THE ERA OF WEATHER EXTREMES IS UPON US: “As 2022 begins, British Columbia is still reeling from a roller-coaster year of relentless fires, droughts and floods. We learned, without a doubt, that the climate crisis is a water crisis,” stated the University of Victoria’s Oliver Brandes and Rosie Simms in an Op-Ed published by the Vancouver Sun (January 2022)

Note to Reader:

On January 25, 2022 the Government of British Columbia launched engagement on a new provincial Watershed Security Strategy. A discussion paper has been prepared to provide background information and enable input on a broad range of watershed security related themes including watershed governance, data and science, reconciliation, drinking water, land use planning, supply and demand, and funding, among others.

The combination of the discussion paper and the Op-Ed introduced below provide relevant context for the work of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. The Partnership is the hub for the Living Water Smart Network in the local government setting. The Partnership is developing tools and resources, and encouraging collaborating organizations to focus on achieving outcomes that flow from a “design with nature” guiding philosophy. Scroll down to read two articles that are complementary in adding depth to the key messages described in the Op-Ed.

Securing and protecting our water, its natural habitat both a practical and policy priority

“For the people of B.C., climate chaos is no longer an abstract future concept. It is not something that happens to other people, elsewhere. Instead, it is a stark reality, here and now. And it’s through water — too much and not enough — that we’re feeling the aches, pains and insecurity of a climate-changed world,” wrote Oliver Brandes and Rosie Simms in an Op-Ed published by the Vancouver Sun in January 2022.

Oliver M. Brandes is the associate director at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies and co-director of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. Rosie Simms is a research lead and project manager at the University of Victoria’s POLIS Water Sustainability Project.

To Learn More:

To read the complete Op-Ed, download a copy of Securing and protecting our water, its natural habitat both a practical and policy priority.


Record-breaking precipitation in November 2021 drenched British Columbia, a striking contrast to the hot and dry days of summer when several cities were evacuated due to wildfires.

Adjusting to a Changing Water Cycle in British Columbia: Longer, drier summers & warmer, wetter winters

On the weekend of November 13-14, 2021 the southwest corner of British Columbia was pounded by an epic atmospheric river. Landslides and rampaging rivers severed all highway connections between the Lower Mainland and the Interior of the province.

Barely 48 hours later (on November 17, 2021), the Partnership for Water Sustainability’s Kim Stephens delivered the keynote address at an operator educational event organized by the BC Water & Waste Association (BCWWA). Held in New Westminster, the BCWWA event was distinguished by the fact that it was not a Zoom webinar.

On the contrary, it was the first in-person event for water education in the age of COVID. Thus, it was an ironic twist that Mother Nature prevented speakers and attendees from the Interior from attending. The rippling impact of the natural disaster was further accentuated when some 20 municipal staff from the cities of Abbotsford and Chilliwack were called to duty. It was all hands on deck in those communities after widespread flooding in Sumas Prairie shutdown the Trans Canada Highway.

In summary, the historic storm and flooding was top of mind for all when Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director, stepped on stage to provide his career perspective on current events, and put the situation in context.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of the keynote presentation titled Adjusting to Longer and Drier Summers in British Columbia:  Drought Affects Us All.

A Career Perspective on Droughts and Floods in British Columbia

“Dating back to the Halloween 1981 Flood, my engineering career has been defined by an alternating cycle of floods and droughts. This four decade history provides me with perspective that in turn allows me to put current events in context,” stated Kim Stephens.

“In water resource engineering, we often talk about the Hydro-illogical CycleThat means – once a decade you have a flood; once a decade you have a drought. You write a report. You put it on the shelf. A decade later, you have a flood, you have a drought, you update the reports. And so the cycle continues. As the hist0ric storm of November 2021 shows, however, no longer can we postpone action that recognizes the nature and reality of a changing water cycle.”

“Droughts affect all of us, whereas floods affect some of us. That is a fundamental distinction. For this reason, drought history is a good way to tell the story of how our climate is changing. In British Columbia, the mega-drought of 1987 was our first wake-up call. It followed a relatively benign period of some four decades. In rapid succession, we had three droughts in five years. This began to change the conversation in British Columbia.”

“Starting in 2003, we have had one teachable year after another in British Columbia. The pattern has been extremes followed by extremes: droughts, forest fires, wind storms, and floods. Each time the extremes seem to be more extreme. 2015 is a defining year. With hindsight, we can clearly see that is the year when we crossed an invisible threshold into a different hydro-meteorological regime in western North America. We are now in Year Seven of this new reality. Yet only in 2021 is in finally sinking in with the population at large that something has fundamentally changed.”

“As of 2021, we can truly say that the era of weather extremes is upon. And it has happened faster than anyone had projected or expected. Think of the terms that are now part of the everyday vocabulary in weather forecasts on the evening news: heat dome, atmospheric river, cyclone bomb.”

Extremes are More Extreme

“We have always had weather extremes in British Columbia. In my experience, dry months would follow wet months. In other words, the duration of wet and dry periods was comparatively short. On an annual basis, things had a way of balancing out. Now, however, winters are warmer and wetter. And summers are longer and drier. This new reality has huge consequences for water security, sustainability, and resiliency.”

“A generation ago, for example, water supply managers could reasonably anticipate that three months of water storage would be sufficient to maintain supply during a dry summer. Today, however, a 6-month drought is a very real likelihood, and on a repeating basis. In the meantime, populations have also grown in the major centres. From a water supply perspective, think about the implications of a doubling in the need for water storage to make it through a drought.”

“When the water resource is large and water demand is small, variability is not that noticeable. But when the demand (Water OUT) is large relative to the available resource, a variation on the supply side (Water IN) magnifies the perception of impact. In many cases, BC communities have long been operating on narrow margins.”

“When you think about it, the planet Earth is a closed loop system. Mother Nature does not create new water.  The state may change – rain, snow, ice, vapour – but the water cycle is the water cycle. This means that extreme duration dry periods will of course will be followed by extreme duration wet periods. And that has been the pattern since 2015, with 2021 being the most extreme year of all as we have lurched from heat dome to epic atmospheric rivers.”

To Learn More:

Learn From and Build Upon Experience

“A key message is that climate change is not a driver; rather, it is another variable. Climate change is only one factor to consider when we talk about the nature and consequences of extreme weather. The real issues are uncertainty and risk, more specifically how we deal with the first and manage the latter.”

“At the same time, we must recognize that we have so transformed the landscape that there are compounding unintended consequences. These are due to our widespread interference with natural processes. In November 2021, there were numerous factors in play and these combined to magnify the impacts of extreme weather.”

“In particular, the  epic atmospheric river covered such a large area extending into the Interior that it resulted in a previously unimaginable scenario – a major storm coincident with high water levels in the Fraser River late in the year. In the lower Fraser Valley, this meant that inland drainage could not outflow by gravity through the dyke system and into the Fraser River. Normally the Fraser peaks in the late spring and early summer months due to snowmelt, not rainfall.”

“Another key message is that everything is connected. This requires an understanding of how the system works as a whole, rather than focusing on components in isolation of the whole. Thus, a constant challenge for planning is not to prevent past events, but instead is to use past experiences and apply systems thinking to inform and create flexible strategies for the present and the future,” concluded Kim Stephens.

To Learn More:

Read ARTICLE: “Restore the Balance in Water Balance – Climate Change is Another Variable When Planning for Sustainable Service Delivery, Dealing With Uncertainty, and Managing Risk,” (Asset Management BC Newsletter, Summer 2021)



EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS, IS GAME-CHANGING: “With all the talk about integrating natural assets into asset management, the players forget that nature is a system. They focus too much on specific aspects of the system, rather than its interrelated functions,” stated Tim Pringle, EAP Chair, when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released a downloadable resource about the EAP program as part of its Living Water Smart Series (October 19, 2021)

In Beyond the Guidebook 2015: Moving Towards Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia introduced EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, as a concept for integration of stream systems within an Asset Management Plan. The edition of Waterbucket eNews published on October 19, 2021 provided an update on what has been accomplished through the EAP program. The importance and relevance of EAP is that it provides local governments with a methodology and metrics for integration of natural assets into local government asset management programs.

Download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process is Game-Changing!

Financial Case for the Stream

John Henneberry (1952-2021) was a source of inspiration for Tim Pringle during the early years of the EAP program. His pioneering work in the United Kingdom provided validation of the wisdom inherent in the whole-system philosophy that guides the EAP program.

John Henneberry’s interests lay at the interface between planning and property, and focused on the use of economic instruments in planning and the reproduction of the urban built environment. He wrote and researched widely on these topics. He is remembered by his colleagues and contemporaries as a gifted scholar, teacher and university leader.

“Over the last decade, an industry has developed that values different aspects of nature in different ways,” wrote John Henneberry in 2018. “Nature appears more fragmented because we have to slice it into categories and dice those categories into bits before we can value bits of those bits. The sum of these parts is far short of the whole and does not capture the interconnectedness and holism of nature. In addition, our view of nature is biased to those aspects of it that can be measured and particularly to those that can be valued.”

Use and Conservation of Land Are Equal Values

“Use and conservation of land are equal values – this is the starting point for EAP. Therefore, one should not be subrogated to the other. But that is traditionally what we have done. Use of land has been the dominant consideration. Until very recently, ecological services have not even been part of the asset management mind-set. At best, ecological services have been considered as an add-on,” stated Tim Pringle, EAP Chair.

“The EAP program has been a multi-year journey to evolve the EAP methodology. Each EAP case study is unique in that partner communities framed creekshed-specific questions to be addressed by their EAP application. Each has yielded key lessons and resulted in fresh observations and insights. We describe these as ‘big ideas’. Each case study has supported the depth of analysis for subsequent EAP applications.”

“The EAP process is collaborative. We modify our theoretical and intellectual approach through conversations with the players. Our goal is to express EAP in language that works for them. That is why Riparian Deficit resonates. We still have work to do with EAP in terms of getting our ideas into language that is easy for a wide audience to use. But we are getting close.”

To Learn More:

Take the time to read, absorb and reflect on A Busy Reader’s Guide below.

Ecological Services are Core Local Government Services

“Streams and other water assets are Natural Commons Assets,” continued Tim Pringle. “Everyone has expectations, enjoys and uses them, and so on. There is an implied contract to maintain and manage them so that they will be there in the future. But from an asset management point of view, we do not have the metrics and so we do not measure ecological services. While we know their impacts, we just don’t know the order-of-magnitude of harm or problems that those impacts have. EAP at least gives us an order-of-magnitude measure.”

“Ecological services are not intuitively understood by the public, elected representatives, and asset managers. To stimulate awareness and advance uptake of a ‘whole-system approach’ to asset management, it helps to define ecological services in terms of drainage, recreation, habitat, and enjoyment of property uses. This is plain language that everyone understands.”

“Once communities make the mental transition to view ecological services as core local government services, and then look at their budgets differently, the change in mind-set should lead to this question: how can we do things better?”

To Learn More:

To read the complete story published on October 19, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process is Game-Changing!