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British Water

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This morning I got an email from The Guardian, a British newspaper that I subscribe to. This is a lightly edited extract from their newsletter – about how they get “scoops”.

<blockquote>… reporter Sandra Laville came across something rather curious that made her think ‘that’s funny’. In her case, it was a statistic. 

“I came across this figure that only 14 percent of waters in English rivers were of good ecological standard,” she recalls. “I thought ‘that’s really low’.”

She started asking questions – of officials, scientists at the Environment Agency, and crucially of campaigners determined to improve the quality of their local environment. 

The big breakthrough came when she secured data from water companies on when and where sewage had been released into rivers. When she totted up the answers it came to a total of 1.5m hours of dumping in a single year

“I remember swimming in the sea 25 years ago when there was a big scandal about sewage being poured into the ocean,” Sandra tells me. “I couldn’t believe this was happening in rivers too.” 

The revelations have put pressure on the authorities to come clean on the locations and instances of sewage discharge; on the water companies to take action and invest; and on the regulator to ensure that everyone improves their game. “Nothing will change overnight – this is a massive underinvestment in infrastructure,” Sandra says. “But this has really exposed what they have been doing.” 


One of the leading reasons why I came to Canada was that I no longer wanted to be an Economic Adviser to the British Government. We were shared between the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment, and I was going to be moved from looking at London Underground investments to Water Privatisation. And I did not want any part of it. In 1988 water in the UK was controlled by a network of Regional Water Authorities. They were very effective and a distinct improvement over the earlier patchwork quilt of Water Boards. In fact the reorganisation of those was also a significant factor in my earlier career at British Waterways Board in the early 1970s but that isn’t relevant.

Mostly I wanted to work on public transport issues. There did not seem to me to any justification for the privatisation of water. Indeed, it seemed to me that the only way it could be justified was that it would reduce “public spending” (i.e. using taxation revenues) and rely of private funding. For the private sector to make money they would need to find a way to create a profit margin in what was, at the time, absent as it was not needed by the public sector. It simply did not occur to me then that new water companies would seek to cut costs by dumping untreated wastewater in rivers and the sea – but that is what they have been doing.

One of the remarkable shifts in recent years has been the steady rejection of Hayek’s philosophy pursued by Margaret Thatcher and other right wing ideologues. Nearly every policy change introduced in the name conservatism has been shown to be fallacious. The claimed outcomes of better services at lower cost are never achieved in reality – though there has always been quite a bit of “clever” bookkeeping to make it look good. But it also seems that no matter how strong the evidence, when ostensibly left leaning, “progressive” parties get into power they fall into the same mire. Both BC NDP and federal Liberals are pursuing policies that are obviously designed to benefit the few over the broader public interest. This is most clearly true in the case of energy policies. Instead of picking the cleaner, more economically affordable renewable options, our governments are still choosing to support fossils – coal, oil and fracked gas. In transportation we still opt for more freeways and road expansions even though it is clear that this has never ever cured traffic congestion and can’t due to simple geometry. That we still have a mid twentieth century commitment to extending urban sprawl indefinitely which experience shows simply increases costs in general and “externalities” that we mostly try to ignore.

Today we heard the Throne Speech from Ottawa. What we needed to hear was that as a country we are going to change direction in view of the clear and present danger now posed by the climate crisis. For a long time governments at all levels have refused to face up to this challenge and pretend that business as usual can continue. We saw exactly that at COP26 in Glasgow. We got more of the same today from Justin Trudeau. The CG did not announce the end of fossil fuel subsidies and the cancellation of TMX. There was no mention of the export of US thermal coal through Canadian ports – which only happens because no local port community in the US will allow it. Canadian ports are only lightly managed – and that is a federal jurisdiction where local concerns account for nothing. There is a lot about cleaning up the most recent messes – but not very much about what needs to be done to cope with future issues which will inevitably be even worse, as the greenhouse gases that cause these disasters have already been emitted. Too many tipping points have already passed. Too little has been achieved through carbon capture and storage – except increasing the production of oil and gas. There are no offshore wind farms around here, very little geothermal power generation (despite huge potential) and not much in the way of energy storage or improvements to the grid to accommodate renewables. And there won’t be any time soon.

How bad does it have to get to see changes in policy? It has taken Britain 50 years to acknowledge that shutting down railway branch lines was short sighted and ineffective. The mess of water privatisation has also taken a similar amount of time to be acknowledged. In Canada our governments seem even more determined to refuse to change. But then we are still digging up asbestos to export – even though its use here is banned.(Even so, asbestos is still the number one cause of claims for worker compensation in BC.) We know what we are doing is not working. There was no major announcement about reductions of oil and gas extraction so now we know that big business is still calling the shots and humanity is doomed.

As Seth Klein just tweeted: “This #ThroneSpeech was an opportunity post-election, post-COP, post-floods to announce additional climate emergency initiatives & measures. The government took a pass. An exceptionally boring speech.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Liquid

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My first reaction this week’s photo challenge was to repost some of my beer pictures. It is one of the most frequent subjects on my Instagram and Flickr streams. There are also lots of river and sea pictures – but again more about the scenery than the water. Which  is when I thought of waterfalls!

Vetter Falls

Vetter Falls, BC

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls, BC

Blackiston Falls

Blackiston Falls, Alberta


Cameron Falls, Alberta

Twin Falls

Twin Falls, North Vancouver, BC

Written by Stephen Rees

May 16, 2018 at 9:34 am

World Rivers Day

The following is an edited version of a message I got in the email this morning. I have reduced its coverage to BC events but left in the links in case anyone living further afield is interested.

Below is another update from World Rivers Day chair
Mark Angelo, in the lead up to our seventh annual
World Rivers Day, slated for September 25th, 2011.

Greetings River Advocates,

Preparations are being made for World Rivers Day
on September 25th and some exciting events are
beginning to emerge for 2011!

Below is a small sampling of festivities from around the
world that are in the planning stages and many, many
more events will be included in future updates. We hope
you’ll consider organizing a Rivers Day event of your
own and globally, millions of people are expected
to participate.

Thousands of events around the world are anticipated to
take place. Just a few examples;

New Westminster, BC – The  Fraser River Discovery
Centre celebrates the opening of a major new exhibit
on the Heart of the Fraser at a special reception on the
evening of Sept. 23 in the run-up to Rivers Day. The
display focuses on efforts to protect the Hope to Mission
stretch of the Fraser, one of the most productive
stretches of river anywhere in the world. Contact

Vancouver, BC – Fraser Riverkeeper will be participating
for the 4th year in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup
on September 24, 2011. Similar events are unnfolding
across Canada from Nova Scotia to Quebec and from
Prince edward Island to British Columbia. As part of both
BC and World Rivers Day, the Fraser Riverkeepers will
act as site coordinator for the cleanup of False Creek
East, which is a rocky beach near Science World.
Fraser Riverkeeper will also invite poets attending the
100,000 “Poets for Change” event in Vancouver that day
to take part of this action. The cleanup will go from noon
to two in the afternoon; contact –

North Arm with Baker

The North Arm of the Fraser River, Vancouver BC - my photo on flickr

Salmon Arm, BC – join in a major celebration of the
Salmon River Delta, including music, feasting, a blessing
from First Nations’ elders, and a riverside trail walk.
Contact – Warren Bell,

Port Angeles, Washington, USA – In the run-up to
Rivers Day, one of the most exciting and important dam
removals ever undertaken will commence as part of a
major river and fisheries restoration effort along
Washington’s Elwha River. A major science gathering
will take place on September 15 and the formal launch
of the dam decommissiong effort will take place Sept. 17.
In time for World Rivers Day, September 25, a new public
observation trail will be in place, as well as an interpretive
exhibit and several webcams so that the public can
continuously monitor the project over the next few years.
Contact –

Pullaway and Iron Horse with a log tow

The Fraser River at New Westminster BC - my photo on flickr

New Westminster, BC – The  Fraser River Discovery
Centre, we will be celebrating BC and World Rivers
Day with a festival that honours the Fraser River,
the province’s most magnificent river, and its many
tributaries. Inspired by the river, Artists on the River is
an art and environmental festival that attracts over
3,500 visitors to the Fraser River Discovery Centre
and the Westminster Quay boardwalk.  Consisting of
artists and artisans in all media displaying their work,
live entertainment for all ages, and crafts for children
and their parents, there is something for everyone!
Contact –

Fernie, BC – The Elk River Alliance is hosting the
“Elk River Swim, Drink, Fish Festival” Saturday
September 24 – Sunday September 25, 2011.
Celebrate our connection to the ribbon of life that links
residents in the Elk River watershed and is the lifeblood
of our community. On Saturday September 24, be an
active participant in stream science on Lizard Creek:
The Elk River Alliance Lizard Creek Streamkeepers
invite the public to their fall sampling day.  Get involved
in hands-on stream science taking water quality tests,
flow rates, mapping, measurements and sampling
freshwater creatures. Build a cutthroat kite or sculpt
a water critter. View displays on the Elk River
watershed. And on Rivers Day Sunday, participate in
the 7th annual Elk River Shoreline Cleanup:  Meet at
Annex Pond at 1:00 pm.
Contact – Lee Ann Walker at

Chilliwack, BC – on both BC and World Rivers Day,
join in one of western Canada’s biggest stream
cleanups as the Chilliwack Vedder River Cleanup
Society undertakes another major initiative along
one of BC’s most important recreational rivers.
Contact – Chris Gadsden at

Burnaby, BC – A massive celebration will take place to
celebrate the inspiring restoration of Guichon Creek, an
urban stream that only a few decades ago was severely
degraded (contact

Yale & Hope, BC – A major paddle trip is planned down
the mighty Fraser River from Yale to Hope. A flotilla of
canoes, kayaks and rafts will travel 22 km downstream
between the two historic communities.  Along the way,
we’ll stop for lunch and explore interesting locations
under the leadership of Fraser River historians.
Contact –

New Westminster, BC – the Fraser River Discovery
Centre will unveil an exciting new display on the
“Heart of the Fraser” as part of their World Rivers Day
celebrations. Contact –

Howe Sound, BC – local events will celebrate the
ecological resurgence of the area culminating in a plan to
restore fish stocks in Britannia Creek, a stream that was
once a toxic hot-spot but has bounced back following
efforts to address long standing pollution concerns.
Contact –

Numerous events are in the planning stages across the
United States as well as Africa, and South America.
Details will be forthcoming in future updates.

Visit our Web site at:
to find out more about World Rivers Day, We can help
your promotions via our website, as well as emails like
this one.

World Rivers Day is based on the incredible success of
BC Rivers Day in British Columbia, Canada over the
past 31 years.

Promoting River Stewardship
World Rivers Day is a celebration of the world’s
waterways. It highlights the many values of rivers
and strives to increase public awareness and
hopefully encourage the improved stewardship of
rivers around the world. Rivers in every country
face an array of threats, and only our active
involvement will ensure their health in the years

Join the Celebration!
World Rivers Day organizers encourage all of you
to come out and participate. In particular, consider
starting a Rivers Day event of your own, which
might range from a stream cleanup to a community
riverside celebration. And if you create an event, be
sure to tell us about it! We’ll keep you posted in
the months ahead as new Rivers Day activities are

International Partners
World Rivers Day is intended to compliment
the broader efforts of the United Nations
Water For Life Decade initiative and we look forward
to working closely with them in the months ahead to
promote this event and encourage new participants.
In launching World Rivers Day, we also greatly
appreciated the support of the United Nations
University and the International Network on Water,
Environment, and Health.

Special thanks to our World Rivers Day sponsors:

– Rivers Institute at BCIT and the
visionary commitment of its founding
supporter, Mr. Rudy North
– United Nations Water For Life Decade,
Canada initiative
– United Nations Water for Life Decade; 2005 – 2015.

To find out more about water issues, and how
to get involved with World Rivers Day, visit the
Web sites below for more information.

World Rivers Day Web Site:

Rivers Institute at BCIT:

BC Rivers Day Web Site:

United Nations “Water For Life Decade” /

Yours truly,

Mark Angelo,
— Chair, World Rivers Day
United Nations Water for Life, Canada initiative
— Chair, Rivers Institute at BCIT

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

Posted in Environment, water

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Metro Vancouver Sustainability Report

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Metro will discuss this report today – it part of the Board agenda package which is a large pdf file. The story is also in the Sun, but  their web page does not provide links to story sources.

What caught my eye was this quote in the Sun “at least 112 species of animals and plants that are at risk of vanishing.” And that is due in part to the Gateway program which threatens several endangered and threatened species  and for which no mitigation whatever is planned. But of course each component got its Environmental Assessment Certificate anyway. As long as the province of British Columbia is leading the assault on our environment, regional districts’ attempts to document and report with no powers to do anything effective are an exercise in futility.

Per-capita consumption of drinking water is said by the Sun to be declining too. I suspect that the wording is because of copying from the report. In fact we only have one type of water piped to us – so all the water we use is of drinking water quality. Special measures are needed when recycling rain water for other uses as this image illustrates

Richmond Oval uses recycled rain water to flush this urinal

Richmond Oval uses recycled rain water to flush this urinal

So the decline in per capita use is not because we drink less of it, but because we waste less in activities like watering lawns on hot summer days – which is not permitted but is not enforced very much either. The greatest waste of water is from old leaky mains that should have been replaced. In fact Greater Vancouver has no shortage of available water and we could do very much better in reuse of  grey water.

Johnny Carline, chief administrative officer for Metro Vancouver, acknowledged the financial challenge of keeping the region sustainable in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Upgrades to the two sewage plants are needed but “to finance this without senior government help is going to be incredibly burdensome. … It’s an ongoing charge to your residents and businesses,” Carline said in an interview.

Well yes we have to pay for it but then it is our mess. And I think we ought to clean up after ourselves. Upgrading primary sewage treatment would have a number of benefits. One of which would be that people who ignore the notices at Garry Point would not get sick and need treatment. Not that I am saying that would pay for itself. But allowing large volumes of human effluent to be discharged virtually untreated into salmon streams – and then eating the salmon also seems to me to be asking for trouble. And might also have helped slow the rate of loss of the Georgia Strait’s resident orcas.  And I suggest that residents might be more willing to pay for that than Mr Carline believes. I also think that businesses should show some leadership and acknowledge that it is worth paying for clean rivers as well as clean drinking water and not threaten to leave the area just because someone suggests that the taxes might need to be raised.

It annoys me that once again sustainability and the economy are presented as antithetical. This is just using accounting as a narrow measurement tool when there are much better ones available – and part of the process of becoming sustainable must be using those methods. Given that Johnny Carline has been pushing his Sustainble Region Initiative for some years now I think he ought to have revised the way that he thinks and speaks about these issues. At present our regional government does not value the quality of our environment highly enough – and is one of the worst culprits in polluting our region.

I spent the first forty years of my life in London and the last twenty in Canada. In the first part of my life I watched the River Thames being cleaned up to the point where the salmon returned – after a very long absence. At one time being rescued from the river meant you had to have your stomach pumped as a precaution against poisoning. Now the Thames is clean – becuase the regional government was determined to get it that way and paid for that with taxes. The GLC was not always popular but it was proud to display fish tanks in the lobby of County Hall with examples of fish taken from the river running past it. That is what has influenced my thinking on this topic. I am sorry if that is not being Canadian. I do not recall much finger pointing over the issue of sewage treatment. Although there was of course a famous bust up between Mrs Thatcher and the then leader of the GLC Ken Livingstone: that was petty, personal politics. Now I live next tothe Fraser and I see it slowly dying – and mostly by conscious decision making  the bottom line of corporations – both public and private – the only consideration.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

Fraser River clogs up, as does money to fix it

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The process of the Government of Canada getting out of the port business goes back a long way and is bi partisan. In the early 90s many shippers were surprised that the government would no longer build facilities for them at public expense, and not long after that ports became businesses run by appointed and not very accountable boards. Over time the major policy of the feds can be summarized as “cut spending.”

Now rivers are natural systems that humans have been trying to control for centuries, with varying degrees of success. Many human settlements are on river banks because of the fundamental needs of water, transportation and food. As ports have become ever more technical – ships always get bigger, cargo handling systems less labour intensive – the investment required in facilities has grown, leaving less available for tasks that can seem to be non essential to port operations, but which are critical to the wider community.

The Fraser has always transported huge amounts of silt from the interior towards the sea. As it slows it drops the silt – and normally the river gradually moves around. This is inconvenient for human land use, so we try to channelise and fix the channel in one place. Dykes and dredging make this system work, but both require significant amounts of maintenance. Lois Jackson obviously thinks the two activities can be separated. Delta builds and maintains dykes, but thinks that other levels of government should take on the dredging. Historically that is the way it was done – but not everyone need accept this as a normative. Of course, the ability of municipal government to do very much of anything when they only get 8% of the tax revenue – and all of that already committed.

The Port of course has become obsessed with growth – expanding its market share. That’s what businesses in the private sector do: they have been schooled to believe that increasing the bottom line is the only thing that matters. This means that jobs such as social obligations tend to be viewed as PR opportunities – not central themes like sustainability.

Both models, municipal and commercial are dysfunctional. The evidence is that we have lost the ability to manage our self imposed tasks – and the mess of the lower Fraser is a very good example. We imposed on ourselves the requirement of managing a major force of nature, and we neglect that at our peril. Arguing about “who’s on first” isn’t helpful

Written by Stephen Rees

September 26, 2008 at 11:33 am

Drip, drip: the sound of water and money down the drain

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Carey Doberstein presents the case for water metering.

Basically the case is made that making consumers pay for the extra $50m that water meters will cost is worthwhile as it will save uncounted costs in expanding infrastructure to meet demand.

I would find that argument more convincing if something was also added about how much water the system itself wastes, but it is true that infrastructure investments tend to be at least an order of magnitude greater than the cost of water meters. It is certainly more compelling than the suggestion that we need to conserve water here because there are shortages of water elsewhere. I am also less than happy with the idea that consumers have to pay more for water to stop them using it so that it can be sold by private sector companies that stand to make vast profits out of what is (or should be) a commonly held resource. It is our water and does not belong to the bottlers or the power exporters – or some future bulk water shippers.

There is also a need to ensure that if we are obliged to pay for metered water from the mains we be allowed to use water in ways that are more efficient, which are currently prohibited by building codes and other municipal policies and regulations. So the reuse of grey water and the collection of rainwater – as well as the use of systems that allow rain water to percolate back into the soil rather than flush municipal sewers and storm drains would be necessary too. Indeed, one of the features of good design that was common to every charrette that I have been to has related to water treatment – which is as important to smart growth as walkability.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 8:26 am

Posted in regional government, Urban Planning, water

Tagged with

Fraser water highway a worry

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Jeff Nagel, BC Local News

I have expressed my doubts about the Port of Vancouver’s idea to use the river to ship containers up to Hope and then transfer them to trains. My concerns were mainly to do with the economic feasibilyt of the idea – after all I cut my teeth on this kind of project back in Britain in the 1970s.

It tuns out that this may not be the great environmental boon that the Port thinks it is either. Yes, water transport burns less diesel per tonne kilometre, but that is not the whole picture by any means.

Sea Imp VIII

The Outdoor Research Council of B.C. (ORCBC) has rated the Fraser the number two endangered river in B.C., saying it faces new threats from port expansion plans in addition to a variety of other pressures.

And actually if you read the list, short sea shipping is not the first or biggest issue either. It is just another nail in the coffin of the world’s greatest salmon river.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 26, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Sustainable Urbanism: Searching for Sustainability at the Suburban/Rural Edge

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Douglas Farr Public Lecture

Tuesday, March 11, 7:30 pm SFU Harbour Centre

Streaming video

Doug Farr is a pivotal figure in sustainability today, leading and practicing at the crossroads of urbanism and green building. His firm, Farr Associates, holds the global distinction of being the first and only firm to design three LEED Platinum buildings.

At the same time, he has served as Chair of the LEED Neighborhood Development Core Committee, leading the development of sustainable performance metrics for urban development.

His new book, Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature, is a leading text on enhancing the sustainability of urbanism and his lectures are essential to understanding the pending sustainability convergence.

Doug Farr talked about integrating sustainable urbanism and agriculture on the urban edge. Having evaluated the sustainability of East Fraserlands, a project along Vancouver’s river edge planned by DPZ, Farr has been commissioned by Century Group (this evening’s sponsor) to consider opportunities for sustainable solutions at the suburban/rural edge in the Southlands of Tsawwassen.

Doug Farr is a Chicago architect. The mission of his practice is to design sustainable human environments. He has been closely involved in the leadership in to create LEED ND. Some of their developments include Lake Pulaski Transit Oriented Development (TOD) 1998 on the west side of Chicago. In 1999 they produced the first LEED platinum building, the Chicago Centre for Green Technology. “Urbanism did not come up at all in the first LEED standards” and there was no mention of building around transit. It was basically a systems integration approach – heating, lighting ,waste water and so on. Most clients really did not see the need: for instance at Orland Park TOD they were told to “remove the green stuff”.

Minneapolis at 46th & Hiawatha, a development relayed to a new LRT system there was a fight over density. Initially buildings had to be 1½ storeys, but after discussion it was agreed that four storeys could be accepted and an extra storey could be added if it was a green building. In Normal, Illinois he produced an Uptown development around a traffic circle: the area within the circle was used for stormwater detention, all the buildings were LEED certified.

LEED ND means “LEED for Neighborhood Development”. It is based on the observation of how much Americans drive and how far, for example, fresh produce has to travel to market: 1,500 miles on average. Children of middle class white families in up scale California developments spend 89% of their time indoors, or in vehicles.

He was sharply critical of Al Gore’s recommendations for action at the end of “An Inconvenient Truth”. He thought that Gore had“punted” the issue of transportation. What he wrote was not a mandate: that means “if the bus hits you, get on it”. By not directly tackling land use and transportation he had missed the single biggest greenhouse gas issue. We have seen in recent years the “tragic irony of efficiency” – per capita vehicle miles travelled had increased 5% which more than offset any gains due to Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards imposed on the automobile industry by the US government. At the same time average dwelling size grew 60% (from 1970-2005) but household size in the same period was declining. The Environmental Building News pointed out that even at present practices, transport to and from an office building uses 30% more energy than the building itself: and if that bldg meets LEED standards that rises to 130%.

The pillars of sustainability were set down in April 1996 when the 10 principles of Smart Growth were agreed. These can be grouped under four headings:

settle in the right location, create compact places, offer more choice and a fair transparent process.

In Atlanta, GA the average distance people drive is 35miles per day. But that is very heavily weighted by the suburbs. In the city centre residents driving distances average less than 10 miles.

The Charter of New Urbanism (also 1996) co-evolved with transit. The US Green Building Council was also formed in that year. All these institutions have become “Silos of Sustainability” promoting half measures, and each devalues the work of others. Conservation or LID development concentrates on issues like storm water and native plantings. He showed an image of an Arby’s at a suburban intersection. This could be a LEED Platinum Eligible building: “a unwalkable fatty food shack”. He also had an advert for a green building that proved hard to let that now offers free parking. He also took a swipe at Seaside – the first New Urbanist development. There the air conditioning condensers rust out every 5 years due to the sea air and the buildings also have to be painted every five years. The a/c units are located in between the buildings. This means that as soon as anyone turns one on, the house next door has to shut its windows to keep out the noise, and turn on its on a/c … and so on.

“We need to evolve to sustainable urbanism”. This has to be based on neighbourhoods that are walkable and have transit service. We need to establish relevant “weights and measures”. This what LEED ND does: its determines what where and how. A smart location is a pre-requisite: it is usually infill or adjacent to existing transit. On exception in the urban edge is where there is to be a projected transit extension. Land stewardship is central to the concept expressed as the neighbourhood pattern and design. No gated communities are permitted and the minimum density is 7 units per net acre (the US average now is 2). It is also includes erosion control and similar protection for water courses.

It is expected that there will be zoning code version, but so far 371 projects have expressed interest in certification in 42 states and 8 countries. The area covered in total is “bigger than Boston” and 80% of the projects are on brownfield sites or or infill. Many of the standards adopted have a carbon base and measurable public health benefit demonstrated by research. Even so the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) asserts that there is an “unproven connection between health and walkability”. They also accuse the proponents of a sociological agenda, as though building low density car orient4ed sprawl had no sociological effects.

He was critical of LEED ND. He pointed out that the prerequisites are a poor tool to balance competing trade offs, and they have had limited influence at the sprawling edge of the suburbs. So far they have had no discernible effect on sprawl. He gave the example of the East Fraserlands in Vancouver (on the Fraser North Arm at boundary. This was a former saw mill but included some woodland. The requirement of LEED ND is that 75% had to be previously developed and there also had to be a 100 ft set back of all development on riparian lands. So this site failed to qualify.

The “Southlands” in Tsawwassen are built up on all sides but have had no development on them, so they would also fail the LEED ND test. It is hoped that the current process will actually protect a lot of the green area from construction, unlike the original proposals which would have been a low density subdivision.

“LEED ND will not design a project” but he showed a simple, and familiar, diagram of a triangular site, based on earlier standards. This is now being used with a 10 minute walk circle to show how a dense neighbourhood can work, and reduce the meed for motorised trips.

He talked about “emerging thresholds” and something called the “80% rule”: apparently you need 2000 houses to build a TOD. (I may have this wrong as my typing could not keep up with the speed at which he was flipping through his slides). He introduced the idea of “biophilia” – people respond to nature and “nature shouldn’t be something you have to drive to”. So his developments have dual use stormwater retention and high performance infrastructure. The trip reduction potential stems from clustering buildings, but it also enhances neighbourhood health and security. The neighbourhoods are then linked into a “sustainable corridor” based on a transit line.

Most of our current planning codes should replace minimums with maximums – e.g. street width. “The current regulations are backwards.” He sees the need for a national campaign. It is a curious fact that Richard Nixon created all the US environmental agencies – and that very little progress has been made since.

“It’s the placemaking, stupid!”

LEED should apply to land use as well as buildings. The 2030 Architectural Challenge is to gradually move towards carbon neutral buildings by adopting progressively tighter restrictions each year – “like a slow burn fuse”. His practice has shown that the targets is completely possible and they will have built a 120% efficient house next year, that is one that feeds power back on to the grid.

He is now proposing a similar 2030 Community Challenge. This will be based on reducing the average driving distance – less than the 8,150 miles per person per annum which Americans now drive which is equivalent to the North Pole to somewhere in Brazil. For a family this is now 21,500 miles a year, which is very nearly like driving around the whole world. “When you experience a city at 50 mph you don’t care what it looks like.” He aims for a 2% reduction pa in VMT which would produce a 50% reduction by 2030. You can do this by “planning to drive less” – for instance simply eliminating that trip you wish you had not made last year to your in laws. But by designing “resilient communities” we can make the US less reliant on fossil fuels and hence more able to withstand the uncertainties of the future. Essentially the Challenge is a call to invest in land use and transportation integration.

In one development called Atlantic Station the average drive distance is now 8 mpd, a 75% reduction over the Atlanta average. The big gains will be achieved in the suburbs, where the driving distances are greatest will be where the highest percentage of projects need to be LEED ND platinum.

Changing the type of light bulbs we use took 5 years: changing our neighbourhoods will take 20 to 50, corridors take 20 -100 years. “We started at the wrong end.”

He endorses the view of Bill Clinton that this change represents a large economic opportunity.


  • Isn’t there a correlation between poverty and VMT? What is the role of legislation?
    A – Zoning is the way to make change. Vancouver is ahead of the curve. But in existing neighbourhoods there are “always bits being replaced” and it is here that the main opportunities will be found

  • The standard of 7 units pda is about of what is needed to make transit viable.
    A – It’s a compromise but you can exceed the standard and it probably ought to be 10 to 12.

  • The Spetifore Lands is the correct name for the site in Tsawwassen. There has been little public process. Is there a way that we can have a development that encourages individuals to experiment? Will your development end agriculture on this land? After all, it was this site that spurred the creation of the ALR
    A – The first plan was sprawl. We now expect to have a charrette. There is no plan yet but we expect to set aside
    of land either as green space, agriculture, or conservation. the basic question we are now asking is “Can we complete the town and make it a better place?”

  • An advocate for affordable housing asked if LEED ND requires mixed income, and given current building costs of around $1,000 per sf, how can that be achieved
    A – It is essential to end segregation by economic strata. In 1990 we reformed on “CNU ideals”(?) “LEED ND is the duct tape that solves every urban problem.” Usually they insist on 10 % each for sale and rent at affordable levels. The response is convincing the powers that be that it is doable. The private sector is currently not building to the market, and often all they have to do is right size it.

  • Are car co-ops just a gadget?
    A – NO. See the VTPI 2005 shared car study. Reducing car ownership actually increases wealth [note: I think he should have said “disposable income”] LEED houses cost more but the savings from redcuing car ownershop will pay for better houses.

  • Why don’t the politicians get it?
    a – In places that have a planning culture – like Tsawassen and Portland – they do. And the public’s involvement in the process is crucial. Mostly it is the local plans that do not help. You must remember that sprawl is legal – it is mandated and approved by certified Planners. Chicago is not a plan town but a deal town. The question there is, can we make neighborhoods and corridors?

  • Municipalities in Canada do not have the freedom of US cities, and they are bound to be concerned about the impact on property tax
    A – LEED ND is good government and fiscally responsible. the cost of infrastructure is much lower in dense, contiguous neighborhoods.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 12, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Water cloudy

with 3 comments

Richmond News

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008The City of Richmond and Vancouver Coastal Health officials are warning Richmond residents that water main upgrades could cause some cloudiness in their tap water, though the discolouration poses little risk to healthy individuals.

A city news release said Metro Vancouver staffers are conducting work near the Oak Street Bridge as part of seismic upgrades.

Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson Viviana Zanocco said health unit officials are monitoring the water, and that the turbidity is a result of a change in the water’s flow. The water used to flow from Vancouver to Richmond and through to Delta, it is now running from Delta back to Richmond.

I am reproducing this announcement entire as a public service to my fellow residents of Richmond. Who have probably all installed filtration systems of one kind or another on their drinking water anyway. In addition to the turbidity mentioned above, these systems are generally considered essential since they also remove the strange swimming pool smell of chlorine, the “tea leaf scale” – a sort of light brown fleck – that we get from the inside of our water mains – and – for some people who are really worried about their health – the parasites and other nasties that seem to get through every so often.

The people who do not have these systems buy their water already filtered and bottled. At great expense. For some reason they do not take any comfort from the announcements of the authorities. While they bitch and complain about bus fares and gasoline at over $1 a litre they seem to be willing to pay more than that for water they feel safe with. I wonder why. Perhaps it is because the stuff that comes out of the taps does not look clean – even when no work is being done. There are also people who put filters on their showerheads, and say it makes them feel better.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 31, 2008 at 9:55 am

Posted in water