By Sara Jane O’Neill
Local governments across Canada are focusing on sustainable service delivery – delivering core municipal services in a socially, economically and environmentally responsible manner. Natural assets, such as wetlands, forests, and creeks, provide many of the same services to communities as engineered assets but are generally not accounted for and/or are undervalued in asset management practices. Any municipal asset management plan that does not include natural assets omits potentially significant dimensions of a community’s financial risk.
The Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI), convened in 2016, has developed a methodology and guidance documents to help local governments identify, value and manage natural assets within traditional financial and asset management planning frameworks. To test and refine the municipal natural asset management approach and methodology, five pilot communities were selected following a national request for proposals and interview process: The City of Nanaimo, BC, Town of Grand Forks, BC, District of West Vancouver, BC, Town of Oakville, ON, and the Region of Peel, ON.
While the results from each project are unique, they all assessed the value of stormwater services provided by a natural asset under various scenarios. Consequently, some common key messages have emerged:
Natural assets can provide equivalent stormwater management services
Overall, results show that natural assets can provide the same level of stormwater management services as their engineered counterparts. All communities found that their natural asset of interest was meeting at least the 100-year flood storage requirements under current standards. The Region of Peel also assessed water quality management services of their natural assets of interest and found that four of five ecosystem types exceeded provincial requirements for total suspended solid removal.
Under both climate change and intensified development scenarios, the value of natural assets increased
The City of Nanaimo, the Town of Grand Forks and the Region of Peel all assessed the value of their natural assets under climate change scenarios. All found that the value of their natural assets increased under climate change scenarios because they are more resilient and adaptable than other infrastructure solutions. The Town of Oakville assessed their natural asset under an intensified development scenario with the same result – the value of the natural asset increased because it can adapt to changing levels of development pressures.
All pilot communities found that the pilot results provide grounds for investigating the value of other natural assets
The work done by the communities in these pilot projects demonstrates the value and importance of natural assets for sustainable municipal service delivery, but there is more work to be done. Based on the initial findings, each community has expressed a stronger commitment to continue assessing the value and services provided by other natural assets.
To further refine the municipal natural asset management methodology, a second round of projects is already underway with the City of Courtenay, BC, the District of Sparwood, BC, the Town of Oshawa, ON, the Southeast Regional Service Commission, NB, and the Western Valley Regional Service Commission, NB. Two further initiatives, which include expanded materials on core infrastructure asset management and group training for lower capacity small/rural municipalities within one region or watershed are underway, one in British Columbia and one in the Greater Toronto area’s Greenbelt region. Finally, to continue to expand the municipal natural asset management methodology, the MNAI team is developing a methodology for assessing coastal specific services.