Bruno Tassone’s Invisible Legacy

Stu Hamilton, Vic Neimela, Bruno Tassone, Gord Tofte, and Lynne Campo at Bruno’s Retirement Lunch … this small group has over 178 years of hydrometric program management experience spanning more than half a century.

I recently had the pleasure of joining my colleagues, young and old, to congratulate Bruno Tassone on his retirement after 35 years of service to the Water Survey of Canada. Had Bruno been a structural engineer, we would have been able to point to a legacy of concrete and steel.

Instead, Bruno’s legacy is concealed and the true value of it will only be revealed gradually and imperceptibly.

Bruno became manager of hydrometric operations in the Pacific and Yukon Region at the worst of times. In the mid-nineties a massive government deficit reduction initiative hit the program and Bruno had to preside over restructuring, network reduction, office closures, and layoffs.

If he were simply a cold-hearted accountant these reductions would have been guided only by the cost reduction ethic. However, as the engineer responsible for Canada’s water data legacy every cut had to be carefully conceived in terms of minimizing the impact on water resource decisions into the future. It is thanks to Bruno’s skillful manipulation of available resources during this time that Canadians have continuity of record from sentinel gauges that are recording an unprecedented change in hydrology resulting from the loss of glaciers in the Pacific Coastal and Cordilleran region.

The hydrometric network survived and the deficit reduction mantra was gradually replaced by bureaucratic inflation. Every financial, contracting, and human resources decision had to be negotiated through a complex matrix of authorizations, policies, and procedures. At its best, this matrix was arcane but was otherwise adverse, unnecessary, or self-defeating. It was always inefficient and frustrating.

In the context of this bizarre bureaucratic matrix, and against great odds, Bruno managed to engineer an almost complete workforce renewal – replacing the baby boomer cohort with talented, enthusiastic, and well-trained new recruits. At the same time he engineered a complete technological renewal by modernizing the entire network as well as extensive major capital renovation – replacing aging infrastructure to meet modern occupational safety standards.

One thing that Bruno was unwilling to compromise on was data integrity.

In the face of financial, human, and material resources pressures one of the easiest cheats is data quality. Quality of record and standards compliance are not metrics that are easy to measure or that bean-counters care about. It is easy to save money (something that the bean-counters care a great deal about!) by reducing the number of gaugings. The program could not afford any more field trips than necessary, but Bruno was unwilling to accept any fewer than absolutely necessary.

To sum up: there are an unknown number of stations that are providing continuous record from otherwise ungauged landscapes than there would have been. There are an unknowable number of gaps in this record that have been prevented. There has been no perceptible loss of data quality in spite of an abundance of reasons to compromise quality to save costs.

One might say that none of this matters. Decisions about water resources are made no matter how relevant, reliable, and trustworthy the data. The only thing that changes is the likelihood that those decisions are actually going to turn out as expected, or not.

Good data result in investments that return good value.

Natural disasters are not caused by nature. Disasters occur because plans and designs do not adequately anticipate, or understand, natural variability.

The unspent cost of every future disaster that is avoided or mitigated is due to adequate hydrometric data is part of Bruno’s legacy. No one will ever be able to calculate the future value of this legacy, but we can anticipate that it will grow forever.

Tomorrow our country celebrates…

Happy Canada Day!

5 responses to “Bruno Tassone’s Invisible Legacy”

  1. Knowing Bruno personally, I can’t believe he’s retired. Good data has always carried the day.. you cannot make good policy decisions on made up data.. .we’ve recently seen this- and the net cost of reversing bad policy (once caught) is painful and costly in terms of political, professional and financial costs.
    In the hydrogeology world- Bruno is a living legend- now I know why!
    thank you!

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for bringing up the link between data and policy. Policies that are evidence-driven are naturally resilient. If data indicate that the evidence has become stale-dated then policy can adapt and change accordingly. Data are telling us that many assumptions about natural variability that we previously trusted as a basis for good governance are not true. It is not only possible, but absolutely necessary, for governance to be adaptive in the face of change.

      Data are therefore very threatening to politicians who are guided solely by party doctrine. Evidence that is contrary to doctrine invalidates their very Raison D’être. Ultimately, the future of funding for basic data collection comes down to the democratic choice between politicians who have all of the answers versus politicians who are uncertain about the future. It isn’t a fair fight, for all of the wrong reasons.

  2. Sunday C. Ng'ambi July 4, 2014 at 9:14 am

    The frequency of natural disasters due to climate variability/change is giving an opportunity to hydrologists to advance their demands for adequate funding in the collection and collation of hydrometric data. Because such information is often of value for future developments, politicians and decision makers do not see the value of investing in the collection of hydrometric data. It is time for us in the field of hydrology to take the center stage and convince politicians on the value of these data sets especially in our developing countries were forward planning is rare.

    • Hi Sunday,

      I am especially pleased to read your comment. There is urgency for advancing the pace of economic development throughout Africa and most development opportunities are either propelled by – or limited by – water issues. There is no doubt in my mind that any improvements in economic prosperity will not be sustainable unless the water issues are well managed. Notwithstanding the caveats in my response to Kevin, there is also no doubt in my mind that your understanding of the problems and opportunities will lead to good outcomes. You will most certainly create a legacy of your own that will be of great value for generations to come.

  3. Climate change, infrastructure resilience, water conservation and energy efficiency are the future funding getters for our industry and science. Good job Sunday.

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