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  1. Collaboration to Action — Leadership and Investment in Canada’s Blue Economy

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    CWS2017_Intro-Slide-1

    8th Annual Canadian Water Summit

    Water is an undervalued resource, and so the incentive for large water users to monitor, conserve, recycle, and manage discharge beyond regulation requirements is not always obvious. However, water-related risks due to climate change, social license to operate, competing users, and the desire to meet sustainability objectives have led some companies to completely transform their relationship with water.

    Risk & Reward: Doing Business Differently

    The 8th annual Canadian Water Summit is in Toronto on June 22.  This national event will offer expert plenary sessions and panel presentations filled with case studies, real world projects and positive examples.

    As Canadians celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary since Confederation, delegates will explore opportunities to collaborate on water technology and infrastructure finance, “blue economy” growth and climate change resilience through progressive policies, smart business and bold investment leadership. For more details visit www.watersummit.ca.

    The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia is a contributing sponsor.

    2017 Canadian Water Summit_quotable quote

    CWS2017_Postcard-V3_page1

  2. A Perspective on Water Management in Australia: “Water supply needs a splash of competition,” wrote Dr. Peter Coombes in an op-ed for the Financial Review newspaper

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    Note to Reader:

    The article reproduced below was published in the Australian Financial Review on 19 January 2017. It was written by Professor Peter J Coombes in collaboration with Michael Smit (Executive Director, Rainwater Harvesting Association of Australia) and Dr Katherine Daniell (Senior Lecturer, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University).

    Peter Coombes_Financial Review_Jan2017

    Water supply needs a splash of competition

    “Australia’s inefficient water monopoly structure is gouging consumers,” wrote Peter Coombes. “It is protected by state legislation and bureaucrats with little appetite for change. What’s needed is a radical overhaul of the business philosophy underpinning water services, to allow improved technology and community-led alternatives to cut water costs.”

    Peter Coombes_water supply“The millennium drought highlighted how innovative ways to increase local supply and reduce demand for grid water could improve the efficiency of the whole system. Simple strategies such as rainwater tanks and reduced consumption ensured that many Australian cities did not run out of water.”

    “Those lessons have been quickly forgotten. Centralised supply through water grids and expensive desalination plants are now seen as the only economically viable solutions for Australian cities.”

    MG_1074_Peter Coombes_Aug2016_120pA need for security is a status quo argument of centralised monopoly solutions for essential infrastructure. The Australian Financial Review (Editorial: Taxpayers left Holding the Desalination Bag) highlighted that claims of extreme weather have driven demand for expensive desalination plants in preference to dams. However, desalination plants in Victoria and New South Wales, and a water grid in Queensland have left multi-billion dollar debts. Australian households are paying the costs.”

    “Why is this happening? We need to understand the economic and political drivers of these outcomes to fully appreciate what’s causing this market failure.”

    “The economic efficiency of Australia’s centralised water utilities is rapidly declining – and consumers are paying for it. At a macroeconomic level (household welfare across the economy), grid water costs of households in Melbourne, Adelaide and South East Queensland have jumped by up to 180 per cent over the past decade, while water usage has increased by less than 10 per cent. At a microeconomic level (Utility budgets), the operating costs for water utilities have soared by up to 170 per cent and the economic efficiency of water supply has plunged by up to 2300 per cent.”

    “In contrast, Sydney’s water supply is far more economically efficient. Household spending on grid water and utility operating costs increased by just 18 to 54 per cent over the past decade, for a 10 per cent increase in usage. This translates to a fall in economic efficiency of less than 540 per cent, just 22 per cent of the drop in Melbourne, Adelaide and South East Queensland.”

    “The reason for Sydney’s better performance is simple: competition.  Local water sources and demand management provided by the BASIX legislation, and a desalination plant paid for by government funds generated better outcomes for households, including increased disposable income.”

    “It sounds counter-intuitive, but competition from local water supplies and reduced water demand also generates better outcomes for water utilities. This is because reductions in costs – particularly for grid security infrastructure – are many times greater than loss of revenue.”

    “At present, many water utilities are locked in a vicious cycle of trying to spend their way out of infrastructure-induced debt by increasing water prices and consumption to generate more revenue. Desalination and water grids are also seen to maximize market share for grid water. This process dominates water industry balance sheets, leaving negligible funds for innovation and viable alternatives.”

    “Increasing water consumption to boost revenue within a centralised monopoly structure means costs go up more than the additional revenue – ultimately driving higher prices and greater debt. At the same time, fixed tariffs mean that consumers have no incentive to reduce water demand.”

    “The political drivers of this market failure are as much to blame as the economic drivers outlined above. State bureaucracies own the water monopolies, oversee the regulators, recommend executive appointments and decide membership of consultant panels.”

    “This arrangement funnels substantial funds to State budgets and to research and industry associations, with minimal democratic oversight. What’s needed is more competition, as well as independent regulation and advice, to develop alternatives to water grids and desalination plants and to cut everyone’s water bills.”

    “This can be achieved by deregulation of the water industry to clearly separate state government ownership from regulation and governance of water utilities. State water bureaucracies should permit access of competing solutions or businesses to the market.”

    “Implementation of full variable tariffs (no fixed charges) will finally send the necessary price signals to the also deregulated market – driving market responses from business and consumers. There is also a need for more independent and responsive governance of water utilities by including democratically elected representatives on water utility boards. Perhaps some federal oversight is needed,” concluded Peter Coombes.

    To Download the Article:

    Click on Why water supply needs a splash of competition

    About Dr. Peter Coombes

    Systems Thinker, scientist, engineer, Problem Solver and policy analyst. Provider of alternative perspective. Independent.

    Dr Coombes has spent more than 30 years dedicated to the development of systems understanding of the urban, rural and natural water cycles with a view to finding optimum solutions for the sustainable use of ecosystem services, provision of infrastructure and urban planning.

    He has been involved in a wide range of projects, advised many clients and governments, providing strategic design, policy and economic advice to the satisfaction of governments and society.

    Image credit: http://www.blueplanet.nsw.edu.au

    Image credit: http://www.blueplanet.nsw.edu.au

  3. FLASHBACK TO 2010: “The way we see the world is shaped by our vocabulary,” observed Metro Vancouver’s Robert Hicks when commenting on ‘what is an appropriate term to use’ for different uses of water in different languages

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    Note to Reader:

    Stormwater Management, Low Impact Development, Sustainable Drainage, Green Infrastructure, RAINwater Management, Design with Nature, Water Sensitive Urban Design, Innovative Stormwater Management, Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems…. what is an appropriate term to use?

    To download and read a story published on Water Bucket in March 2009, click here.

    Robert Hicks, Senior Engineer in the Policy & Planning Division at Metro Vancouver, was the source of inspiration for that article. Posted in December 2010, the article below captured his latest thinking at that time.

    Total Water Management Introduced

    “The concept of ‘total water management’ is the new buzz phrase in Europe.  LID is so passé,” commented Robert Hicks in 2010, “When you think about it, the way we see the world is shaped by our vocabulary.”

    How Relationships and Worth are Perceived

    “Other languages like French and German often use more exact terms than English for ‘stormwater’ and ‘wastewater’, and this changes how relationships and worth are Robert hicks (120p) - metro vancouverperceived – for example, eaux pluvials, eaux usées transliterate as rainwater and used water; and Regenwasser and Abwasser transliterate as rainwater and ‘out’ water.”

    “The reason why other languages use more exact terms relates to the structural nature of those languages. German is more logical in its grammar than English; and French grammer is also very structured.”

    “In German, the nouns, verbs and adjectives each have specific forms depending upon the role in a sentence – their syntax can be switched and the logic and meaning is not altered.”

    “English on the other hand has devolved into simpler syntax where the switching of the word changes the meaning.”

    “Therefore, in German, communication has stricter rules and much more memorization of conjugated forms than English – but it offers exactness.”

    Use of Jargon in English

    “With English, there is a tendancy to build jargon whereas Germans add words together to define new concepts, but in a very literal way.”

    “Reflecting on what we see happening with the English language, many new jargon words and phrases being coined seem to be the result of framing a political agenda (e.g. tax relief, solid waste, liquid waste, war on terror).”

    “The literal combining of words in English does not always occur – e.g. LIDs, SmartGrowth, etc.”

    “Also, in English we use wastewater where waste has a negative value, and stormwater where storm disregards all the other precipitation events at work.”

    “While these all share the common thread of water, wasser or eau, ‘total water management’ may be more easy rationalized in some other languages as water is either rainwater, drinking water or used water.”

    “Nothing is waste in the water cycle and the word waste does not appear in the terminology,” concluded Robert Hicks.

    robert-hicks-photo-of-manholes

    Total Water Management Explained

    As explained in the Water Encyclopedia, Total Water Management is the exercise of stewardship of water resources for the greatest good of society and the environment.

    A basic principle of Total Water Management is that the supply is renewable, but limited, and should be managed on a sustainable-use basis. Taking into consideration local and regional variations, Total Water Management:

    • Encourages planning and management on a natural water systems basis through a dynamic process that adapts to changing conditions;
    • Balances competing uses of water through efficient allocation that addresses social values, cost effectiveness, and environmental benefits and costs;
    • Requires the participation of all units of government and stakeholders in decision-making through a process of coordination and conflict resolution;
    • Promotes water conservation, reuse, source protection, and supply development to enhance water quality and quantity; and
    • Fosters public health, safety, and community goodwill.

    This definition focuses on the broad aspects of water supply. Examples can be given for other situations, including water-quality management planning, water allocation, and flood control.

    Practices for a Sustainable Future

    total-water-mgmtTotal Water Management: Practices for a Sustainable Future, by Neil S. Grigg,  explains what TWM means in unambiguous language.

    It expands, explains, and illustrates TWM concepts and how to apply them. It is about the balance between our responsibilities to provide safe and reliable water services and to protect the environment.

    To Learn More:

    To read a story posted on Waterbucket in 2005, click on Using ‘total water management’ to meet the challenges of population growth and climate change

     

     

  4. OP-ED: “Water – the need for collective and context specific action” – reflections by Rylan Dobson

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    Note to Reader:

    The article below was contributed by Rylan Dobson. He is currently an MBA candidate at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. He is currently completing his MBA internship with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International’s Freshwater Stewardship team. While undertaking his MBA he acted as a Director on the Executive rylan-dobson_trimmed_120pCommittee of SFU’s Net Impact Chapter and was a Beedie student Ambassador. Rylan’s work with the WWF will involve working with well-known global organisations in order to support them improve their corporate water stewardship programs and build their capacity in the area of context-based water targets within their sustainability strategies. Rylan has a post-graduate degree in Biotechnology and is an experienced project management professional.

    FreeImages.com/danagouws Water – the need for collective

    FreeImages.com/danagouws

    Rylan Dobson’s Five Key Takeaways from Stockholm Water Week 2016

    “Business-as-usual is now no longer possible with the crisis that is faced by our global water resources,” wrote Rylan Dobson. “I had the privilege of attending Stockholm Water Week 2016 at the end of August this year. Having recently completed the academic portion of my MBA and now moving into a role with the World Wildlife Fund’s International water stewardship team there are some big challenges that face the business community – who will play an important role in our collective response to this crisis. As I reflect back on a week of seminars, meetings, discussions and networking, there are five key challenges that seem to form the cornerstones for our response.”

    1.      Private/public engagement

    “This was a common discussion thread throughout the week which acknowledged that in order to make progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) there needs to be more engagement between the private and public sectors. Both parties have strengths to bring to the table but we need to remember that both sides have very different sources of motivations. While that is not necessarily a negative, it does impose challenges in how we engage with the public sector in order to make progress towards achieving SDG6.”

    2.      The “absence” of the SME voice

    “While the business community was represented here in Stockholm, it tended to comprise mainly of the usual global corporations. It was encouraging to see the thought-leadership that some of these players were contributing towards the discussions but they only represent a ‘small’ part of the business community. They clearly demonstrated that there is a business case for engaging in corporate water stewardship (CWS) but the SME voice seemed ‘absent’. While some of these SMEs form a part of the larger supply chains of large corporations leaving the conversation there is too simplistic. We can’t forget that we need to find ways to better support SMEs in building their business cases that will support greater engagement in CWS actions.”

    3.      The big shift needed to a system approach

    “We consistently heard from large global corporates about the CWS work they were involved in outside the fence of their primary operations. Many are finding novel ways to start addressing the shared watershed risks they face but we need to take care that developed projects take a systems view that prioritises the overall health of the watershed. As an example – while drip irrigation may reduce water use and increase crop yields, this approach may end up reducing the amount of water available to filter back into the groundwater networks resulting in an overall negative impact on the health of the overall watershed.”

    4.      Moving from collaboration to collective action

    “CWS has two-dimensions, firstly it aims to reduce risk exposure but it is also a tool to manage the risks that are shared between users within a watershed. Business finds itself at an intersection between the demands for short-term growth and a recognition of an increasingly uncertain long-term future. Collaboration between users within a watershed is quickly becoming standard business practice rather than simply good practice. As a business community, we need to start to explore ways in which we can now convert this collaboration into tangible collective actions and share the lessons we learn along the way.”

    5.      A case for context-based sustainability
    strategies

    “While the majority of the conversations at Stockholm referred to water security as a global issue – the actions that will secure our water future will be more locally driven. There is an increasing acceptance of the concept that business must begin to operate within the planetary boundaries of this critical natural capital. However, the specific boundaries change depending on the location. Referred to as either context-based or science-based sustainability, there is a greater need for the business community and watershed users to better understand their individual local boundaries and directly their actions in order to ensure they operate within these boundaries.”

    “These were my five key takeaway points from my time here at Stockholm Water Week 2016. None of these challenges has an easy or quick solution but I was greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm demonstrated by water professionals globally to continue to engage these challenges as a collective. I would welcome feedback from other professionals who either attending Stockholm Water Week and have insights to share or any other interested professionals,” concluded Rylan Dobson.

    To Learn More:

    To read other posts by Rylan Dobson, visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rylandobson. Follow Rylan on https://twitter.com/rylan_dobson

    In his current role, he is collaborating with global thought-leaders to support the establishment of meaningful context-based water stewardship targets for the business community. This includes evolving the functionality of the WWF Water Risk Filter tool to better support corporate water risk management practices.

    About World Water Week

    World Water Week in Stockholm is the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues. It is organized by SIWI. This year, the theme was Water for Sustainable Growth. It was also the 20th jubilee of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. In 2015, over 3,300 individuals and close to 300 convening organizations from 130 countries participated in the Week.

    Experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries come to Stockholm to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges of today. The organisers believe water is key to our future prosperity, and that together, we can achieve a water wise world.

  5. Australia’s Dr. Peter Coombes champions “Transitioning Drainage into Urban Water Cycle Management”

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    Note to Reader:

    In May 2015, Dr. Peter Coombes was one of three Keynote Speakers at the Stormwater Victoria Conference. The conference theme was ‘Climate Change – Does it Matter Anymore?’. The conference focus was on the impacts of climate change and the mitigation measures that will be required to deal with those impacts. This presentation was the first in a series of presentations in 2015 by Dr. Coombes about Transitioning Drainage into Urban Water Cycle Management.

    Stormwater_Victoria_Conference_2015_Web_Banner

    Towards Integration of Land and Water Planning

    “Urban stormwater management is described in Australian Rainfall and Runoff (ARR) as the hydraulic design of urban drainage. The current approach to urban drainage is based on conveyance of stormwater runoff to meet minor and major design objectives to mitigate nuisance, and avoid damage to property and loss of life,” stated Dr. Peter Coombes.

    “There have been many changes in our approach to urban water management in Australia since the establishment of the centralised and separate water supply, Peter Coombes_2015_original_trimmed2_500pstormwater and wastewater paradigm in the 1800s. Urban water management has especially evolved over the last two decades to include protection of waterways, mitigation of stormwater quality, Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) and Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) approaches. Although these approaches are relatively new, they have wide adoption and support in legislation and policies for water management throughout Australia.”

    “This presentation discussed the need to integrate evolving approaches to urban water cycle management into guidelines for urban stormwater management.”

    “There is a need to expand the guidance provided by ARR to accommodate contemporary and integrated approaches to urban water cycle management which starts with the integration of land and water planning across time horizons and spatial scales. This guidance must include advances in urban water cycle management, and be cognisant for the likely advances in science and professional practice over the next 30 years.”

    “An appropriate policy framework is also required to integrate land and water management with design processes at all spatial scales from local to regional. This framework also needs to apply to urban renewal and asset renewal or replacement choices. Appropriate design methods for integrated solutions are likely to include variability of real rainfall events by using continuous simulation, Monte Carlo frameworks and techniques that consider complete storms, frequency of rainfall volumes and the spatial variability of events.”

    Schematic of the connectivity of urban water networks

    Schematic of the connectivity of urban water networks

    What is Australian Rainfall and Runoff?

    Australian Rainfall and Runoff (ARR) is a national guideline for the estimation of design flood characteristics in Australia. It is published by Engineers Australia. The 1987/1999 edition has reportedly served the industry well but is now being revised. The revision process includes 21 research projects, which have been designed to fill knowledge gaps that have arisen since the 1987 edition was published.

    The research projects allow industry to comment on the technical direction before the new edition of the ARR guideline is released.

    Keeping ARR up-to-date is an important component in the provision of reliable (robust) estimates of flood risk. This ensures that development does not occur in high risk areas and that infrastructure is appropriately designed.

    To Learn More:

    To download a copy of the paper presented by Dr. Peter Coombes in October 2015 at the WSUD Conference, click on Transitioning Drainage into Urban Water Cycle Management.

    “The need to consider integrated approaches for future urban water management means that our current approaches of separate analyses of water quantity, water quality, potable water and wastewater systems are no longer the best approach. Integrated systems have the capacity to produce solutions that respond to multiple objectives including economic, social and environmental criteria,” cpncludes Dr. Coombes.

    “ARR therefore needs to promote methods that bring these elements together in a combined analysis approach. This will require strong leadership from the water industry and a recognition of the need to collaborate across science, engineering, planning and sociological sectors in order to maximise the opportunities for implementing integrated solutions.”

  6. Reflections by Australia’s Dr. Peter Coombes (2nd in a 3-part series): “Integrate water balance strategies with existing infrastructure strategies to visualise what a ‘resilient future’ would look like”

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    Note to Reader:

    Australia’s Dr. Peter Coombes is a systems thinker, scientist, engineer, problem solver and policy analyst. In May 2015, Part 1 of the 3-part series of his reflections highlighted an eventful parallel journey between British Columbia and Australia towards a more sustainable and resilient society over the last decade.

    Peter Coombes observes that it has been a journey of different cultures and climates, but similar challenges, to ensure water supplies and enhance our environment while striving for greater inclusiveness throughout society. This second of three articles focuses on insights gained from the challenges of drought and Peter’s interactions with BC leaders during the period 2005 to 2009.

    from a presentation by Peter Coombes titled "Institutional Resistance & Other Barriers" - to download https://waterbucket.ca/cfa/files/2006/02/2005_Peter-Coombes_Vancouver4.pdf

    from a presentation by Peter Coombes titled “Institutional Resistance & Other Barriers” – to download https://waterbucket.ca/cfa/files/2006/02/2005_Peter-Coombes_Vancouver4.pdf

    Urgency of Drought: Systems Thinking Reveals Opportunities

    Peter Coombes_2015_original_trimmed2_500pDr. Peter Coombes is a water advisor to governments in Australia. He has spent more than 30 years dedicated to the development of systems understanding of the urban, rural and natural water cycles with a view to finding optimum solutions for the sustainable use of ecosystem services, provision of infrastructure and urban planning. In 2006, he was the keynote speaker for the Water in the City Conference, held in Victoria, when CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island was launched.

    In Part 1, the theme for reflections by Peter Coombes was “Through Consensus and Challenge: Essential Fabric of Resilient Society.” In this Part 2, the focus is on Peter’s 2006 trip to British Columbia and Australia’s so called “Millennium Drought”. Looking ahead, Part 3 will highlight Australia’ transition into flooding rains and behaviours after the emergency caused by the drought – with some key insights into policy and practice derived from a decade of droughts and floods.

    To Learn More:

    To read Part 1 in the 3-part series, click on “Through Consensus and Challenge: Essential Fabric of Resilient Society”.

    To access a comprehensive list of publications by Peter Coombes, click on Qualitative and Multi-method Research, Public Policy, Environmental Engineering

    Australia’s Millennium Drought, Impacts and Solutions

    “Australia experienced the lowest rainfall on record in 2006 and worsening drought as indicated by declining water storages. Declines in annual rainfall (20% to 50%) created dramatic reductions in runoff (greater than 70%) into inland dams supplying urban and rural sectors. Water management strategies in Australia were dominated by proposals for large regional infrastructure that commonly resulted in dismissal of smaller scale policies or strategies.”

    Australia’s cities were endangered

    “The solutions preferred by the water bureaucracy and consultants were desalination, long pipelines into rural water resources and large scale wastewater reuse for human consumption. The character and liveability of our cities were endangered – our urban vegetation was dying and health of our waterways had diminished.”

    “It was claimed that it was not raining and it will never rain again – Australia was apparently experiencing a permanent step change to lower rainfall regimes. However, cities continued to receive greater rainfall than inland water catchments and proposed major infrastructure projects had not been delivered.”

    Local actions saved Australia’s cities

    “The local and small scale actions of citizens ensured that the majority of Australian cities did not exhaust urban water supplies. Citizens reduced water use by up to 50% using rainwater harvesting, water efficient appliances, reuse of greywater and changes in behaviour. The solutions dismissed as not viable helped save our cities.”

    Blended Approach to Implementation of Water Cycle Management Approaches

    “A history of top down management of water in Australia was challenged by drought. Concerned citizens called for implementation of bottom up strategies and inclusion in the decision making process. It was an emerging insight that there were no ‘silver bullet’ single solutions for water management. Both bottom-up and top-down approaches were needed.”

    Ensure Security of Supply

    “The author was a member of the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council’s working group on Water for Cities that recognised that more flexible and inclusive strategies that utilise multiple sources of water are a more appropriate response to the security of urban water supplies. A combination of traditional centralised and decentralised water cycle management approaches will enhance the resilience of a city.”

    Implement Water Balance Approach

    “Systems thinking was incorporated by the author in the Systems Framework of distributed linked water balances that represent opportunities, constraints and feedback loops across multiple scales and disciplines. This type of systems analysis demonstrated the value of distributed policies and strategies to enhance the performance of traditional solutions in cities.”

    “This was the context of the author’s involvement in the Water in the City Conference in Victoria on Vancouver Island during 2006. The conversations with Canadians during the conference were a contrast to the Australian situation but there were many similarities.”

    D44_Water in the City_banner

    Quest for Green Infrastructure & Sustainable Cities

    “The search for bottom-up agreement was strongly articulated by the many non-government agencies in the quest for green infrastructure and sustainable cities. However, challenges to these aspirations included top-down water regulations and a bottom up concern that new approaches would result in job losses at publicly owned water utilities.”

    “During the 2006 conference, a number of towns in British Columbia were facing water shortages and concern about discharge of primary effluent from Victoria to the environment highlighted the need for diverse solutions.”

    An Australian’s observations of British Columbia practices

    “Canadians are world leaders implementing urban forests and management of forested catchments. However, there was polite disagreement about the value of urban forests and forested catchments as replacements for hard engineering infrastructure.”

    “Inclusion of green infrastructure to replace hard surfaces and formal drainage infrastructure can improve stormwater management in cities. A transition of design practice from stormwater management to ‘designing with nature’ was outlined by Don Moore and David Desrochers from the City of Vancouver. Similarly, forested catchments and natural waterways can act as buffers to improve the quality of water supplies that avoids the need for new water treatment plants. Local water sources can balance the uncertainty created by a changing climate.”David Desrochers_500p

    Don Moore (1959-2008)

    Don Moore (1959-2008)

    To Understand the context:

    Click on FLASHBACK TO 2005: Organized by Don Moore (1959-2008), the “Let It Rain Conference” Showcased a Vision for Green Infrastructure in BC

    Call to Action

    “However, a legacy opinion that green infrastructure cannot be valued, the benefits for sustainable cities are uncertain and these approaches should not be considered as ‘real infrastructure’ was a call to action. Assessment of new approaches in isolation from urban systems from the perspective of a single large scale has reinforced this view.”

    Look at a Watershed as a Whole System

    “Dr Richard Horner (below left) from University of Washington and Dr Chris May (below right) from Kitsap County have highlighted that protection of watershed health is dependent on understanding of whole system that includes multiple linked scales of behaviour.”

    “This systems thinking approach also underpinned the development of the Water Chris May_120p1Richard Horner_120pBalance Model for British Columbia. Similar to the Systems Framework approach in Australia, these systems approaches are revealing new sustainable opportunities. This is a key linking theme between Canada and Australia during the period 2005 to 2009.”

  7. Reflections by Australia’s Dr. Peter Coombes (1st in a 3-part series): “Through Consensus and Challenge: Essential Fabric of Resilient Society”

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    from a presentation by Peter Coombes titled “Institutional Resistance & Other Barriers” – to download click on https://waterbucket.ca/cfa/files/2006/02/2005_Peter-Coombes_Vancouver4.pdf

    from a presentation by Peter Coombes titled “Institutional Resistance & Other Barriers” – to download click on https://waterbucket.ca/cfa/files/2006/02/2005_Peter-Coombes_Vancouver4.pdf

    Reflections on the Parallel Journey by Canada and Australia

    In 2005, Cate Soroczan of Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation (CMHC) had a vision for an Across Canada Rainwater Harvesting Workshop Series. In British Columbia, two events were organized under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan and held in Vancouver and Victoria in May and June, respectively.Cate Soroczan_2013_120p

    The headliners for the Across Canada series were two internationally known practitioners – Dr. Peter Coombes (Australia) and Klaus Koenig (Germany). The workshops in Vancouver and Victoria featured Coombes and Koenig, respectively. The two events established credibility and generated early momentum for the Convening for Action initiative.

    Peter Coombes speaking

    Peter Coombes speaking

    Peter Coombes – Systems Thinker, Scientist, Engineer, Problem Solver and Policy Analyst

    “A recent conversation with Kim Stephens from the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC has highlighted an eventful parallel journey between Canada and Australia towards a more sustainable and resilient society over the last decade,” states Dr. Peter Coombes, water advisor to governments in Australia.

    Peter Coombes_2015_original_trimmed2_120pPeter Coombes has spent more than 30 years dedicated to the development of systems understanding of the urban, rural and natural water cycles with a view to finding optimum solutions for the sustainable use of ecosystem services, provision of infrastructure and urban planning. In 2006, he was the keynote speaker for the Water in the City Conference, held in Victoria, when CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island was launched.

    Peter Coombes attracted a large audience to the 2005 Rainwater Harvesting Workshop in Vancouver

    Peter Coombes attracted a large audience to the 2005 Rainwater Harvesting Workshop in Vancouver

    A Contrast of Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Approaches

    “It has been a journey of different cultures and climates but similar challenges to ensure water supplies and enhance our environment whilst striving for greater inclusiveness throughout society. This article focuses on insights gained from interactions with Canadian leaders during the period 2001 to 2005,” continues Peter Coombes.

    “Australia is a nation of extremes – a land of droughts and flooding rains. Canada enjoys boundless beauty and water. The easy going ‘she’ll be right mate’ culture of Australians masks strong aversion to change ‘we’ve always done it this way’. Our water management is, mostly, a centralised top down (driven by institutions) process. Management of water supply is separated from community as statutory monopolies governed by bureaucracy. In contrast, Canadians have a bottom up (driven by people) discussion ‘let’s talk about this’ about ideas – consensus via non-government organisations and community governance.”

    Impact of 1990s Drought in Australia – Catalyst for ‘Water Sensitive Urban Design’

    “Whilst centralised thinking prevails, impacts on environments and water security are driven by decentralized behaviours. Water is demanded and hydrology is altered by local actions that impact on the health of our waterways. During the 1990s drought, these insights motivated Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) guidelines that combined urban planning and water management to maintain natural water balances. Distributed water management to restore natural water balances was a key idea.”

    “The promise of sustainable solutions was compelling, but water sensitive projects were an aberration requiring strong challenges to historical practice. The drought was a catalyst for sustainable projects and policies throughout Australia. For example, Figtree Place in Newcastle was funded by the Australian government’s Building Better Cities initiative and the New South Wales Stormwater Trust. Figtree Place was designed by Professor John Argue (University of South Australia) to restore the natural water balance of the site.”

    Figtree Place, Australia - Case Study in Water Sensitive Urban Design. To learn more,  click on http://urbanwatercyclesolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/FigtreePlace.pdf

    Figtree Place, Australia – Case Study in Water Sensitive Urban Design. To learn more, click on http://urbanwatercyclesolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/FigtreePlace.pdf

    After the Drought

    “The Lower Hunter and Central Coast Capacity Building programme was created to support the design and approval of sustainable projects. Kim Stephens was an early guest speaker at a forum (2001) that challenged industry to count all of the costs and benefits to value sustainable projects. Kim was one of the ‘markers’ of my PhD andmade the important comment ‘we must integrate land use planning and water management’.”

    “Australia emerged from the 1990s drought and justification for sustainable projects declined. Nevertheless, dedicated local authorities and individuals continued to develop sustainable projects. There were also examples of widespread challenge and collaboration to create change. Sydney sustainable house identity Michael Mobbs, environmental groups and the author teamed up with New South Wales politicians to initiate the BASIX planning policy for new buildings to include water and energy efficiency. A challenge by a handful of people resulted in widespread collaboration on new policy.”

    Across Canada Workshop Series

    Wm Patrick Lucey

    Wm Patrick Lucey

    “In 2005, I was invited by Cate Soroczan from the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation to a series of workshops. These events included amazing conversations and an overwhelming sense of optimism and excitement about new ideas by Canadians. Cate introduced me to fresh water ecologists Patrick Lucey and Cori Barraclough.”

    Oliver Brandes

    Oliver Brandes

    “Patrick hosted a tour of sustainable projects on Vancouver Island that aimed for ‘urban areas that function like forests’, save money (Nature’s Revenue Streams), and maintain natural water balances. Historical designs were challenged to create agreement about sustainable ideas – a similar process was underway in Australia. Oliver Brandes highlighted that we need to integrate urban planning and water management in this change process.”

    Patrick Lucey (L) in the audience at 2005 workshop headlined by  Peter Coombes

    Patrick Lucey (L) in the audience at 2005 workshop headlined by Peter Coombes

    Challenge to Create Consensus

    “In 2005, a linking theme and challenge to the emerging Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC was the need to restore natural water balances. Our cultures and pathways to consensus may be different, but the key ideas and experiences of our change agents are similar. Perhaps Canadians are more open to new ideas?” concludes Peter Coombes.

    To Learn More:

    To read a magazine article about the 2005 Series, click on Thinking Outside the Pipe: Rainwater Harvesting Workshop Series resonates with British Columbians.

    Kim Stephens presents gift to Peter Coombes

    Kim Stephens presents gift to Peter Coombes

  8. “Cities are finally treating water as a resource, not a nuisance,” writes Erica Gies

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    Note to Reader:

    erica gies_120pThe following article by Erica Gies was originally published on Ensia and is reproduced under the terms of Creative Commons’ Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. Based in San Francisco, independent reporter Erica Gies writes about science and the environment, particularly energy and water, for the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Forbes, Wired News and other outlets.

    Ensia is powered by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

    Buffalo Bayou Promenade. (Acknowledgement: Photo by Tom Fox/SWA. With thanks to the Institute of the Environment, University of Minnesota.)

    Buffalo Bayou Promenade. (Acknowledgement: Photo by Tom Fox/SWA. With thanks to the Institute of the Environment, University of Minnesota.)

    From Houston to Melbourne, the surprising ways urban areas are dealing with water woes

    Memorial Day barbecues and parades were thwarted this year in Houston when a massive storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain in two days, creating a Waterworld of flooded freeways, cars, houses and businesses, leaving several people dead and hundreds in need of rescue.

    But it was a predictable disaster. That’s because, thanks to a pro-development bent, the magnitude of stormwater runoff has increased dramatically as Houston has sprawled across 600 or so square miles of mud plain veined with rivers, sealing under asphalt the floodplains and adjoining prairies that once absorbed seasonal torrential rains and planting development in harm’s way. Land subsidence from groundwater pumping and oil and gas development and, now, sea level rise and more frequent and severe storms are applying additional pressure from Galveston Bay, which sits just east of the city of 2.2 million.

    The good news? Houston had already begun shifting gears, hoping to reduce the severity of future floods by reclaiming 183 miles of natural waterways that snake through the city and 4,000 acres of adjacent green space from industrial areas through a project known as the Bayou Greenways. The goal is to absorb rain where it falls, reducing the volume rushing into stormwater detention facilities, and to encourage biking and walking as “active transit” in the parks that make up the Bayou Greenways.

    With these measures, Houston is beginning to embrace a worldwide trend in urban retrofitting — layering new infrastructure on top of old to help cities weather climate change. In many places, that includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions: shifting to cleaner energy, making buildings more efficient and improving public transit. For cities facing increased threats from floods and droughts, it also means adapting to a changing world by finding new ways to manage water.

    Resilient and Economically Beneficial

    The Memorial Day flood led Houston to postpone its planned celebration of the new Buffalo Bayou Park, a piece of Bayou Greenways. The flood was something of a test: While much of the city suffered because of the floodwaters the park passed with flying colors, acting as a stormwater channel while park infrastructure weathered the deluge as intended, Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, a nonprofit organization focused on redeveloping and restoring the bayou, told a local news site.

    Such water management projects can pay economic dividends to cities, says Henk Ovink, a Dutchman who was recently appointed by Dutch government ministers as the first special envoy for international water affairs for the Netherlands. Having danced with the sea and four river deltas for nearly a millennium, the Netherlands has created something of a cottage industry imparting hard-won water management wisdom to other countries — among them, the United States, the Philippines, Japan, Colombia, Vietnam, Korea, Bangladesh, France and Guyana.

    “Waterfronts are turning communities’ faces back to the water as they become great urban places, parks, public amenities.” – Henk Ovink

    Ovink points to the economic benefits reaped by London’s Docklands redevelopment project and Essen, Germany, which was recently dubbed European Green Capital for 2017 for remediating derelict coal industry areas with green infrastructure that enhances nature and biodiversity. Essen has built green and blue corridors and taken steps to address climate change, air quality, waste management and energy as it moves to a services and financial center economy.

    “Waterfronts are turning communities’ faces back to the water as they become great urban places, parks, public amenities,” Ovink says. That in turn attracts new businesses by making it easier to hire good employees, which is a big part of Houston’s motivation, says Michael Bloom, manager of sustainability practice at R.G. Miller Engineers, a Houston-based civil engineering firm.

    The extent to which cities are making natural infrastructure an integral part of their water management plans is new, says Katie Arkema, senior scientist at the Natural Capital Project, an early proponent of resilient infrastructure. Around the world — from Melbourne, Australia, to China’s “sponge cities” to coastal cities in New Jersey and Belize — urban planners are formally expanding natural stream and wetlands hydrology and ecosystems such as dunes, mangrove forests and coral reefs to better protect communities. Last fall the White House explicitly backed natural infrastructure as a tool to boost climate resilience.

    A stormwater park in Qunli, China, acts as a green sponge, restoring wetland functions that had been cut off by urban development. (Acknowledgement: Photo by Kongjian Yu. With thanks to the Institute of the Environment, University of Minnesota.)

    A stormwater park in Qunli, China, acts as a green sponge, restoring wetland functions that had been cut off by urban development. (Acknowledgement: Photo by Kongjian Yu. With thanks to the Institute of the Environment, University of Minnesota.)

    “Natural” or “green” infrastructure tends to be more resilient to water stress than human-engineered infrastructure because it’s flexible; it bends, rather than breaks. The goal is to create a system that “functions as a living organism,” says Tony Wong, an early advocate of green infrastructure and founder and CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, which has hubs in three Australian cities, including Melbourne. Green infrastructure “mimics the functions of forests and wetlands and open spaces to serve and cleanse our cities,” he says.

    It’s a reversal from the 20th century model that collected rain in detention tanks and lined rivers with concrete to move water away from built infrastructure as quickly as possible. That approach cut off rivers from their floodplains, raising water levels. And because concrete systems don’t flex, when they were inundated disaster struck.

    As more cities formally embrace green infrastructure in their planning, it can be hard to remember how radical it seemed just a few years ago. In fact, in Houston, despite the Bayou Greenways project, it’s still pretty radical, says Bloom, who is active in local groups focused on water sustainability. Given Texas’ anti-regulation culture, “I can’t be too outlandish, but I do try to move the needle forward,” he says. He encourages developers to build swales swathed in native grasses as an alternative to concrete stormwater detention cisterns. One colleague dubbed them “beautiful ditches,” Bloom says, and their popularity is growing because they “add landscape attraction and usually cost less.”

    Floods and Drought

    Meanwhile, Wong’s home city of Melbourne has a complex challenge — one with which more cities are beginning to grapple. Even though it sometimes floods, Melbourne also suffers from the severe droughts that frequently plague Australia.

    Like several other cities in Australia, Melbourne built a desalination plant in response to the recent 11-year drought. However, the facility is energy intensive and the water it produces is expensive, so it has sat idle since it was completed because the drought broke soon afterward, meaning cheaper, less energy-intensive sources of water were once again available.

    But one approach can solve both drought and flooding, says Wong.

    “If you look at the water balance in many of our cities, you will realize that the combined amount of stormwater … plus the wastewater, the sewage water, are in fact more than the water that our cities consume,” he says. By creating wetlands among buildings, expanding community gardens and urban orchards in public spaces, using gray water to water landscapes and flush toilets, Melbourne can reduce its dependence on dams and desalination plants to supply itself with the water it needs in dry times, he says.

    Urban Kidneys

    Taking steps to restore a city’s natural hydrology can also clean polluted water. Many cities on the U.S. East Coast and Great Lakes were built with a combined sewer system. Stormwater is routed through the sewage treatment plant to clean it before releasing it into nearby rivers. It sounds like a good idea, but these systems are regularly overwhelmed during big storms — meaning that untreated sewage overflows into rivers.

    While some cities have replaced combined systems with separate “gray” stormwater infrastructure to reduce the number of combined sewer overflow incidents, others, such as Philadelphia, are using green infrastructure to absorb more stormwater where it falls — which can be a cheaper way of dealing with the problem. Philadelphia reclaimed land along the banks of local creeks and rivers and built parks that can flood when necessary. That reduces the amount of water entering the sewage system during storms and also cleans it via the ground’s natural filtration. This Green City, Clean Waters initiative, begun in 2011, also gives incentives to private landowners to open natural water pathways with street tree wells, planted “bumpouts” in sidewalks, rain gardens, green roofs, urban agriculture and even porous pavement.

    “People are saying, ‘I’d rather lose my view and have a big dune to protect my home.’” – Katie Arkema

    Such features act as “the kidneys of our city that filter the stormwater that carries all the urban pollution every time it rains,” says Wong, adding that they also beautify cities and enhance their microclimates. Wetlands and native grasses in Houston’s Bayou Greenways project are expected to filter 2 billion gallons of runoff annually, saving US$1.3 million in treatment costs, according to a report to the Houston Parks Board.

    Hurricane Response

    Seaside, enhancing natural ecosystems can also be cost-effective and deliver ancillary benefits. After Hurricane Sandy, the Rebuilding Task Force asked for input from Ovink, then deputy director general of the Dutch Department of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs. Ovink set up a competition called Rebuild by Design to inspire innovative rebuilding solutions. Green infrastructure was a critical goal of the competition, and a final task force recommendation was to build up and protect existing ecosystems, such as sand dunes. Now New Jersey is working to close the gaps between dunes in a massive sand dune restoration effort to protect homes. Although not everyone is on board, many local homeowners see the benefits. “People are saying, ‘I’d rather lose my view and have a big dune to protect my home,’” says Arkema.

    Sometimes neither built infrastructure nor natural ecosystem enhancement can do the job, however, and the best solution is to withdraw from the shoreline entirely. Unfortunately, disasters are the quickest way to convince property owners to relocate. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 killed 22 people and damaged 73,000 Houston-area homes, causing US$5 billion in property damage. The disaster prompted the Harris County Flood Control District to use money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy out the hardest-hit homeowners, removing the structures from future harm’s way.

    Community Engagement

    But dialogue and community engagement can sometimes work ahead of disaster. The Dutch recognized the importance of collaboration in water management way back in the 1100s, Ovink says, because if a farmer built levees around his house, the water would then inundate neighbors. “Our democracy started as a water democracy with regional water authorities, even before we were a kingdom,” he says.

    A near-disaster can also spur change, says Ovink. Rising waters in the Dutch rivers Rijn, Maas and Waal in 1995 forced 250,000 people to evacuate. Although the waters eventually receded without flooding the towns, “it raised the awareness of how vulnerable our riverine system was,” Ovink says.

    A spirit of compromise between national government and local communities led to the Dutch plan called Room for the River, which did what its name implies and made room for rivers by restoring natural features while asking some residents to move. (Acknowledgement: Photo by Room for the River Waal. With thanks to the Institute of the Environment, University of Minnesota.)

    A spirit of compromise between national government and local communities led to the Dutch plan called Room for the River, which did what its name implies and made room for rivers by restoring natural features while asking some residents to move. (Acknowledgement: Photo by Room for the River Waal. With thanks to the Institute of the Environment, University of Minnesota.)

    In response, the government created a national program called Room for the River. “This really meant making more room for the rivers, giving up the land and asking people to move,” says Ovink. Farmers were asked to give up land that had been in their families for generations. “This was not the government coming in and telling you, ‘You have to leave your houses,’” he says. “The government said, ‘These are the risks, here are some possible solutions. … We have to make room for the water.’”

    Communities across the region came together to discuss the problem with experts and officials and ultimately agreed on solutions. “Instead of only building higher dams and dikes, we increased the capacity of our delta,” says Ovink, by pushing back dikes and widening floodplains. Some farmers were persuaded to give up their land; others agreed to let their land flood if necessary — after evacuating their cattle to higher ground. “It was a marriage between two interests: safety and community,” says Ovink.

    Informed dialogue works, agrees Arkema. In Belize, the Natural Capital Project met with local communities to identify their priorities: storm protection, a healthy lobster fishery and tourism, which also benefits from healthy coastal ecosystems. The agreed-upon national plan allowed for some development — for example, new resorts to boost tourism — but “done in a way that didn’t jeopardize protective ecosystems,” Arkema says.

    It’s important to understand, however, that there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. “Cites are unique — built upon varied habitat with different weather patterns, economies and social values,” Arkema says. Interdisciplinary science and community engagement helps cities figure out what approach works best where.

    A mental shift into the 21st century, which is going to continue to look very different than what we’ve known, also helps. The key, says Ovink, is to “try to live with water instead of fight it.”

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    To Learn More:

    To access the original article, click on CITIES ARE FINALLY TREATING WATER AS A RESOURCE, NOT A NUISANCE

    Ensia is a magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action. It covers a broad spectrum of environment and sustainability issues, looking at the crossroads of sectors, disciplines, ideologies and geographies for new ideas to emerge.

    Their mission is to share environmental solutions and spark conversations that motivate, empower and inspire people to create a more sustainable future.

    Ensia is powered by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota; with support from major foundations and private individuals.

  9. “Definition of Water in the U.S.”, known as WOTUS, increases reach of American federal regulations

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    Note to Reader:

    Recently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a long-awaited final rule on WOTUS, set to take effect in late August 2015.

    Is WOTUS a burdensome regulation?

    “The definition of ‘water’ is not typically a controversial subject. But with new federal regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — called the ‘Definition of Water in the U.S.,’ or ‘WOTUS’ — water may come to be defined as a burdensome regulation on local and county governments,” Rich Sve_Minnesota_120pwrote Minnesota local government politician Rich Sve in an opinion piece published in the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota.

    Rich Sve is a Lake County commissioner, chairman of the Association of Minnesota Counties’ Environment and Natural Resources Committee and chairman of the Northern Counties Land Use Coordinating Board.

    Implications of ‘Interconnectedness’

    The final rule for WOTUS takes into account the “interconnectedness” of tributaries, wetlands and other waters to downstream waters. This means the federal government would substantially increase federal control of lakes, streams, wetlands and drainage ditches. It subjects the “new” federally protected waters to additional standards and rules.

    To Learn More:

    To download and read the complete opinion piece, click on Local view: Federal water rule will hurt counties.

    Click on EPA and the Army Corps’ Rule to Define “Waters of the United States” to read an explanatory document prepared by the US Congressional Research Service in June 2015.

    Another reference is Understanding the Proposed Definition of Waters of the United States, prepared by the American Water Works Association, 2014.

  10. Metro Vancouver Water Shortage Response Plan – Daily Consumption and Reservoir Levels During 2015 Drought

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    To obtain current information, visit http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/water/conservation-reservoir-levels/reservoir-levels/Pages/default.aspx

    To obtain current information, visit http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/water/conservation-reservoir-levels/reservoir-levels/Pages/default.aspx

    Metro Vancouver moved to Stage 3 water restrictions when high use plus drought depleted reservoir storage

    On July 20, 2015 Metro Vancouver moved to Stage 3 water restrictions – for the first time since 2003 – banning all lawn sprinkling with treated drinking water and bringing in a number of other water conservation measures.

    “We need to reduce our discretionary use of water including lawn sprinkling and washing cars,” said Board Chair Greg Moore. “Our reservoir levels need to be maintained for priority needs in our homes and businesses, and for community needs Mayor-Greg-Moore_2013_120plike fire protection.”

    “We are seeing record temperatures and there was virtually no rain in June when normally we have rain on about 12 days,” added Moore. “We all have to do our part and conserve water whenever possible, and that now includes only watering lawns once a week.”

    To Learn More:

    Read the full list of Stage 3 water restrictions

    The climate in BC is changing: Metro Vancouver moves to Stage 3 water restrictions because high use plus drought depletes reservoir storage

    2015 DROUGHT: Longer, Drier, Hotter Summer Triggers Stage 2 Water Restrictions in Metro Vancouver

    Daily System Consumption Summer 2015

    Daily System Consumption Summer 2015

    Metro Vancouver also posts reservoir storage levels June to November, when rainfall is lower and the regional demand for water is higher. The information is updated each Tuesday.

    Metro Vancouver also posts reservoir storage levels June to November, when rainfall is lower and the regional demand for water is higher. The information is updated each Tuesday.