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Water-Centric Planning

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LONGER, DRIER SUMMERS = DROUGHTS EVERY YEAR: British Columbia is in Year 5 of its ‘new reality’ – prominent scientists say we have crossed a threshold into a new climate regime


FLASHBACK TO 2015: “The water supply issue and concern in a nutshell can be summarized in four points: Southwest BC dodged a bullet this past summer; there have been past crises; there is a repeating pattern; and increasing water supply storage is problematic,” summarized Kim Stephens in a series of year-end interviews following the drought of 2015. “The clock is ticking. Communities need to leverage this teachable year and seize opportunities to change how the water resource is viewed and managed.”

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LONGER, DRIER SUMMERS ARE METRO VANCOUVER’S DROUGHT MANAGEMENT REALITY: “Our unique problem is that we treat our water supply like a buffet,” stated CBC Radio’s Uytae Lee, The Early Edition’s About Here columnist (June 2019)


“Metro Vancouver studies predict that we’ll see a 56 percent decrease in snow on our mountains by 2050,” stated Uytae Lee. “That means we’ll have much less of that backup supply of water on our mountains. At the same time the region is expecting another 1 million people by 2050. We’re going to need more water. Metro Vancouver predicts that we could see a water supply gap by 2030. What that means is that (water shortage) emergencies, like the drought of 2015 won’t just be rare events, they’ll be the norm.”

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BRITISH COLUMBIA’S NEW CLIMATE REALITY: “If this kind of (extreme hot dry) weather persists, we are going to be in challenging situations as we get into the later part of the summer,” stated David Campbell, Hydrologist & Section Head, BC River Forecast Centre (June 2019)


Long stretches of warm weather this spring and too few rainy days are raising alarms about drought across British Columbia. Drought levels have been raised already for parts of the province and Dave Campbell says the current forecast points to drought conditions province-wide in the coming weeks. In an average year, Campbell says the drought map of B.C. would be the colour green, the code for normal. But most of the province is a bright yellow, the code for dry.

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IAN McHARG: No designer has done more to stoke the public imagination or reshape the professions around the environment. And nothing captures the scope and scale of his legacy better than his landmark book, Design With Nature, published in 1969


At the University of Pennsylvania, Ian McHarg taught a campus-wide course titled “Man and Environment” that brought luminaries like Loren Eisley, Margaret Mead, Lewis Mumford, and Julian Huxley into the department of landscape architecture. These courses gave McHarg the grist he would need to write Design With Nature. It arrived amid a national environmental awakening and immediately became part of the zeitgeist, giving planners, designers, and urbanists a manifesto for their frustrations with America’s lax land use and environmental regulations.

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SHIFTING BASELINE SYNDROME: “With each new generation, the expectation of various ecological conditions shifts. The result is that standards are lowered almost imperceptibly,” stated Dr. Daniel Pauly, professor and project leader, Sea Around Us Project, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia


“We transform the world, but we don’t remember it. We adjust our baseline to the new level, and we don’t recall what was there. If you generalize this, something like this happens,” explains Daniel Pauly. An understanding of Daniel Pauly’s “Shifting Baseline Syndrome” is a foundation piece for implementing restorative development, reconnecting hydrology and ecology, and bending the curve to restore stream systems. The goal of shifting to an ecologically functioning and resilient baseline will ultimately depend on the nature of change to standards of practice.

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INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE SALMON: “I like to say to people that after 100 years of research, we know a lot about salmon, but what we need to know most, we mostly don’t know,” stated Dr. Richard Beamish, Scientist Emeritus with the Pacific Biological Research Station in Nanaimo


In 2012, Dick Beamish proposed the International Year of the Salmon to promote research on how ocean conditions are contributing to changes. IYS has now grown into an effort to ensure the “resilience of both salmon and people” in a changing climate. In embarking on this journey, British Columbians can learn from historical precedents and parallels. In particular, the “salmon crisis” in the 1990s was a game-changer in the way it was the catalyst for green infrastructure practices. A generation later, will lightning strike twice and will the iconic salmon again be the regulatory driver that spurs communities to raise the bar to “improve where we live”?

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BUILDING CLIMATE RESILIENCE IN THE OKANAGAN: “The goal of the Homeowner’s Resource Guide is to raise awareness and identify key actions homeowners can take to protect properties from flood, drought, fire, and invasive species,” states Eva Antonijevic, lead author (May 2019)


“Understanding how wildfires travel onto private property helps homeowners understand how to reduce risks of property damage. Reducing fire risk requires a team approach and communities need to work together–neighbour to neighbour,” states Eva Antonijevic. “The guide summarizes climate challenges, and introduces solutions to support Okanagan homeowners in their efforts to protect and enhance their real estate investment from the ongoing challenges of climate change.”

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LEARNING FROM THE BURNING: “We keep talking about adaptation in service of resilience; but more than that we need to adapt now for what is to come,” stated Bob Sandford, Canada’s Winston Churchill of Water


“The foundation of my work is science. It seems to me that the commandments of science can be reduced to two: tell the truth and stand up for all humanity and for the planet,” says Bob Sandford. “Good science is not just the sharing of knowledge about the world, it is a candle we light when we want to see and be warmed by the truth. There has probably never been a time in history when making what science is telling us understandable to a vastly diverse and often preoccupied public has been more important.”

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Australia is the world’s driest continent, but when Europeans first arrived, it also had deep flowing rivers, expansive wetlands, clear creeks and drinkable billabongs


“There is an emerging discourse and practice around cultural flows, that is, water that can contribute to the meanings and practices of Traditional Lore. A greater emphasis on restoring and protecting cultural flows would be a leading innovation in water management,” Bruce Lindsay says. “The Indigenous connection to waterscapes is not just about the water itself. It is about the whole landscape and country and the obligations up and down the rivers.” In the state of Victoria, new water policy approaches have engaged Traditional Owner groups in developing management plans for catchments and major waterways

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ROADS TRUMP RIVERS IN AUSTRALIA: “The question is: can we not reorient the infrastructure model to protection and restoration of waterways? We need to turn urban streams back into functioning ecosystems,” wrote Bruce Lindsay, Environmental Justice Australia


“Freeways and waterways are not incompatible. But the legal privilege and financing of infrastructure is a question of priorities and perspectives and, for the sake of healthy communities and places, we need to give far greater priority to the city’s green infrastructure. The model of infrastructure laws and funding for freeways can potentially provide a model for protection, repair and restoration of urban waterways,” says Bruce Lindsay. “If it is necessary to acquire land along waterways, drive innovation in building and engineering standards, and use public finance to enable a restoration economy, then we should do it.”

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