The Partnership for Water Sustainability vision is to nest EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, within a university program for training the next generation of land use professionals


This edition launches another year of Waterbucket eNews, published by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia on Tuesdays from January through June, and from September through November. Our readers can anticipate more stories about champions who are leading change, with a shared goal of “improving where we live”.
We feature the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI), located at Vancouver Island University in the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia. MABRRI connects people and nature through community-based, student-led research and education on Vancouver Island. MABRRI is collaborating with The Partnership to involve students in program delivery for EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, and thus provide them with experience that would benefit them in their future careers.

The Partnership vision is to nest EAP within a university program for training the next generation of land use professionals. We see this as a key element of mainstreaming EAP over the long-term.

Editor’s Context

“An eligibility requirement for senior government infrastructure grants is conformance with Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework. As of 2019, the Framework addresses natural assets. This is game-changing. Thus, the purpose of the EAP program is to demonstrate how to integrate maintenance and management’ (M&M) of ecological assets into an asset management strategy,” states Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“Local governments have existing tools in the form of policies and legislation for ‘maintenance and management’ (M&M) of ecological assets. Now they have a methodology and metrics for valuing them just as they do for constructed assets. Along the way, the EAP program has introduced three concepts for operationalizing M&M of stream corridors and their regulated riparian areas within local government Asset Management Plans:

1) Streams are Natural Commons;

2) A Stream in Settled Areas is a Land Use; and

3) A Stream is an Ecological System that has Worth.”

Application of Systems Thinking:

The EAP methodology is applied to determine the worth of stream systems to residents. Worth is what ultimately drives stream channel and riparian area protection, restoration or enhancement investments by the community. EAP fills this critical need by providing local governments with a tool to generate numbers and make decisions based on the financial worth as well as financial value of ecological assets.”

“EAP is an application of systems thinking. The power of the EAP approach is its integration of social, financial, and environmental perspectives. Moreover, it quantifies worth and value using real numbers, in particular BC Assessment data. EAP validates strategies for ongoing annual investments to prevent degradation and improve functioning condition of stream corridors. This type of investment would be taken into account in a local government’s Asset Management Plan that integrates the built and natural environments.”

Vancouver Island University students in action > MABRRI Assistant Research & Community Engagement Coordinator Haley Tomlin and VIU student Zeb Martin conducting Forage Fish sampling (Photo Credit: MABRRI). Forage Fish monitoring is funded through a partnership that includes the Pacific Salmon Foundation, WWW Canada and the Sitka Foundation.

“Partnerships with local governments and others are essential. They allow students to work on collaborative projects. Everyone benefits,” stated Graham Sakaki, Research & Community Engagement Manager, Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute at Vancouver Island University

The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted the Biosphere Reserve designation to Mount Arrowsmith and surrounding biosphere in 2000 as part of its Man and the Biosphere Programme. MABR, Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region, is one of 18 Biosphere Reserves in Canada.

This designation was in recognition of the unique mix of ecosystems, the transect of elevations from the peak of Mount Arrowsmith to the depths of the Salish Sea, and the ongoing development pressures on the lands and waters within the Biosphere Region.

Once designated, UNESCO requires that Biosphere Reserves serve their region and the world as sites of excellence that demonstrate improved ways to resolve human/environment conflicts through local community efforts and sound science.

Regional Roundtable

MABRRI was approved by the Board of Governors in 2014. The Institute was established subsequent to the MABR transitioning from a charitable not-for-profit model to a regional roundtable, spearheaded by VIU and the City of Parksville.

MABRRI’s Mission is to advance a program of inquiry that involves all regional stakeholders in meaningful explorations of issues of local relevance. By harnessing the knowledge of the MABR community and the interdisciplinary strengths of students at VIU, MABRRI seeks to be a centre for collaborative research, innovation, and knowledge sharing that will elevate the relationship between people and nature in the biosphere region.

Collaborate to Expand Capacity for Action

“The EAP philosophy, methodology and metrics recognize the importance of a stream system in the landscape,” states Tim Pringle, EAP Chair, and the Founding President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

The logic behind EAP is quite straightforward. Apply the methodology to get the numbers, tie the numbers to other research, and then say – we have this asset, it is worth X, we should invest Y each year to maintain and manage it, and this is why.”

“Using numbers generated through application of EAP, local governments would have a sound basis for operationalizing EAP within an Asset Management Plan.””

“The Partnership’s vision is to nest EAP within a university program for training the next generation of land use professionals. We see this as a key element of mainstreaming EAP. It is insufficient just to develop a philosophy, methodology and metrics as we have done with EAP. To make a difference over time, EAP must be part of the educational curriculum for those who aspire to work in the local government setting.”

Collaboration with MABRRI

“We saw a natural fit with MABRRI and the Master of Community Planning Program at VIU. MABRRI seeks to be a centre for collaborative research, innovation and knowledge-sharing that will elevate the relationship between people and nature. We view student involvement as a foundational piece for advancing EAP as a self-help way of doing business in the local government setting. We have worked with MABRRI’s Graham Sakaki to involve graduate and undergraduate students in the EAP program as research assistants. They carry out core tasks which are critical to program success.”

Making Effective and Efficient Use of Affordable Resources

“In 2020 and 2021, we are mainstreaming EAP through six demonstration applications. A program goal is that the analysis be straightforward for local government staff to complete, and without reliance on outside service providers. A parallel goal is that MABRRI students, especially those with GIS skills, would be available as a reservoir of talent for local government to draw upon. The confluence of these two goals is that use of EAP for ecological asset management would be standard practice in local government.”

Vision for a Legacy Outcome

“To achieve the latter goal, an ongoing EAP capacity-expanding program nested within MABRRI would be a legacy outcome of the current demonstration program. It would be win/win for students and local governments. Students would gain valuable real-world experience. This would help shape a new generation of planners and other practitioners who work in the trenches. Local governments would have access to a central resource. This would help facilitate a consistent approach to financial valuation of ecological assets. This is our vision for 2022 and beyond,” concludes Tim Pringle.

The parallel concepts of the NATURAL COMMONS and the CONSTRUCTED COMMONS enable residents, elected persons, and practitioners to consider ecological services and use of land (development) as equally important.

Research Context: Build Relationships and Partnerships

“MABRRI supports and conducts natural and social science research in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR) and surrounding areas. Because MABRRI is a research institute, three objectives are front and centre: promote interdisciplinary research and collaboration, provide opportunities for practical hands-on learning experiences for students at Vancouver Island University, and create partnerships with regional partners,” states Graham Sakaki.

Research and Community Engagement Manager of the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI), and instructor in the Master of Community Planning Program, Vancouver Island University (VIU)

“Partnerships with local governments and others are essential. They allow students to work on collaborative projects. Everyone benefits. Our collaboration with regional partners is guided by a vision that working together we can increase the environmental, social, cultural, and economic sustainability of the biosphere region.”

Two-Way Benefits

“Because MABRRI establishes meaningful partnerships that encourage involvement of students attending Vancouver Island University, research projects benefit from the interdisciplinary strengths of students,” observed Ariel Verhoeks, a graduate student in the Master of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Applications program. Ariel is currently making a substantial contribution to the EAP program. She provides technical support for Tim Pringle and oversees tasks undertaken by other students.

“Collaboration is mutually beneficial. We students benefit because the projects provide us with research experience that is relevant to us. An outcome of relationship building by MABRRI is that the process connects VIU students to regional project partners. As a result, we gain valuable research and work experience.”

Vancouver Island University students in action >  Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Coordinator Mandy Hobkirk undertaking stream (water quality) monitoring on the Chase River  (Photo Credit: MABRRI). This work supports the Community Watershed Monitoring Network, a regional partnership initiative under the umbrella of the Drinking Water & Watershed  Protection program of the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Collaboration with the Partnership: Student Perspectives

“VIU students have assisted with working on all the Ecological Accounting Process case study projects that have been completed in partnership with MABRRI. Both undergraduates and graduates have assisted with these projects, including students taking Majors or Minors in Geography and Natural Sciences, to the Master of Community Planning and Master of Geographical Information Systems Applications programs,” continued Graham Sakaki.

“These educational opportunities provide the ability for my fellow students and I to work collaboratively with working professionals from the Partnership for Water Sustainability and local governments, along with the rest of the research staff from MABRRI,” added Ariel Verhoeks.

“As part of this team, we students have been assisting with numerous aspects of the EAP program to gain experience working in a field of our interest while also meeting other working professionals. In addition, we are receiving professional direction and feedback to facilitate applying academic learning to applied research projects. Our experience ranges from data collection and entry, field work, writing ethics applications, conducting surveys, analyzing survey data, and professional report writing, which are all vital components of the work necessary to complete these projects.”


“It was an incredible experience to take part in applied research during my graduate degree at VIU. Being able to work with local sustainability groups and build relationships with community partners was very rewarding. I hope future students will have similar opportunities to mine while studying at VIU,” stated Sarah Holden, another student who was involved in the EAP program.

Vancouver Island University students in action > Jenica Ng-Cornish working on wetland mapping and monitoring (Photo Credit: MABRRI). The Wetland Mapping and Monitoring Project was undertaken through a partnership with the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) and co-funded by the RDN (5 years), Real Estate Foundation of BC (for 3 years) and the RBC Blue Water Program (for 1 year).