“Something really good is happening in British Columbia,” observed Bob Sandford at Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium

Note to Reader:

Bob Sandford is frequently a keynote speaker at ‘water events’ in British Columbia, including Feast AND Famine (Metro Vancouver, 2015) and FLOWnGROW (Okanagan, 2016). Two weeks ago, he spoke on Vancouver Island at the Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium: Climate Change, Nature’s Services and Thinking Like a Watershed.

Bob Sandford’s ongoing exposure to the sharing and learning that takes place at these events provides him with an observers’ perspective on the transformational impact of such ‘watershed moments’ and how watershed systems thinking is taking root in British Columbia. 

Capacity crowd for the Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium, held at the Filberg Centre in the City of Courtenay on Vancouver Island

Capacity crowd for the Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium, held at the Filberg Centre in the City of Courtenay on Vancouver Island

SUSTAINABLE WATERSHED SYSTEMS, THROUGH ASSET MANAGEMENT: “Restorative development is within your grasp. You know what to do. Go do it,” urges Bob Sandford, EPCOR Chair for Water and Climate Security, United Nations University Institute

Showcasing of Whole-System, Water Balance Thinking

The Comox Valley Symposium was one of two ‘watershed moments’ organized by the stewardship sector during the week of March 13th. The other was in the Metro Vancouver region and titled Stormwater Impacts Communities and Creeks – What Can We Do?

The responses to both events widely exceeded expectations. Registrations had to be capped because of venue capacity limits – 160 in the Comox Valley and 100 in North Vancouver – and many people were reluctantly turned away. The Comox Valley Symposium attracted delegates from around the Georgia Basin and from as far afield as the East Kootenays region.

The North Vancouver workshop attracted participants from communities throughout the Metro Vancouver region, and on a Saturday afternoon!

A focal point for both events was the vision for Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management. Led by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC, this inter-regional initiative is funded under a federal-provincial program. The initiative vision is that communities would integrate whole-system, water balance thinking and climate adaptation into drainage infrastructure asset management.

To Learn More:

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC has published the stories of both the Comox Valley and North Vancouver watershed events. Click on the links below:

“Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management”  Local stream stewardship volunteers may yet be the difference-maker

Comox Valley Eco-Asset Management Symposium –Discovering Nature’s Infrastructure Potential

Stormwater Impacts Communities and Creeks – What Can Streamkeepers Do?

What Happens on the Land Does Matter!

“One of the things that I have learned over the last two days is that something really good is happening in British Columbia,” stated Bob Sandford when he provided a closing perspective at the Comox Valley Symposium.

“I travel widely, but I have never heard a conversation like what I have heard at the Symposium. And while I am often part of very positive conversations, what was unique (about the Symposium) was the atmosphere of possibilities and hope that I have witnessed here.”

Move from Awareness to Action:

“I think it is important to say that you have not gotten everybody in yet. And, as was noted, you do not have full jurisdiction. But, as Emanuel Machado of the Town of Gibsons pointed out, success will require patience, over generations, one step at a time.”

“And we cannot forget that there has been a huge investment in what we now know is an unsustainable status quo. Investment must now be shifted towards restoration that uses the forces of nature itself to help build more efficiently integrated infrastructure that as much as possible maintains itself. What a gift to the world that would be.”

“If you want to live here in perpetuity, then you need to do this. Do not forget the urgency. You have an outstanding example before you in the Town of Gibsons. In my view, restorative development is within your grasp. You know what to do. Go do it,” concluded Bob Sandford.

Bring the ‘State-of-the-Art’ into ‘Standard Practice’

“Engineering practice is based on very simple formulas and methodologies to calculate peak discharges. None of those engineering analyses capture the environmental value,” Jim Dumont informed the Comox Valley audience. He is the Engineering Applications Authority for the Partnership for Water Sustainability.

Jim-Dumont_2011_120p“And because engineering analyses do not capture environmental value, the engineer cannot tell you what value a natural asset has, nor how important its function is, nor how to maintain that function. Yet we do have scientific and engineering methodologies that would give us those answers. But engineers do not apply state-of-the-art methodologies because they are not in existing guidelines.”

“As a result, we are on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, we have a standard-of-practice that is generally accepted as not achieving what is best for the environment. On the other hand, we have a state-of-the-art that we really do need to drag into common practice.”

How can we maintain ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage:

“So what is the nub of the issue? In standard practice, only surface runoff is considered, and this has led to degraded streams. The other pathways by which rainfall reaches streams are ignored. Yet we do need to mimic nature. If we are going to disrupt those other pathways when we develop land, we must fix them.”

“If communities are to truly benefit from use of nature’s assets to provide vital community infrastructure services, then we must change the engineering standard-of practice to one that is state-of-the-art and reflects real-world hydrology.”

“Education is the way to overcome the impediments to changes in practice. This will require education of the public, accountants, engineers and local government staff so that everyone appreciates the relationship between the flow-duration pattern in a stream and the health of the stream,” concluded Jim Dumont.

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