WHAT DO YOU WONDER: the opportunity cost of balancing ecological services with drainage infrastructure

Note to Reader:

No longer is climate change a future scenario. Adapting to a changing climate requires transformational changes in how we apply hydrologic understanding, value nature, and service land. The Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) for valuing watersheds as infrastructure assets is viewed as a lynch-pin for driving change. EAP deals with the monetary value of renewable services provided by natural assets. 

EAP is one of three streams of deliverables flowing from Sustainable Watershed System, through Asset Management. Funded by the governments of Canada and British Columbia, this initiative is led by the Partnership for Water Sustainability. The EAP approach is being demonstrated through two case study applications on Vancouver Island – one in the Cowichan Valley (Busy Place Creek) and the other in the Comox Valley (Brooklyn Creek).

At his presentation at the Blue Ecology Workshop in November 2017, EAP Chair Tim Pringle showcased the EAP case studies. He also announced the rebranding of EAP. No longer is EAP the acronym for Ecological Accounting Protocol, he said. Going forward, EAP stands for the Ecological Accounting Process.

Early outcomes of ‘Ecological Accounting Process’ showcased at Blue Ecology Workshop (November 28) – “This unique approach accounts for the ecological services made possible by watershed hydrology,” said Tim Pringle, EAP Chair

Two Early Conclusions

The vision for EAP is that it would help local governments in British Columbia progress along the Asset Management Continuum for Sustainable Service Delivery. Once a life-cycle approach is standard practice, the next logical step is to integrate ecological services from natural systems into asset management,” stated Tim Pringle.

“Initially, we saw EAP as a tool (i.e. ‘the protocol’) that would help practitioners calculate the opportunity cost of balancing ecological services with drainage infrastructure. However, our thinking has evolved over the past year. Testing the approach through two demonstration applications has resulted in this defining conclusion: EAP is a process, not a protocol.  Thus, we are rebranding EAP as the Ecological Accounting Process.

“This is one of two early conclusions. The second relates to the distinction between worth and value.”

A Process, not a Protocol

“The term ‘Process’ more accurately describes the challenge of working with multiple stakeholders to assess the hydrology of an entire creekshed, or small watershed, in order to accurately describe the ecological services made possible by the hydrology,” explained Tim Pringle.

“This comprehensive approach rarely takes place and it makes the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) unique.”

Worth versus Value

“Stakeholders have, by the nature of their engagement in dealing with hydrological and ecological concerns in a creekshed, confirmed what is or is not worthwhile to them,” reported Tim Pringle.

“Looking through the ‘worth lens’ led us to a fundamental shift in approach. The EAP methodology now places less emphasis on the monetization of ecological services. Instead, the principal focus is on the investment of resources already made by many stakeholders, as well as their aspirations concerning the management (prevention of degradation to and work on enhancement) of ecological services in the creekshed.”

To Lear More:

Download a PDF copy of Watersheds: Perceptions of Worth; Perceptions of Value, the presentation slides for Tim Pringle.

Framework for Undertaking Demonstration Applications

“When we designed EAP, there were no predetermined outcomes, but there were goals,” continued Tim Pringle.

“Goal #1 is to study two creeksheds with differing levels of alterations of the landscape and responses to the physical change.

“Goal #2 is to apply the Water Balance Methodology as the analytical tool to assess the functioning condition of the creekshed hydrology.

“Goal #3 is to confirm the definable benefits of the ecological services supported by the hydrology.

“Goal #4 is to produce a social and financial account about the worth of these services.

“Stakeholders in both the Cowichan and Comox valleys have produced a considerable amount of information about risks, concerns and opportunities.  Although the emphasis in this literature emphasizes human settlement, the intrinsic needs of nature also are addressed.”

Brooklyn Creek Watershed in the Comox Valley

Comox Valley EAP Demonstration Application

Brooklyn Creek is the Comox Valley demonstration application. The creek originates in the City of Courtenay, soon crosses a finger of the Comox Valley Regional District, and then for most of its length flows through the Town of Comox.

“Due to various land use impacts on watershed hydrology, the Town found it necessary in 2005 to carry out significant and expensive remediation works along its section of Brooklyn Creek to curtail serious erosion and property damage,” explained Tim Pringle.

“This was a pivotal time. The Town and other stakeholders collaborated to set a strategic plan (2006) to manage the stream corridor as an ecological system and as part of the municipal drainage system.

“Eleven years later the results of this collaborative effort in the lower reaches of the channel system are substantial and impressive. The Town and its watershed partners have made approximately equal and substantial investments annually. This commitment secures park amenities and helps streamkeepers and conservation organizations reach their goals.”

Busy Place Creek Watershed in the Cowichan Valley

Cowichan Valley EAP Demonstration Application

Sh-hwuykweslu, or Busy Place Creek, is the Cowichan Valley demonstration application. It is situated within the Cowichan Valley Regional District near Duncan.

“The stakeholders have expressed concerns about a number of risks as well desires to realize various opportunities connected to the creekshed’s ecological systems supported by the hydrology,” reported Tim Pringle.

“The Water Balance Methodology analysis confirms that restoration of three wetland areas to provide upland rainfall retention will strongly address these issues including flow duration, fish habitat, flourishing riparian zones, natural amenities for planned expansion of trails, and attenuation of flooding in the lowland portion of the creekshed. As a collaboration of stakeholders, this could be an affordable process.”

Work by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in proving out the Ecological Accounting Process is laying the groundwork for getting to Step Three.