NEW RELEASE: Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) – A methodology for valuing nature’s ecological services (January 2019)

Note to Reader:

The way communities have historically developed and drained land has disconnected hydrology from ecology. The consequences of this disconnect are more erosion and flooding, loss of baseflow and aquatic habitat, and an unfunded infrastructure liability for stream stabilization.

The bottom-line is that decades of in-stream enhancement work will not be enduring if the hydrological function of the creekshed landscape is not first restored. (A creekshed is, by definition, a small watershed that is local in scale such that residents can relate to it.)

Traditional approaches and practices are not leading to restoration of hydrological function. Alternative approaches and practices are urgently needed. Local governments need ‘real numbers’ to devise asset management strategies and deliver outcomes that account for nature’s services.

To help communities map a path forward, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia released the Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) in January 2019. The Primer introduces a valuation methodology that uses readily available financial information from the BC Assessment database. The methodology yields an asset value for the stream corridor. This value can then be used for budget purposes related to asset management.

The Ecological Accounting Process has the potential to be a catalyst for action by local governments. EAP is one of the twin pillars of Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset ManagementIn contrast to an economic rationale, EAP is underpinned by a simple strategy: approach the problem from a social point of view.  What does the community think its ecological assets and services are worth?

A KEY FINDING: EAP does not require special competence. It can be applied by local government and community collaborators.

DOWNLOAD: Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) – A Methodology for Valuing the ‘Water Balance Services’ Provided by Nature.

“The worth of a creekshed is a package of ecological services made possible by the hydrology, and enjoyed as natural commons,” states Tim Pringle, Chair, Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) Initiative

Catalyst for Local Government Action

“The way we have historically developed and drained land has degraded the basic processes of creek hydrology and the dependent ecological services. Simply put, land development practices have disconnected hydrology from ecology. Compounding the situation, communities have for the most part failed to properly address root causes of ‘changes of hydrology’, as well as subsequent impacts of those changes on natural creekshed function,” states Tim Pringle, EAP Chair.

“Having a pragmatic methodology for valuing services provided by Mother Nature is key to turning this situation around. To both develop and prove out a methodology, the Partnership for Water Sustainability undertook demonstration applications for two creeksheds on Vancouver Island – one in the Comox Valley and the other in the Cowichan Valley. In this first stage of an eventual 3-stage program, we addressed the question of how do communities decide how much to invest in restoration?

View Choices Through the ‘Worth’ Lens:

“The EAP demonstration application process has been a fruitful journey for the project team and collaborators. Along the way, our collective thinking evolved. We broke new ground with EAP. Insights and understanding that we gained are shared in the Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process. These insights led us to look at creeksheds differently. The importance of viewing choices through the ‘worth lens’ became clear. In the Primer, we define the ‘worth’ of a creekshed in terms of a package of ecological services made possible by the hydrology.

“We landed on the notion of the natural commons as the starting point for calculating the financial value of a stream bed and riparian corridor. The methodology relies on the BC Assessment database to generate reasonable dollar amounts for investment decisions related to creekshed restoration.”

Point of Departure for EAP

“Every urban creekshed comprises a constructed commons and anatural commons (refer to image above). And each is a system. Moreover, the built and natural environments merit equal valuation. This holistic way-of-thinking is foundational to the EAP approach. It also provides a ‘point of departure’ for a fundamental shift in philosophy regarding how best to value natural assets,” continues Tim Pringle.

Constructed Commons:

“There is a bias in the way communities have accounted for land development over time, and this bias favours constructed works. As a result, assets considered as capital appear in the financial statements of local governments. In addition, monies raised by taxation and expended for works are recorded in detail.”

Natural Commons:

 “Although the natural commons provides many services desired by communities, their worth does not appear in financial statements. Even the idea of a natural commons is unfamiliar to the public. EAP brings the natural commons into focus.”

Social Context Establishes “Worth”

“EAP is underpinned by a simple strategy: approach the problem from a social point of view.  What does the community think its ecological assets and services (the natural commons) are worth? Worth will be reflected in investment of time, dollars and services to maintain and manage local ecological assets such as a stream and associated riparian areas. These are natural commons assets. To the extent that a community recognizes and wants to use and enjoy the ecological services, it would invest,” explains Tim Pringle.

“It is not the technical-financial approach that allows us to quantify the worth of natural commons assets. Rather, it is how the community uses and understands the available ecological asset that determines the value. In other words, the social context establishes ‘worth’. In British Columbia, this is a starting point when we talk about EAP and valuing the package of ecological services made possible by the hydrology of a creekshed.

”Less emphasis should be placed on monetization of ecological services. Rather, it is more realistic to focus on the investment of resources – that is, the actual time and money spent on creekshed restoration – as well as aspirations of motivated intervenors,” concludes Tim Pringle.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) – A Methodology for Valuing the ‘Water Balance Services’ Provided by Nature.