UBC Okanagan researchers develop decision-making tool for governments
As population density in urban areas continues to intensify, municipal and provincial governments are looking towards alternatives to traditional stormwater systems.
Measures such as rooftop gardens, vegetative strips and bioswales—manmade trenches created for rainwater runoff—are becoming more common in urban planning. Known as low-impact developments (LIDs), these measures allow the water cycle to flow more smoothly.
In a recent study, researchers at UBC Okanagan’s Life Cycle Management Laboratory compared how different jurisdictions are handling LIDs. The investigation’s goal was to establish a decision-making tool for governments to help them incorporate LIDs into their urban planning as a way to address water management needs.
LID refers to site design practices that reduce the impact of water runoff. Contrary to traditional systems, LID tries to mimic the natural water cycle in urban settings and helps to harvest rainwater or snowmelt as well as to remove pollutants.
“Canadian stormwater management systems are facing challenges around every corner from climate change to aging infrastructure,” explains Rehan Sadiq, engineering professor and study co-author. “When you add urbanization to the mix, governments need to decide what approach they wish to take when it comes to LIDs or otherwise face potentially dire consequences.”
The UBC researchers found that the guidelines and approaches to implement LIDs vary from one province to another and one municipality to another. Some have embraced LIDs, while others have not.
In particular, the study found that Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have embraced alternative technologies for stormwater management while New Brunswick and the three northern territories continue to lag behind.
“Urbanization has pushed those four provinces to act while the late-adopters have some time to establish their own approaches,” says Sadia Ishaq, UBC Okanagan doctoral student and study lead author. “Whether it is the Far North or the Maritimes, government leaders need to ensure they are taking appropriate action to balance development with sustainable water management.”
Although the study highlights the positive impact of LIDs, it also points out that more research is needed to determine the potential health risks of these systems on the public. Specifically, the microbial quality of storm runoff in urban areas.
“This type of sustainable infrastructure design can be enormously beneficial as communities grapple with aging infrastructure and a changing climate. This analysis can help promote the LIDs and extend their benefits as urban planners prepare our cities for the future,” says Ishaq.
The research, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Management, was supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
About UBC’s Okanagan campus
UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.
To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.