RECONNECT HYDROLOGY AND STREAM ECOLOGY BY DESIGN: “Streamkeepers and habitat volunteers are pleased to see that our local governments are not only supporting water stream maintenance, they are now PROMOTING it,” stated Bernie Heinrichs, Past-President of the Island Waters Fly Fishers, and a member of the Project Advisory Committee for the Millstone River application of the Ecological Accounting Process

Note to Reader:

In May 2021, the Partnership for Water Sustainability released Millstone River – A Natural Commons in the Regional District of Nanaimo: Operationalizing the Ecological Accounting Process for Financial Valuation of Stream Corridor Systems within an Asset Management Plan, the fifth in a series of reports on EAP demonstration applications.

The EAP program has three stages: Test / Refine / Mainstream. During 2017 and 2018, two Stage 1 demonstration applications tested the concept, and demonstrated EAP relevance to local government. In 2019, two Stage 2 demonstration applications resulted in working definitions and consistent application of the EAP methodology. Millstone River is the first of six  Stage 3 case studies.

On April 27th 2021, the RDN Regional Board established a BC-first when it approved this recommendation by staff: “That the Millstone River Ecological Accounting Process report be used to inform future Corporate Asset Management Planning.”


The Millstone River is situated within RDN Water Region 5.

A Stream is a Land Use and provides a
“Package of Ecological Services”

The EAP methodology focuses on the historical and current land use practices that have changed landscapes, modified hydrology, and have led to present-day community perceptions of the worth of the stream or creekshed and the ecological services it provides. A whole-system understanding is the starting point for developing meaningful metrics,” states Tim Pringle, Chair of the Ecological Accounting Process Initiative (EAP).

“EAP satisfies a local government need for a financial methodology and metrics for valuation of ecological assets. Most importantly, EAP interweaves the financial, social and ecological perspectives within a single number. This number is defined as the Natural Commons Asset (NCA) value. The end goal is an annual budget for ‘maintenance and management’ (M&M) of stream systems.”

“The NCA value puts the discussion of natural assets (stream systems) on an equal footing with constructed assets (physical infrastructure). This is a game-chamber. The significance is that environmental planners now have a point of departure for a conversation with engineers and accountants about the services that natural assets both provide.”

EAP Metrics Focus on Parcel (Land Only) Assessments

“A central idea of the EAP methodology is that a stream is a land use. If the stream did not exist, the land it occupies would be in the same use as nearby development. A stream is a land use because the area of the setback zone is defined in regulations.”

“In turn, EAP describes this land use as the Natural Commons Asset, or NCA. And furthermore, a proxy financial value can be assigned to the NCA using BC Assessment data for abutting or adjacent parcels.”

“BC Assessment separates land values from the worth of improvements. BC Assessment data reflects the influence of buyer and seller behaviour over time. BC Assessment values for classes of property are based on completed real estate transactions. They are not appraisals.”

“The NCA provides a ‘range of uses’ desired by the community. These are described as the package of ecological services. They are the benefits and values that the stream system, or NCA, provides to the public: drainage, recreational and cultural value, and critical habitat.”

Drinking Water & Watershed Protection (DWWP) program sets the context for Millstone River EAP Project

“The Millstone River and EAP project are a vignette for the bigger mandate of the DWWP. Both demonstrate project level partnerships with stewardship groups; as well as partnerships across local government jurisdictions,” stated Julie Pisani,  Program Coordinator for the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Drinking Water & Watershed Protection Program.

“The stewardship thread that is pulled through the Millstone EAP project centres around the involvement of Bernie Heinrichs. His group, Island Waters Fly Fishers, has been involved in the RDN’s surface water quality sampling program since 2011. There was little data at the start, but now with longer datasets we start to see trends and are able to better understand the health of our region’s creeks.”

“The data findings then direct efforts – for example, riparian area education for farmers and streamside landowners. Then it leads to restoration, often led by community volunteers which we support through stewardship seed funding. Now EAP represents the potential for innovative policy that aligns stewardship with the novel aspect of ecological accounting.”

An Overview of the Millstone River EAP Project

“The EAP methodology reflects the understanding that landowners adjacent to the stream corridor and setback zone (30 metres on both sides of the stream) and the broader community share responsibility for and benefit from the condition of the stream as well as the financial and ecological value of the land it occupies,” continued Julie Pisani.

“The study’s intent was to pilot the EAP in the context of the Millstone River, an important ecological feature in the Nanaimo region that includes RDN Electoral Area C upstream and City of Nanaimo downstream, to test the methodology and take away learnings for further refinement in future applications.”

Take-aways from Millstone River EAP Project 

“Engaging a project steering committee and conducting a community survey on how landowners nearby to the stream value its presence and understand its worth, were important qualitative inputs alongside the number-crunching. Through this process, the importance of riparian vegetation was highlighted and led to an additional desktop assessment of riparian cover in the river corridor, which provides a high-level basis for strategizing where to prioritize investment in restoration of riparian woodlands to improve the health and functioning condition of the river.”

“Ultimately, the study found that the 15 km of stream length from Brannen Lake to Nanaimo Harbour, with 7 km in the City of Nanaimo and 8 km in Electoral Area C, had the combined Natural Commons Asset value of $5.5M per kilometer or $79.7M total, based on BC Assessment data.”

“It also found that community investment per year (based on the past decade) is roughly $560,000 between the City and the RDN – including parkland purchases, infrastructure improvements, stewardship and monitoring. This shows there is already a level of investment as an expression of what the river is ‘worth’ to the community.”

“The report suggests a general framework for local governments to consider in using the lens of ecological accounting within Corporate Asset Management Plans to prevent degradation and improve stream corridor condition for the benefit of the community at-large. It is not the only methodology to account for natural assets, but it certainly increases our understanding and gives us some language and tools to advance the conversation,” concluded Julie Pisani.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Millstone River – A Natural Commons in the Regional District of Nanaimo: Operationalizing the Ecological Accounting Process for Financial Valuation of Stream Corridor Systems within an Asset Management Plan.