2ND ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM ON PLANNING FOR RESILIENCE: “Living Water Smart lays out out the vision of where British Columbia needs to go in order to build greener communities and adapt to a changing climate,” stated Kim Stephens when he represented the Water Sustainability Action Plan as a panel member on Uncertain Water Supplies (March 2010)

Note to Reader:

Released in February 2004, the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia demonstrates what can be achieved through a ‘top-down & bottom-up strategy’. In retrospect, 2010 was a milestone year for ‘convening for action’ under the umbrella of the Action Plan. Much was accomplished by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in an extremely busy year.

The Partnership organized and provided program development for three flagship events under the umbrella of CAVI, Convening for Action on Vancouver Island. The Partnership also delivered program components within seven other major events organized by other organizations. The latter events were held in three regions, namely: Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver and the Okanagan. 

At a Symposium held at the University of British Columbia in 2010, the Partnership provided context for Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. The Water Sustainability Action Plan flows from Living Water Smart, released in 2008. The Action Plan is guided by the Living Water Smart vision, and the set of actions identified therein for building greener communities and adapting to a changing climate.

Second Annual Symposium on Planning for Resilience

The Symposium included a broad range of panel discussions with a diversity of perspectives from students, practitioners, and academics. One of the panels dealt with water. The panel theme was Increasing the Resiliency of Development to Water Crises. The panel comprised two practitioners (Deborah Harford of Simon Fraser University; Kim Stephens representing the Action Plan) and two Master’s students (Nancy Pepper; Kirsten Harma).

Pioneering the ‘Science of Surprise’

Buzz Holling (1930-2019), considered the father of resilience research and recognized as one of the world’s leading ecologists, was the Symposium keynote speaker. He collaborated with experts outside of universities and research labs to understand land development, forest management, and pest management. It was from these experiences that he first began to formulate his ideas about resilience, which he called the ‘science of surprise’.

One of the talents of Buzz Holling was his ability to bring people together to understand, assess and act on new solutions to complex problems of people and nature. The Resilience Alliance, an international research organization founded in 1999, was one of his ‘experiments’. Buzz Holling had a profound influence on Kim Stephens which is reflected in his approach to Action Plan delivery.

“My first contact with Buzz Holling was in 1999. An assignment for King County allowed me to delve into the origins of adaptive management, and research experience around the world. Specifically, we were looking for a local government precedent, and there was none. This led me to phone Buzz. A decade later, in 2010, it was an inspirational experience when we met and had a reflective conversation at the UBC symposium,” stated Kim Stephens.

“In 1999, my Aha Moment was realizing that our cross-border response to the ‘salmon crisis’ in the Pacific Northwest paralleled the efforts of Buzz Holling and Lance Gunderson related to Florida Everglades Restoration.

“They were great communicators, they used imagery to translate the science so that folks could understand it, and they undertook a workshop program that informed, educated and inspired government action.

“In the late 1990s, Bill Derry (founding Chair, Washington State Stormwater Managers Committee) and I led a workshop program for B.C. local government, and provided cross-border sharing of the latest Puget Sound research. Early access to the research findings allowed us to create what became known as the ‘fish pictures’.

“The workshop program led to the SmartStorm Forum Series during the period 1999-2001. In turn, the series provided the impetus and springboard for Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia.”

Uncertain Water Supplies: Increasing the Resiliency of Development to Water Crises

“Living Water Smart is a visionary document. It is very non-governmental in the way that it is written. It lays out out the vision of where we need to go (to build greener communities, and adapt to a changing climate). In terms of my role, I am the on-the-ground guy; and my world is local government where the rubber meets the road. That is my perspective when I talk about collaboration and design with nature, and how we adapt to floods and droughts – which is really what defines climate change for us,” explained Kim Stephens.

“When I reflect back on what I have learned in my career, I believe that clear thinking is needed more now than ever. Time and time again, I have seen how we create layers of complexity around assumptions. One of my rules of thumb is that, if you take any kind of initiative, drill down and peel back the layers of the onion until you get down to the simple assumption. So often, it tends to be flawed. Ask a different question and you will get a different answer.

“Over the past decade or so, there has been a prevailing mindset that there is only one right answer. But as you heard from Buzz Holling (in his keynote address), things are unpredictable. It seems that we have lost sight of that reality. That may be because we have become so dependent on computers. They are great, but they do not replace judgment.”


Download a copy of the panel agenda: Uncertain Water Supplies: Increasing the resiliency of development to water crises

Download a PDF version of the PowerPoint presentation by Kim Stephens titled Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Collaborate and ‘Design with Nature’ to Adapt to Climate Change.

YouTube Videos

Watch Kim Stephens explain make the case for clear thinking (1:20 minutes)

Watch Kim Stephens explain how to get to the big picture (1:32 minutes)

Watch the entire presentation from beginning to end (15:20 minutes)