Sunset Beach at Neck Point Park. A Canada-wide pilot study aims to show municipalities the value of natural infrastructure.

Sunset Beach at Neck Point Park. A Canada-wide pilot study aims to show municipalities the value of natural infrastructure.

Nanaimo touts its ‘natural capital’

NANAIMO – The city is in the running for one of five spots in the Municipal Natural Capital pilot study.

A Canada-wide pilot program aims to show municipalities the value of maintaining the country’s original infrastructure – nature.

Nanaimo hopes to help lead the way.

The City of Nanaimo has set aside $15,000 in case it wins one of five spots in the Municipal Natural Capital pilot study, organized by the David Suzuki Foundation and Asset Management B.C., among others. The work would involve studying natural capital, like forests and wetlands, the value of those natural systems in supplementing city infrastructure and how natural capital can save infrastructure costs for municipalities if maintained and monitored. It will look to use the same accounting standards municipalities apply to capital assets.

“It’s just recognizing maybe what we all intuitively know, is that our urban forests, our streams, our wetlands, they provide a value to the community, but it’s not well understood how does that measure out to be,” said Rob Lawrance, City of Nanaimo environmental planner. “If, say, you try to replace the value of Buttertubs Marsh as a storm water asset, what would an engineering project of equal value cost us to do?”

He said he believes it is far easier and cheaper to maintain and restore a wetland than to create something artificially through an engineered system, especially with the water clarified and retained in storm water events through the Buttertubs system.

Lawrance hopes to use Buttertubs Marsh as a case study if Nanaimo is chosen to participate in the pilot. He’s already working with Nature Trust of B.C. on an updated management plan for conservation in the area.

“What are the features, the qualities of a wetland you need to have in a place in a given area to maintain it at an optimum level for water clarification, for habitat and as a storm water feature? If there’s a way of quantifying that, then maybe that’s a way of putting it into a budget to maintain that to a certain standard,” said Lawrance, who says there’s currently only piecemeal money in an environmental budget.

Michelle Molnar, environmental economist with the David Suzuki Foundation, said natural capital like forests, wetlands and bio-soils provide services similar to man-made infrastructure, adding that it’s really our “original form of infrastructure.” The initiative suggests by maintaining and monitoring nature, municipalities can save.

Molnar points to the Town of Gibsons’ eco-asset strategy for its aquifer which cleans, filters and stores water. The municipality realized it can simply maintain the aquifer and monitor it at a fraction of the cost of building a water treatment plant or truck in water, she said – “we are talking about orders of magnitude of cost difference.”

There are five spaces available for the pilot and more than 10 municipalities have expressed interest to date.

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