they are healthy.
“My conference presentation provided me with the opportunity to plant seeds. One hopes that the seeds will take root with some members of the audience, and then germinate. In particular, I wanted to draw attention to the provincial government’s introduction of the Professional Governance Act to deal with the adverse consequences of the professional reliance model over the past decade.
“I also wanted to draw attention to the fact that opening minds is a challenge. In 2002, the provincial government released Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia. This set a new direction for land development, founded on the principle of working with nature. Yet, 16 years later, communities are experiencing more flooding and more stream erosion; and streams are going dry during extreme droughts. Why?”
To Learn More:
For the complete storyline for the presentation by Kim Stephens, download a PDF copy of Moving Toward a Water-Resilient Future: Reflections on Engineers, Science & Getting It Right.
In addition, download a copy of an Op-Ed co-authored by Kim Stephens and published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper in September 2018. Click on Opinion: Province must halt the decline of its biodiversity – Kim Stephens, Bob Sandford and Tim Pringle urge change.
Trickle-Down Consequences of Professional Reliance
“In June 2018, British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy completed a review of professional reliance in the natural resource sector to ensure the highest professional, technical and ethical standards are being applied to resource management in British Columbia,” stated Kim Stephens in his presentation.
“In October 2018, the Minister introduced the Professional Governance Act. The legislation is designed to make sure decisions affecting the province’s natural resources are science-based, transparent and protect B.C.’s unique environment for future generations.
Provincial Oversight Function
“High profile consequences of the ‘professional reliance model’ have been well-publicized in the natural resource management sector. Not as well-understood are the trickle-down consequences of ‘professional reliance’ in the local government sector. The latter are insidious and have resulted from a comparable absence of provincial oversight.
“Entrenched beliefs and a reluctance to change 20th century engineering practices have consistently resulted in missed opportunities to ‘get it right’. A central authority is necessary to establish expectations and ensure practitioner accountability.
“In the absence of a regulatory requirement, the process to adopt, change or evolve accepted practices is painfully slow. Reinvigoration of the provincial oversight function is essential to help local governments be effective in moving B.C. towards restorative land development.
“The good news is that – starting with Living Water Smart, B.C.’s Water Plan in 2008 – a provincial policy, program and regulatory framework is in place to achieve this desired outcome. The not-so-good news is that policy and program effectiveness has been undermined over the past decade due to cutbacks in civil service capacity.
“With a reinvigorated provincial commitment, however, the current situation can be turned around such that the trickle-down consequences of past professional reliance are remedied,” Kim Stephens emphasized when he explained the rationale for a call to action.