Town of Comox experience demonstrates that “Ecological Services are Core Municipal Services, not an Add-On”

Note to Reader:

The Town of Comox story comprises three building blocks. Over the past decade, experience gained and lessons learned through the Lower Brooklyn Creek channel enhancement project and Northeast Comox land development planning process have been integrated into the Draft Anderton Corridor Neighbourhood Concept Plan for Middle Brooklyn Creek. Along the way, the Town of Comox has established three provincial firsts.

  • Changed engineering practice and implemented the Water Balance Methodology in Northeast Comox to reduce downhill risk.
  • Became the first demonstration application for testing EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, for valuation of the Brooklyn Creek corridor.
  • Changed the Draft Anderton Corridor Neighbourhood Concept Plan in mid-project to enhance the ‘Package of Ecological Services’.

On September 11th 2019, the Partnership for Water Sustainability met with Comox Town Council to recognize the passion, commitment and perseverance over many years on the part of Town of Comox local government staff and volunteers in the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society.


Town of Comox – A ‘Beacon of Hope’ for Citizen Science in Action & Reconnecting Hydrology and Ecology through the Water Balance Approach to Land Development

The neighbourhood concept plan for middle Brooklyn Creek is the culmination of a whole-system, water balance approach that has evolved over the past decade. The Draft Anderton Corridor Neighbourhood Concept Plan integrates lower Brooklyn and NE Comox building blocks experience.

Urban Design, Neighbourhood Planning and the Package of Ecological Services

Town of Comox precedents are working examples of what “reconnecting hydrology and ecology” looks like in practice

Protection of headwater streams and groundwater resources in BC requires that communities expand their view – from one that looks at a site in isolation – to one that considers HOW all sites, the creekshed landscape, streams and foreshores, groundwater aquifers…and PEOPLE…function as a whole system.

People learn from stories. The Watershed Case Profile Series is unique. Published by the Partnership for Water Sustainability, the series showcases and celebrates success stories and long-term ‘good work’ in the local government setting in BC. Our spotlight is on champions in communities which are breaking new ground and establishing replicable precedents for a whole system approach.

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.

The 8th in the series recognizes the passion, commitment and perseverance over many years on the part of Town of Comox local government staff and volunteers in the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society to improve where they live. Working together, they are making a difference. The “Comox story” is indeed a blueprint for what the phrase hard work of hope means in practice. Comox truly is a beacon of hope.

‘Living Water Smart” in Comox

British Columbia is at a tipping point. Will local governments bridge the gap between policy and new standards of practice, reconnect hydrology and ecology, create greener communities, and adapt to climate change?

For the past decade, elected representatives and staff in the Town of Comox have quietly and without much fanfare been on a journey. With the aid of hindsight, their experience shows what the phrase hard work of hope means in practice, and what it involves to lead by example.

Whether or not Council and/or staff consciously always thought about it, the Town’s journey related to land development practices, ecological services and stream restoration has been guided by the Living Water Smart vision. The Town’s journey is ongoing, and involves building blocks.

‘Living Water Smart’ vision transcends governments:

Released in 2008, “Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan” was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments. The vision: we take care of our water, our water takes care of us.

Living Water Smart successes are defined by collaboration and a “top-down / bottom-up” approach. Collaboration for the common good interweaves the efforts of decision-makers and community advocates.

Comox is a Beacon of Hope

The Partnership has identified Comox as a beacon of hope because the Town’s experience shows what is possible when a local government has a strong working relationship with the stewardship sector, and leads by example to implement responsible water balance management.

The Draft Anderton Corridor Neighbourhood Concept Plan is precedent-setting because it demonstrates how application of the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) approach helps managers change practices and adopt new strategies regarding the protection and enhancement of ecological systems in the stream corridor and riparian zone, and throughout the entire creekshed. Click here to download the Brooklyn Creek EAP Demonstration Application.

The Town is reconnecting hydrology and ecology by embarking on a systems approach on all levels. The approach includes amending bylaws, training staff, educating the development community and homeowners, creating new procedures, and formalizing roles and responsibilities.

By taking action to reconnect hydrology and ecology, Comox is moving along a pathway that ultimately leads to a water-resilient future where flood and drought risks would be reduced, and ecological services would be sustained.

A Rethinking of ‘Core Services’

The neighbourhood concept plan for middle Brooklyn Creek is the culmination of a whole-system, water balance approach that has evolved over the past decade. The Draft Anderton Corridor Neighbourhood Concept Plan integrates lower Brooklyn and NE Comox building blocks experience.

The outcome of plan implementation would be an enhanced package of ecological services (habitat, recreation and drainage) for future neighbourhood residents in middle Brooklyn Creek, while protecting those same values in lower Brooklyn Creek.

At the start of the planning process, lessons learned from NE Comox were top of mind for the Town of Comox. Accordingly, water balance management was driving concept plan development, with an emphasis on reducing risk and protecting the stream through use of detention ponds and infiltration galleries.

What Triggered the Rethink?

In mid-project, lessons learned from the lower Brooklyn Creek EAP analysis were introduced into the Anderton Corridor planning process. The notion that the neighbourhood plan should focus on protection and enhancement of the Package of Ecological Services resulted in an abrupt rethink by Comox staff and consequent redesign.

“The package of ecological services concept refers to the combined range of uses desired by the community. Thus, a strategic plan that supports this diversity will appear worthwhile to the greatest number of interested parties,” explains Marvin Kamenz, Municipal Planner.

Rethink of Draft Anderton Corridor Neighbourhood Concept Plan:

“Everything was proceeding quite fine until Tim Pringle completed the EAP analysis for lower Brooklyn Creek. That was the moment when we realized that ecological services are not just an add-on. They are, in fact, core services,” continues Marvin Kamenz.

“Utilities, roads, parks and recreation take up the bulk of a municipal budget. Once we made the mental transition to view ecological services as core municipal services, and looked at the municipal budget differently, we then asked ourselves: how can we do things better?

“We stopped work on the rainwater management plan and changed the plan focus to the Package of Ecological Services – how can we get the best package for them? All plan elements were redesigned; and residential density was concentrated to maximize public access.”

Application of NE Comox and Brooklyn EAP Experience

“The first change in approach arose out of the NE Comox planning where risk management was the overriding objective,” states Shelley Ashfield, Municipal Engineer.

“The Town was not willing to entertain any development in middle Brooklyn Creek unless there was a demonstrated program that would eliminate any increased risks to the Town; be they flooding or environmental.

“When the EAP analysis then connected the creek to the concept of it being an asset of the Town, this provided Staff with one more way to link the stream to the health of the community. The concept of the stream as an asset allows the Town to include it in the plans to manage all of the Town’s assets on behalf of the community for future generations.”

On Bridging an Educational Gap:

“As we proceed with next steps, the most challenging will be educating staff, developers, consultants, and home owners of the new standards, procedures, policies and guidelines,” continues Shelley Ashfield.

“Changing engineering standards is a journey in itself. To ensure success, the Town will need to adopt the design standards, update existing subdivision servicing specifications, establish a number of bylaws, and implement a cost recovery program.”

The Town of Comox is the first local government to implement both pillars.