LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Over the long-term, I believe local stewardship groups have an essential role to play in refining the water balance numbers and our understanding of what they mean,” stated Peter Law, Chair of the former Guidebook Steering Committee, on the 20th anniversary of Guidebook publication (June 2022)

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. Storylines accommodate a range of reader attention spans. Read the headline and move on, or take the time to delve deeper – it is your choice!  Downloadable versions are available at Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series.

The edition published on June 7, 2022 featured Peter Law and the “story behind the story” of Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released in June 2002. Without Peter Law, there would have been no Guidebook. Peter saw the need, garnered support within government, and was hands-on in shepherding the Guidebook from inception to completion.

Restore the ‘natural Water Balance’ to stabilize streams, restore aquatic habitat, and sustain summer streamflow

In June 2002, the government of British Columbia released Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia. It was soon recognized across North America for its science-based foundation and its innovation. The Guidebook demonstrates how to apply a Watershed / Landscape-based Approach to Community Planning a description coined by the late, great Erik Karlsen (1945-2020).

In 1997, Washington State science defined and correlated the nature of the land use problem. Their breakthrough was in establishing impervious area thresholds for irreversible impacts on stream ecology. In 2000, the BC breakthrough was development of the Water Balance Methodology. It gave communities a path forward to tackle changes in watershed hydrology at the source – that is, on individual properties.

The Guidebook premise is that land development and watershed protection can be compatible, BUT ONLY IF communities apply systems thinking and Design With Nature to restore the natural water balance.

CONTEXT: British Columbia was followed by California in 2008 and Washington State in 2012.

A Stream is a System

“Peter Law had a clear and pragmatic vision for developing a Stormwater Guidebook for British Columbia. Guided by a mantra of ‘affordable and effective’, the Guidebook team built on Puget Sound research and validated our ‘made in BC. approach through case study experience,” recalled Kim Stephens, Guidebook project manager and principal author.

“A stream is a system, but that is not how land and drainage practitioners treat streams. Moreover, high-level policy statements are often not helpful. To achieve the twin goals of stream stability and aquatic habitat protection, we literally had to re-invent urban hydrology. These one-two drivers resulted in the Water Balance Methodology which transcends the ‘voodoo hydrology’ and simple equations that characterize standard engineering practice.

Putting Guidebook Principles into Practice in Shelly Creek

Twenty years after release of the Guidebook, how water gets to a stream and how long it takes, is still not widely understood among drainage practitioners and local government decision-makers. “When I look back, the thing that disappoints me is how long it has taken for the practitioners to apply the approach versus playing lip service to what we were requesting at the time,” stated Peter Law in a moment of reflection.

Leading by example

For the past decade, and as a volunteer streamkeeper, Peter Law has been putting Guidebook principles into practice in Shelly Creek. This is the last fish-bearing stream in the City of Parksville. Peter is Vice-President of the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society.

With support from the Partnership for Water Sustainability, MVIHES has undertaken a range of demonstration applications that push the envelope of contemporary practices. As Peter Law often reminds those who are curious, “Shelly Creek is an ongoing test case for the Water Balance Methodology”.

Closing the Data Gap

“Stewardship groups have local knowledge about local water resources, and are the most invested and most connected to the land base. It is in the small tributary streams where the impacts of changes in the seasonal water balance are being felt most,” states Peter Law.

“Small streams are now going dry and have zero levels of riparian protection, mostly because in the early days of streamside protection they weren’t seen as worthy of levels of protection.”

“In 2018, MVIHES partnered with the Ministry of Environment to pilot Closing the Data Gap: Water Stewards, the Key to the Future, Streamflow monitoring by MVIHES is ongoing. The Ministry’s objective is to build stewardship sector capacity to do flow measurement. The people who are involved in this grass-roots program are all volunteers.”

“Now that I am the one standing in the creek to take the flow measurements, I appreciate just how much variability there is around hydrology. So, I can see why it take 10 years to have confidence in computer model results. Over the long-term, I believe local stewardship groups have an essential role to play in refining the water balance numbers and our understanding of what they mean.”


To read the complete story published on June 7th 2022, download a PDF copy of “Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Land Development and Watershed Protection Can  Be Compatible”.