Rob Lawrance, City of Nanaimo environmental planner, said a natural capital study put Buttertubs Marsh in the context of a physical utility asset. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/The News Bulletin

Rob Lawrance, City of Nanaimo environmental planner, said a natural capital study put Buttertubs Marsh in the context of a physical utility asset. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo adds up the value of natural infrastructure

Environmental assets have dollar value, study finds

A natural storm-water system at Nanaimo’s Buttertubs Marsh is worth millions, a new study has found.

Buttertubs Marsh, a 40-hectare wetland that’s storing water and controlling floods, is providing a system the City of Nanaimo would have to pay millions to replicate, according to a pilot study that’s helping to change the way communities see natural infrastructure.

Nanaimo was chosen in 2016 as one of five Canadian communities to participate in the Municipal Natural Capital Initiative pilot study, organized by the David Suzuki Foundation, Town of Gibsons and other partners. The idea was to calculate the financial value of natural infrastructure like wetlands and the costs that can be saved by protecting and maintaining nature.

RELATED: Nanaimo touts its ‘natural capital’

RELATED: Nanaimo calculates value of nature

For anyone looking at a wetland or watercourse, the value is clear but it’s also subjective, said city environmental planner Rob Lawrance, who notes the study put the marsh in the context of a physical utility asset and a language city financial planners speak.

The study hasn’t been released yet, but Lawrance told the News Bulletin it shows even in areas of the marsh without any control structures or weirs, water is still being retained and that as climate change progresses and storm events become more severe, the value of what the marsh does doubles. The natural system is able to handle increased pressure and has resiliency, he said, adding it has more value than he thought.

A hydrological model considered what it would cost to build an engineered system matching what Buttertubs does and found the replacement cost would be anywhere from $4.7 million to $8.3 million.

“Doing that just kind of underscores the point that the city does not have to pay that kind of money to have that kind of service provided to the community,” Lawrance said. “That was the main point of the exercise and the pilot study is to prove there’s real financial value that wetlands like this provide the community.”

The Town of Gibsons has already created a natural asset management strategy, and it’s that work that’s being replicated across the country.

Emanuel Machado, chief administrative officer and strategic advisor for the study, said the benefits of valuing natural assets is “tremendous.” Natural areas are resilient to climate change, he said, adding creeks can flex and compress as needed much more than a pipe with defined capacity. There’s also no up-front or replacement costs for natural systems, no depreciation and natural assets can last into perpetuity.

Gibsons has a watershed, for example, with ponds, creeks and a forest, that treats a lot of the community’s storm water, but a development prompted the need to upgrade those services.

The town priced out an engineered option, which would cost $4.5 million, and then looked at building upon the natural system and found by expanding some of the ponds and planting more trees, it could get the same service for $300,000, according to Machado.

It’s a good example of the importance of understanding what services nature provides in the community and the value of those services, he said.

Lawrance believes the information from the pilot will help when the city looks at how to improve or enhance the value of the marsh with further restoration or building upon the habitat. There are things that degrade the environment, like invasive species, and there are also opportunities to enhance the tree canopy or wetland around riparian areas.

“Maybe those are costs we should be looking at to kind of factor in to help maintain and enhance the value of places like this and perhaps this is something that gets blended into storm water utility at some point in the future,” Lawrance said.

He doesn’t believe the city has the full picture for whether it’s possible to put a dollar value on natural capital in the same way as engineered assets, but said it’s a tool for having a discussion with financial staff.

“Before, they wouldn’t even let me in the room,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just not conventionally considered as part of financing or accounting practice but there are other communities that are starting to look at this now.”

The city plans to build on the study with a further assessment of community wetlands. The pilot study is also expected to be publicly available once complete.



news@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations with RV hook-ups

Nanaimo RCMP hope the public can help them find a 16-year-old who has been missing since Sunday. (Photo submitted)
UPDATE: 16-year-old Nanaimo boy located safe

Teen had been reported missing last week and it was thought he may have left town

The Regional District of Nanaimo plans to make its operations more efficient as it works on long-term goals around carbon-neutrality. (PQB News file photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo works to become carbon neutral by 2032

RDN committee of the whole members endorse plan developed by consultant

The Millstone River in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Regional district looks at value of Nanaimo’s natural assets

Report focused on the Millstone River could inform future decisions on corporate asset management

Protesters gather along the Pearson Bridge on Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo last month as part of an event called Worth More Standing. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: B.C. hasn’t managed forests properly

Protesters opposing logging in Fairy Creek speak for many British Columbians, say letter writers

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Child, 2, marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to target people ages 40+ in ‘high risk communities’ with AstraZeneca vaccine

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)
B.C. moves to protect employee pay for COVID-19 vaccination

Most won’t need to take time off work, labour minister says

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future finally surfaces at Royal B.C. Museum

Museum dives into the world of the killer whale as delayed feature exhibition now open

Most Read