FIRE & FLOOD – FACING TWO EXTREMES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (Part 1): “The devastation, driven in part by climate change, say experts, is expected to worsen with drier, hotter summers, more frequent floods and rising oceans,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra and Glenda Luymes (May 2022)
“Many communities face both wildfire and flood risks. Underpinning the findings is the fact local governments, which the province had made responsible for much of the risk reduction work, face huge costs they cannot pay,” wrote Gordon Hoekstra, lead author for the 7-part series. Four-month examination drew from responses to questions put to more than 85 municipalities, First Nations and regional districts; thousands of pages of government-commissioned, academic and other independent reports, and community wildfire and flood protection plans.
LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “In 1995, I got involved in a Local Area Plan that was under development and started advocating for changes in watershed and stream protection policies. To draw attention to the need for action, I organized a series of community walks and developed a ‘watershed tour’ slideshow and took it around the community,” stated Ian Graeme, community leader and founder, Friends of Bowker Creek Society
“Technical knowledge is not enough. You learn that technical competence alone is not going to get you there. That is what I want to pass on to people. If you have a technical problem, it is relationships that matter most. Strong relationships help make the Bowker Creek Initiative agile. We need agility because we do not have the time and resources. At one level, all of us are too busy. At another level, and given the challenges posed by the issues of the day, we need to move on opportunities very quickly. Over a career, you do learn that it is all about understanding people. Technical knowledge is incidental sometimes,” stated Ian Graeme.
LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “The Asset Management ‘plan’ addresses life cycle assets related to the service they provide and the basis for replacement or upgrade over time. The risk and consequences of not taking action are substantially higher and more consequential than for Master Plans for water, sewerage and drainage,” stated Wally Wells, Executive Director of Asset Management BC
“Asset Management is an awkward term. We have managed assets for decades and understand what that is and what we are doing. Suddenly we took two very simple words, reversed them, and went from managing assets to asset management. The result? We confused everyone. Too much attention is given to only the Asset Management Plan as opposed to all elements of the process. Even then, should we be calling the outcome the ‘Asset Management Plan’? But we do need to be careful in how we communicate what we do and what the expectations are with the results,” stated Wally Wells.
CHALLENGES & GAPS IN THE WSA: “Why we need to talk about unvested water in British Columbia” – the story behind the story as told by Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei, retired senior civil servants in the Ministry of Environment (April 2022)
When BC’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) came into force in 2016, “certain things were left behind”. Released in January 2022, the government’s Discussion Paper on Watershed Security Strategy represents a once per decade window of opportunity to revisit assumptions and decisions that defined the WSA scope, reflect on the context for those assumptions and decisions, and determine what action should be taken in light of new understanding. “It is possible that no water-related legislation, bylaw, plan or strategy can be applied to unvested water,” stated Mike Wei.
LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Touching the past can connect us to the future,” says Jamil Zaki, professor of psychology at Stanford University
“Research shows that empathy is something we can sharpen over time and adapt to the modern world. As I write about in The War for Kindness, empathy is less like a fixed trait, and more like a skill, which we can work on and build—the same way you’d strengthen a muscle. It is difficult emotional work, and also necessary. We must try to evolve our emotional lives: away from the past and toward a future that needs us desperately. Doing so might help us to finally become the ancestors our descendants deserve,” stated Jamil Zaki.
STRENGTHENING THE FOUNDATION FOR WATER LAW IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei bring an informed perspective to their quest to strengthen the foundation for BC water law. They draw on decades of experience to pull threads of understanding from the past through to the present,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability (April 2022)
“Donna Forsyth and Mike Wei have drawn attention to a jurisdictional gap in the Water Sustainability Act because of the potential for a domino effect. Initially I had trouble wrapping my mind around why Waterbucket eNews would feature a topic related to water law. However, I do respect the passion Donna and Mike bring to a conversation about challenges and gaps in the Water Sustainability Act. So, I asked, is there a “story behind the story” that would interest our readers? The real issue, they emphasized, centres on what government cannot do when the water use involves unvested water,” stated Kim Stephens.
LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Over the years, my thinking has evolved – from thinking ‘so why should I care’, to appreciating that legally vesting water is ultra important because of how it translates into what government can and cannot do operationally,” stated Mike Wei, former Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights with the BC Ministry of Environment, in the second article in a series on challenges and gaps in the Water Sustainability Act (April 2022)
“In a nutshell, ‘vesting’ is the legal concept that has historically been used to establish the government’s authority to write the laws that govern water use in BC. This means that any use of water that is unvested remains outside of those provincial laws. Vesting all water does not mean the use of every drop will or needs to be regulated. That concern is a red herring. The real issue centres on what government cannot do when the water use involves unvested water. The concern should be whether a jurisdictional gap in the WSA has a domino effect with the potential for unintended consequences,” stated Mike Wei.
LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “What might a Water Sustainability Act 2.0 look like? Mike Wei and I identified five challenges and gaps in our submission to the Province of BC that we believe should be front-and-centre in the next round of government priorities,” stated Donna Forsyth, team leader for the drafting of the existing WSA and many of the supporting regulations when she was a legislative advisor to the Ministry of Environment (April 2022)
“During development of the Water Sustainability Act, the stars appeared to be aligning and everything was pointing to water becoming a real priority for the government. That was our frame of reference in 2014. We believed that the initial version of the WSA would not be government’s only kick at the can. Given that water is now being recognized as such a big priority, we could say to ourselves: ‘we will be back for WSA 2.0 to deal with the things that we had to leave behind’,” stated Donna Forsyth.
LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “The benefit of assigning worth to a stream corridor as an asset is that it leads to consideration of efforts needed to maintain that asset. To borrow a framework from the financial world, a Maintenance and Management (M&M) budget needs to be assigned to keep up the performance of ecological services beyond the natural asset’s initial ‘capital’ costs,” stated Ray Rung, retired Director of Engineering (March 2022)
“Formal responsibility for the services that stream corridors provide, as equivalents to engineered assets, mostly lies with local government. EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, puts M&M of stream corridors and wetlands on an equal footing with say, pipes and pumps. The methodology and metrics recognize the importance of the stream in the landscape. EAP supports local governments that intend to include stream systems in asset management calculations. Through EAP, local governments have a guiding philosophy, methodology and metrics to make a financial case for stream systems,” stated Ray Fung.
LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Different local governments will always be at different points and different levels of maturity along the asset management continuum. This is why we focus on outcomes and do not prescribe what to do in BC,” stated Glen Brown, Asset Management BC Chair, in 2015 when he unveiled the branding image that conceptualizes what the journey by a local government would look like to achieve Sustainable Service Delivery for Watershed Systems
“We framed the Asset Management Continuum as a series of three steps, recognizing that most local governments were at Ground Zero in 2015. Our operative phrase was ‘as understanding grows’. We saw this as the key consideration for local governments progressing along the continuum. Although it might be possible, we believed it unrealistic to expect anyone to jump directly to Step Three and integrate natural systems into their asset management strategies. We needed a way to illustrate this diagrammatically. This led us to the concept of a continuum,” stated Glen Brown.