Stormwater November/December 2011 : Page 38

Rainwater Management in a Watershed Context What’s the goal? BY KIM A. STEPHENS AND JIM DUMONT T his article is written from a British Columbia perspective. It connects the dots between recent developments in the United States, such as A Stra-tegic Agenda to Protect Waters and Build More Livable Communities Through Green Infrastructure released by EPA in April 2011, and comparable initiatives that have been underway in British Columbia for the past decade. A key message is that we are observing a convergence of understanding. On both sides of the 49th parallel, light bulbs are going on about the inter-connected-ness of green infrastructure and water sustainabil-ity, and the implications for watershed health. We hope that this article will stimulate a cross-border discussion on the relative effectiveness of an edu-cational versus prescriptive approach to leading and implementing change. The View From British Columbia In both Canada and the US, there is a growing green infrastructure movement. This refl ects a heightened public awareness of the need to build our commu-nities differently. Also, land use and infrastructure professionals increasingly appreciate that effective green infrastructure is at the heart of responsible rainwater management. As a result, there is a shift away from pipe-and-convey solutions to ones that embody “designing with nature” to protect our streams and fi shery resource. Looking back, 2008 was a defi ning year for green infrastructure on Canada’s west coast. The government of British Columbia put in place a pol-icy framework that is a “call to action” on the part of local governments. This call to action is under-pinned by the notion of shared responsibility—that is, everyone needs to understand and care about the goal. If all the players know their role in relation to the goal, then together we can create the future that we all want. A key message is this: A science-based understand-ing of the rainfall-runoff process is the foundation for 38 November/December 2011 designing with nature and implementing green infra-structure that is truly effective in protecting watershed and stream health . Similar Vocabulary, Different Goals. From our British Columbia vantage point, it has been fasci-nating to observe the evolution in American prac-titioner thinking in recent years. While land-use and infrastructure professionals are using a similar vocabulary on both sides of the border, our goals appear different. The apparent divergence has sig-nifi cant implications for rainwater management in a watershed context. The genesis for this divergence is found in geography and governance: • Geography: British Columbia is primarily a moun-tainous region. Headwater tributary streams are a predominant feature. Watershed health is very much about protection of aquatic habitat. This contrasts with the water-quality emphasis in the US. • Governance: The American approach is top-down and prescriptive. British Columbia has embraced a bottom-up approach that relies on education, enabling tools and consensus to turn ideas into action. We are culturally different, yet we can learn from each other, and we each can adapt lessons learned by the other. The power of the enabling approach is the ability to leapfrog ahead when the science leads us to a better way. Cross-border sharing be-tween British Columbia and Washington state, for example, has led to breakthroughs in understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between land use change and stream health. The approach we have taken in British Columbia differs from that of the United States EPA, due to the nature of the root problems being solved. The critical issue in British Columbia is the damage and loss of habitat caused by development and erosion of the headwater streams. The focus is in direct response to Canada’s Fisheries Act that prohibits damage of fi sh habitat. EPA has focused upon water quality in the main

Rainwater Management in a Watershed Context

Kim A. Stephens and Jim Dumont

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