Municipal Natural Assets Initiative: Municipal Natural Asset Management

In 2013, while the Town of Gibsons, BC was in the process of inventorying its existing assets — determining their state and value, and preparing asset management plans to maintain or replace the assets in an effort to ensure sustainable service delivery to a community — it became clear that some of the town’s most vital assets weren’t being accounted for. The bog-standard asset management approach was, the team realized, failing to quantify the value of bogs.

What, the team wondered, was the value of an aquifer that provides drinking water to the community, or a forest that conveys storm water, and a natural shoreline that protects business and residential areas from sea level rise and storm surges?

It’s easy to call these things “priceless” but that can all to easily obscure just how high a price a community would have to pay if it lost them.

As a result of their inquiry and effort, Gibsons developed a new approach to asset management; the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI). Theirs is the first asset management policy in North America to place natural and engineered assets on an equal footing, and collect and utilize data accordingly.

The MNAI approach allowed the team in the Town of Gibsons to determine, for example, that the stormwater services provided by their natural assets have a value of $3.5-$4.0 million, that being the cost of replacing them with an engineered asset should they fail. They were then in a position then to assign a dollar value to regular maintenance in the park to help avoid avoid that  $3.5-$4.0 million capital expenditure. The Town has now allocated funds for monitoring and maintenance of natural assets in operating budgets and 5-year general capital budgets.

Based on these early, positive results, a multi-stakeholder group met in November, 2015 to discuss whether the approach could be replicated. The assembled asset managers, planners, finance experts and local government representatives felt that ensuring that healthy natural assets are intentionally managed contributes to the delivery of core services to ratepayers. At the same time, they recognised that most municipalities lack the resources to measure and manage natural assets as part of their core asset management processes.

With a goal of making MNAI a reality across Canada, the team, made up of representatives from the David Suzuki Foundation, the Town of Gibsons, and Smart Prosperity Institute, and led by Roy Brooke, of the Victoria BC based consulting firm Brooke and Associates, set about refining and scaling-up Gibsons’ approach, offering tools, support, training and guidance to enable other local governments to manage natural assets within core financial and management systems.

Because local governments are now required to adopt modern asset management systems, at the same time as major ecosystems across Canada and around the globe are in decline and the effects of climate change are increasing being felt on a local level —  increasing pressure on already-deteriorating infrastructure systems — the project’s goal is a timely one, and it turns out, achievable:

A first cohort of five MNAI pilot projects wrapped up in February 2018. This cohort demonstrated clearly that healthy and/or restored natural assets (e.g. floodplains, riparian areas) can, with appropriate support and tools, support stormwater management and reduce risks from extreme stormwater, droughts, and floods, all on a cost effective basis, compared to traditional engineered infrastructure.

Put on your wellies, the level of bog-standard has just been raised.