NEW RELEASE: “Water Balance Approach on Vancouver Island”

Note to Reader:

Water Balance Approach on Vancouver Island is the first in a set of two parallel Watershed Case Profiles. The storyline is built around three regional Water Balance demonstration applications. The second in the set, scheduled for release in April, will feature four demonstration applications in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

The Watershed Case Profile Series is unique. The series showcases and celebrates successes and long-term ‘good work’ in the local government setting in British Columbia. Our spotlight is on champions in communities which are breaking new ground and establishing replicable precedents.

Storylines touch lightly on technical matters, yet are grounded in a technical foundation. The objective in ‘telling a story’ is to engage, inform and educate multiple audiences – whether elected, administrative, technical or stewardship. Stories in the series are presented in a magazine style to make it easier to read, comprehend and absorb technical information. Stories are designed to connect dots.


British Columbia is at a tipping point: The time has come to transition drainage practice from “voodoo hydrology” to a water balance approach branded as “Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management”

“Regulatory objectives linked to Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework would make it possible to transform drainage engineering practice at the site scale,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. “The BC Framework sets a strategic direction that refocuses business processes on outcomes that reduce life-cycle costs and risks.”

Andy Reese coined the term Voodoo Hydrology in 2006 to describe drainage engineering and stormwater management practice.

“We have for years relied upon common design methodologies and trusted their results. But, should we? It is an inexact science at best. We rely on judgment and guesswork,” states Andy Reese. He is an American water resources engineer, writer, speaker & textbook author. “Perhaps, if we make enough estimates of enough factors, the errors will average out to the right answer. This is where voodoo really comes in handy.”

What the reader will learn from this Watershed Case Profile

A watershed is an integrated system – with three types of flows, each with a different time scale. Yet long-standing drainage engineering practices for servicing of land ignore, overlook or eliminate two of the three. Such practices are the root cause of stream and aquatic habitat degradation, with these impacts:
  • more flooding;
  • more stream erosion; and
  • less streamflow when needed most.

Why is this still happening 16 years after the provincial government introduced the Water Balance Methodology, and set a whole-system direction for urban hydrology and drainage engineering in this province, with release of Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia?

Context for Action: 

Among land and drainage practitioners, how water gets to a stream and how long it takes, is not well understood. There is a growing awareness of what ought to be done differently. But missed opportunities “to get it right” persist. Opening minds to accept changes in practice is a challenge.

British Columbia is at a tipping point. A provincial policy, program and regulatory framework is in place to help local governments bridge the gap between policy and action (i.e. a new standard of practice). The first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem with standard practice, and recognize that immediate action is required to remedy the problem.

From Awareness to Action:

The process to adopt, change or evolve standards of practice is slow. Bridging the gap between policy and action relies on local governments that lead by example and undertake how-to-do-it demonstration applications. On Vancouver Island, applications of the Water Balance Methodology have been completed in three regional districts along the east coast of the Island. These have proven out how to:
  • apply science-based understanding;
  • establish watershed-based performance targets; and
  • downscale those performance targets to the site scale.

This Watershed Case Profile presents capsule summaries of each demonstration application. But it does more than that. It provides an explanation of the problem and the solution. It then closes with an overview of Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management. The latter foreshadows a potentially powerful regulatory driver for transforming drainage engineering practice at the site scale.

The table below  is a synopsis. It distills the essence of each section into a succinct statement. These create a storyline. Readers should pause and reflect on them before reading the story itself.