Ecological Accounting Protocol – A Tool to Calculate the Opportunity Cost of Drainage Infrastructure
Note to Reader:
In November 2015, and with release of Beyond the Guidebook 2015: Moving Toward “Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management”, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia launched a process to introduce a new way of thinking about nature’s assets into municipal infrastructure practice.
EAP, the acronym for Ecological Accounting Protocol, is one of the twin technical pillars for the whole-system, water balance approach that would refocus business processes to properly manage watershed systems within the built environment.
Over the past year, the Asset Management BC Newsletter has published a series of three articles by Tim Pringle, Chair of the EAP Initiative. The articles serve as progress reports on EAP development, with the most recent being in February.
Sustainable Service Delivery is the End Goal
The role of local government is to deliver services. Outcome-oriented, Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework is motivating local governments to re-think how they manage municipal infrastructure, and watersheds. The shift in their thinking is reflected in this sound-bite: Achieving sustainable service delivery is the end goal of asset management.
The driver for transformative action to achieve sustainable service delivery in BC is the magnitude of the “unfunded infrastructure liability”. The latter is the consequence when there is no life-cycle plan in place to finance and re-build aging engineered assets such as water supply, sewage and road systems.
While developers may pay the initial capital cost of municipal infrastructure, local government must assume responsibility for the life-cycle cost associated with operation, maintenance and replacement of infrastructure systems. Often this life-cycle cost is not adequately funded through property taxation and utility charges, as various political priorities compete for limited tax dollars.
Moving Towards a Water-Resilient Future
In particular, local governments bear the entire financial burden to stabilize and restore watercourses impacted by increased rainwater runoff volume and peak flow duration after land is developed. This unfunded liability for the drainage function is the main driver for building on the BC Framework to provide local governments with guidance for achieving Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management.
The BC Framework links local government services, infrastructure that supports service delivery, and watershed health. Thus, it sets a strategic direction that would refocus business processes to properly manage watershed systems within the built environment:
Mimic natural flows in streams. Preserve the natural pathways by which water reaches streams. Slow, spread and absorb runoff.
Benefits of the whole-system approach would include less flooding, less stream erosion, and more streamflow during dry weather when needed most. These water balance benefits would ultimately translate into lower life-cycle costs and a water-resilient future!
Ecological Accounting Protocol – an idea whose time has arrived
“The thinking behind the Ecological Accounting Protocol (or EAP) is that it will help focus local governments on measuring what matters,” states Tim Pringle, Past-President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. “EAP is a tool to help practitioners calculate the opportunity cost of drainage infrastructure. EAP is a method of ascertaining economic values of services, notably Water Balance services, drawn from natural assets.”
“The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” adds Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.
“Since cost-avoidance, at least perceived cost-avoidance, motivates much of the decision-making process about infrastructure, and development in general, why has the obvious role of natural assets been omitted to date,” asks Tim Pringle.
“The measurement and pricing process will build an index that quantifies and prices water balance services drawn from natural assets that may be and, if possible, should be included in infrastructure design, construction, maintenance and operations,” continues Jim Dumont.
“As more projects are analyzed, the index will provide measures of the financial value of specific hydrological functions and services in a drainage context,” he concludes.