Saanich is the largest Municipality in British Columbia’s Capital Region District on Vancouver Island and the 44th largest in Canada. It occupies a central position within the district, immediately north of the City of Victoria and sharing boundaries with five other municipalities. Saanich’s physical setting comprises 29.61 km of marine shoreline, 3.3 km² of freshwater lakes, more than 160 parks, numerous natural watercourses, a diverse undulating topography with elevations ranging from sea level to 355m above, and a landscape that includes glacially scoured rock outcroppings, farmland, dense woodlands, and an extensive system of open space and parkland. Approximately half the Municipality is urban and half is rural/ agricultural – a mix that has influenced its character and development.
The extent to which the District of Saanich is focused on sustainability is best captured by its official community vision: “Saanich is a sustainable community where a healthy natural environment is recognized as paramount for ensuring social well-being and economic vibrancy, for current and future generations.” This vision, which is motivated in equal parts by the desire for environmental integrity, economic vibrancy, and social well-being, goes a long way to explaining why Saanich has been recognized as a leader in sustainability and environmental initiatives since the 1990’s.
Beginning in 2007, Saanich has implemented a highly successful Climate Action Plan, an Adaptation Plan, and an innovative carbon fund. The momentum gained by these achievements has been built upon through the establishment of a dedicated Sustainability Division with the Planning Department, which leads climate action efforts in municipal operations and the community.
Moving forwards, the District has adopted aggressive GHG reduction targets, and voluntarily submits its emissions data to the carbonn Climate Registry. It acknowledges that the success enjoyed by its mitigation planning has not been replicated in its adaptation planning, and has identified that as a priority area for future activity. It also seeks to build upon an already strong stakeholder network to develop community projects that focus on improving building energy efficiency, low-carbon and active transportation, and food security.
Because of its coastal location, sea level rise is an issue which is of particular concern to the District of Saanich and its residents. The projections within Saanich’s most recent Climate Change Adaptation Plan (the first adaptation plan on Vancouver Island) list a potential sea level rise of between 0.17m – 0.94m by 2080. In light of this, the District Planning Department has made working with property owners in sea level ruse threatened areas to increase resiliency to storm events a priority.
To date, the majority of the work done with this issue has been accomplished in the fields of monitoring and communication: the number of houses affected by sea level rise and extreme weather events are presented annually in the District of Saanich Strategic Plan.
Although the District of Saanich uses the term ‘ecosystem services’ very tentatively (reflecting a belief that assigning monetary values to priceless phenomena and resources can potentially be problematic), respect for the natural environment is embedded in the official vision on the District, and Saanich actively works to strengthen the connections between ecosystems and resilience planning. There are 165 municipal parks within the District; work is underway on a 100 year vision for the restoration of the integral Bowker Creek waterway, and restrictions are placed on the use of equipment to ensure the success of water supply and conservation programs.
Moreover, the District has been applauded by members of the research community for its long term perspective on ecosystem health in a changing climate. For example, the Urban Forest Strategy, which is applied in conjunction with the Sustainable Saanich Official Community Plan 2008, emphasizes planting a species mix which reflects suitability in the climate we will have in 70 years when the trees are fully mature.
After establishing the reduction of GHG emissions as a top priority in its Climate Change Mitigation Plan, the District of Saanich has introduced an innovative Carbon Fund (the first of its kind in North America) which is used to support new GHG-reducing initiatives within the District such as solar hot water heating, geo-exchange, photo-voltaic systems, and carbon sequestration.
The Fund, which each department in the municipality pays into on the basis of their annual carbon footprint, is used to fund projects that have the potential to have an immediate impact on reducing GHG emissions. Each year, a dollar amount equal to the prevailing market value of a Tonne of Carbon is set aside in the annual financial plan for inclusion in the Fund
In 2002, a forum was convened, made of residents, landowners, representatives from government agencies, and community organizations, to develop an integrated watershed management plan for Bowker Creek. Through their collaboration, the Bowker Creek Management Plan was formalized and approved by the districts of Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria. The goal of the plan is to acknowledge the human and natural areas of the watershed, to minimize runoff and pollution, to create a healthy stream which supports biodiversity, native plants, and wildlife, and to provide a greenway that connects the communities.
The Bowker Creek Management Plan accomplishes these goals through four initiatives: through community and government responsibility of the watershed, managing stream flow and flood risk effectively, improving public areas and biodiversity, and maintaining good water quality. To learn more about the Bowker Creek Initiative, please visit their website: crd.bc.ca/bowker creekinitiative.
Saanich has implemented a system of greener garbage collection to inform and promote sustainable waste management and collection among citizens. Part of Saanich’s website is dedicated to informing citizens how to best collect and dispose of certain types of waste. Saanich hopes the program can increase the organized disposal of organic waste, where citizens separately dispose of all kitchen scraps and food waste. Saanich reports that 30% of waste is kitchen scraps, which can alternatively be utilized to reduce emissions. As a result of the program, residents annually divert 8,000 tons of compostable material and eliminate 3,000 tons of greenhouse gas. To learn more, visit their website: saanich.ca/services/garbage.
In September 2015, the District of Saanich announced an agreement with the City of Victoria to purchase 13 electric vehicles. Saanich’s goal, to expand their zero-emissions fleet, is viewed as a long term, vital investment. Saanich’s Mayor Richard Atwell, believes that “by working together we can offer greater cost savings for taxpayers while meeting our carbon emission reduction goals”. Saanich was the first local government in North America to participate in the Pacific Coast Collaborative, which commits the District to making 10% of all new vehicle purchases zero emission vehicles. As a result of their commitment, since 2007 Saanich has saved 280,000 CAD and has reduced its greenhouse gas emission by 700 tons of CO2.
District of Saanich
Over the last 7 years, Mark Boysen has led the development of Sustainability and Climate Action programs for the District of Saanich. He is a registered professional planner in BC and holds a Geography degree from the University of Victoria and a masters from Royal Roads University.