Cowichan Valley Regional District hopes that asset management can help overcome the many challenges it faces regarding infrastructure, service delivery and climate change. The regional district covers a large area of Vancouver Island and includes approximately 80,000 mostly rural residents.
Part of the challenge involves jurisdictional issues. Four independent municipalities and nine electoral districts lie within the regional district, for instance, necessitating a web of shared-services agreements. The district also has 35 independent water and wastewater utilities.
“In all, there are more than 180 budgets to consider,” says Ian Morrison, Chair of Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Board of Directors. “When it comes to financing infrastructure projects, we have few options. It’s illegal to run a deficit and it’s hard to fund big projects on property taxes and user fees.”
Another aspect of the planning challenge is the expected impacts of climate change. Cowichan Valley faces the full range of related risks: regular flooding caused by a combination of rising sea levels and more frequent intense storms, for instance, along with water shortages and forest fires due to lengthy droughts.
To help meet these challenges, Cowichan has begun to adopt asset management in recent years, with a focus on climate change. In 2014, the regional district hired Austin Tokarek to develop and implement a strategic energy management plan. Two years later, the district appointed him asset coordinator, a new position.
“We’ve made some progress, but there’s still a long way to go,” Mr. Tokarek says. “Ultimately, Cowichan has to get much more systematic about planning and budgeting. Capital infrastructure and service plans have to align, for instance, and link directly with budgets.”
The regional district took a big step forward in 2018 with the help of the Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP), administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). With MAMP funding, the regional district conducted assessments of service levels and the condition of its assets. These data provide a solid foundation for effective planning.
To also make progress on identifying and mitigating climate-related risks, the regional district secured funding from FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP). A key component of MCIP is the Canadian Asset Management Network, a mechanism for local officials to collaborate and share knowledge about shared challenges. With this support, the regional district developed case studies detailing the climate risks related to a water system and a park.
“While asset management is clearly the way to go, it’s relatively new to most elected officials serving at the regional level in BC,” says Ian Morrison, now in his tenth year on the regional district’s Board of Directors. “We’re determined to embrace asset management and continue to make progress.”
Participant organization details
- Cowichan Valley Regional District, BC
- Population: 80,332
- Project duration: 9 months
- Grant amount: $48,000.00