LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “You can do all the research that you want but you need good people in government to implement changes in engineering and development practices. They must be technically savvy and have the drive or desire to give back and do good work,” stated Dr. Chris May, retired Surface & Stormwater Division Director, Kitsap County Public Works in Washington State

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. The edition published on March 28, 2023 featured Dr. Chris May of Washington State in a conversational interview about his ground-breaking Puget Sound research in the 1990s that correlated land use changes and the consequences for stream and riparian health.

This is the second in a series of articles about tackling the Riparian Deficit. The first introduced the Nested Concepts graphic and the third announces formation of the EAP Partnership. Willing local governments are collaborating with Vancouver Island University to train next generations of local government staffs to understand and apply EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process. There are parallels with Puget Sound experience three decades ago.



Road map for stream system integrity

“Everyone learns through stories. The science of land use change has not changed. Communities ignore it at their peril. In the second in a series of three stories about tackling the Riparian Deficit, we featured Chris May to both document and make real his oral history,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.

“The ground-breaking work by Chris May et al in the 1990s was done in the pre-Internet era. Somewhere, as Chris chuckled when I interviewed him, his original work may still exist in paper archives. But nobody knows, he quickly added.”

“In that case, I suggested, a best-case scenario might be that the names Richard Horner and Chris May show up as footnotes in a research paper! In the absence of a record of the oral history, such as Waterbucket eNews provides, an understanding of both the context and the impact of their findings would be lost forever.”

“The enduring legacy of Richard Horner and Chris May is that they applied systems thinking, investigated whole systems in place, identified four limiting factors, and definitively established their order-of-priority.”

“With publication of the PhD dissertation by Chris May in 1997, the takeaway message for today’s audiences is that local governments have a science-based and proven road map for corrective actions to protect and/or restore stream system integrity.”

Benefits of cross-border collaboration

“In BC, we translated Puget Sound science into a set of communication tools known far and wide as the ‘fish pictures’. These are embedded in Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia.”

“Released in 2002, the Guidebook gained immediate recognition across North America for our innovation in building on the work of Horner and May to re-invent urban hydrology.”

“The top two factors limiting stream health are changes in hydrology (i.e., hardening of the land surface = more runoff and less absorption of water) and loss of riparian integrity (aka “the Riparian Deficit”).”

“The consequences of changes in hydrology and loss of riparian integrity play out as degradation of aquatic habitat and deterioration of water quality.”

Consequences of weak oversight are measurable

“Guided by the Horner and May road map, the Partnership for Water Sustainability has stayed true to the science and has developed tools and resources for use by local governments. With the passage of time, however, many have not. And this is why urban streams continue to degrade.”

“In the report series, Striking a Balance, the BC Ombudsperson drew attention to the failure by local government to employ adequate oversight of stream systems. The Riparian Deficit shows the magnitude or measurable consequence of weak oversight and failure to manage stream corridors and adjacent riparian areas.”

To Learn More:

To read the complete story published on March 28th 2023, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: History and application of a science-based road map for either protecting or restoring stream system integrity