Recently GreeningDetroit.com had an opportunity to interview the new Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner, Jim Nash.
Only three weeks into this position and running between various meetings, we learned more about the man behind Oakland County’s quarter billion dollar water budget and his vision for residents and businesses in the future as they relate to our water infrastructure, lake control levels, soil erosion and drainage issues.
With water availability and quality becoming a bigger and bigger issue in this century, water becomes an even more precious resource. Some say clean water availability will be the cause of global conflict in the future. With one-fifth of the world’s fresh water right here in the Great Lakes region, those in position of responsibility of water have the great task of ensuring that we treat it as we would any other precious resource. Jim Nash understands what it means to be a steward of water conservation and preservation.
Mr. Nash takes over responsibility as Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner at a very unique time in our county’s water history. The longstanding federal lawsuit against the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) seems to be coming to a close and the newly established DWSD Board of Commissioners has county representation, giving Oakland County a much greater voice in its water issues it never had before.
Similarly, our regions’ aging water infrastructure is long past its useful life, leading to tremendous maintenance and repair expenditures just to keep it functioning. Essentially, billions of dollars are needed to build additional infrastructure to replace and add onto this aging infrastructure as more water flows from the suburbs to the Detroit Waste Water Treatment plant. With the city of Detroit unable to raise the financial resources to implement such large infrastructure projects, water problems may become even more exacerbated.
Thus, the dilemma. Without new ideas and technological solutions to these issues, it’s difficult to believe our water system will remain one of the safest, cleanest water quality systems in the country***. Mr. Nash understands this dilemma and wants to address these issues head on in finding green infrastructure solutions to such problems. He also is interested in finding common ground for such solutions to be regional, not just locally based. As part of this vision, Jim Nash will be searching for both public and governmental support to make it a reality.
As a four term Oakland County commissioner representing the city of Farmington Hills, Mr. Nash pushed for a city hall that used energy and water more efficiently. Ultimately, City Hall became a more sustainable building and created a more comfortable environment for both employees and the public. The addition and retrofitting of the old City Hall accomplished all of these goals, becoming a LEED Gold facility that saves money and educates the public at the same time on how modern buildings can truly operate more efficiently and comfortably.
The same reality created with one building can also be applied and implemented on a much broader basis, including an entire regions’ water system. Mr. Nash maintains the technology is there and all that is needed is the vision and political will to apply green infrastructure solutions to decades old water issues throughout our water system. He referred to some other cities that have taken on this issue, particularly greater Philadelphia, which has a metropolitan stormwater drainage utility system. Through more collaboration amongst cities and counties, green infrastructure solutions can be found that lowers operational and maintenance cost while raising water conservation for all those participating in such a system.
Towards that end, one of Mr. Nashs’ main goals is to implement the first regional Stormwater Summit before the end of 2013. Bringing together regional water commissioners for a conference attended by water technology companies and water experts, a conversation can begin on available cutting edge solutions to some of our immediate regional water infrastructure challenges.
Recently Governor Snyder signed a bill creating a regional transportation authority to resolve some of our thorniest transportation issues. Mr. Nash opines that our water challenges could be handled in similar fashion in the future. Certainly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could be a greater resource if our entire region requested federal assistance as opposed to individual local water boards and authorities. Mr. Nash realizes green infrastructure water solutions may be the best prescription moving forward as opposed to the more traditional large gray-infrastructure (concrete) solutions of the past.
Because of waters’ prominence in our lives, especially as it relates to our stewardship of the Great Lakes watershed, Jim Nash wants the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner to be a more visible and approachable department for both business and residents. He’s interested in appearing before local lake improvement boards, drainage boards, sewage disposal meetings and educational water events to make those more aware of this massive Oakland County department and its function.
Mr. Nash is also interested in furthering the dialogue between the Water Resources Commission, watershed councils and water conservancies. Five major watersheds begin within Oakland County’s borders (Clinton River, Flint River, Huron River, Rouge River and Shiawassee River) and they should have greater communication with the commission legally responsible for those watersheds.
Finally, Jim Nash envisions the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner expanding its community outreach into each of the communities in which it has responsibility. Expect the water resources commission to become more visible in the next four years and to see more of Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash at various county water and non-water events.