Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner/Republicans

July 13, 2020

ROBERT BUXBAUM

 
Buxbaum lives in Oak Park and holds an undergraduate degree from The Cooper Union and masters and doctor degrees in chemical engineering from Princeton University.

ROLE OF WATER RESOURCES COM.

What is the role of the county water resources commissioner?


My main role as water resource commissioner would be to manage the water infrastructure of our county. Ideally this infrastructure provides our county with clean water at a reasonable price and a reasonable pressure — suitable for everything from dish-washing to fire-fighting. This also includes the infrastructure for managing rainwater and sanitary sewage. My training as an engineer, from my PhD work at Princeton to my own business now, allows me to understand and innovatively manage this infrastructure. A current lack of science and engineering shows up in the recent high-water bills and regular flooding of our county roads and basements. The collapsed dam in Midland and the poisoned water in Flint are examples of what happens when infrastructure is managed badly. As water commissioner, a secondary job is education. This is an area that has been left to the wayside in the current administration; my opponent does not understand the work he authorizes. I hope to help people understand water management in ways that are both practical (e.g. keeping backyards dry and wells clear) and technical to help them understand the chemical background. I am especially looking forward to useful discussions about lake heights and river management.  

TOXIC CHEMICALS

How can the water resources commission office work to both educate and prevent the public from using toxic chemicals, and then once it does get into the water systems and wells, mitigate its damages? Should the county adopt a ban on the use of certain chemicals?


The water commissioner sits on many boards involved in keeping toxic chemicals out of our water. In Flint, people had lead, copper, and bacteria in their water because the relevant boards of oversight fell down on their job – a job that includes water testing and water treatment. In Ann Arbor, people are finding PFAS in their rivers, and their boards are responsible. This job is (or should be) heavily connected to testing. In Oakland County, we test for lead, copper, and bacteria. We don’t test for viruses or PFAS – but we should, and that is one thing I hope to change. After all, you can’t regulate what you don’t test for.  In some cases, we can remove toxins by regulation. We demand that the water we buy from GLWA has limited lead, arsenic, copper, etc. We could do more, removing metals and viruses by adsorption or filtering. Many homeowners do this, but the county does not. In some cases, we add chemicals, too. Flint’s problem with toxic drinking water were largely problems of not adding enough chlorine or phosphate. Finally, there is the problem of the toxins we put into our rivers. The worst violator here is the county itself. On a regular basis, our combined sewers send millions of gallons of near-raw sewage into our rivers and lakes. These toxins often close our metro beaches, and this summer we can expect the sewage may contain COVID-19. Macomb County plans to test for the virus in their sewers; we have no such plans. The remedy is engineering, and that’s what I can bring to the job.

Environmental protection

Oakland County is the home to hundreds of inland lakes and sits at the headwaters of six major rivers feeding the state’s waterways. Should the county be taking a stronger role in protecting the environment through a more aggressive approach with ordinances regulating items and activities that threaten our natural resources? If so, what would you suggest?


Our county environment could be a lot better. About once per month, we send near-raw sewage into the Rouge and the Clinton River upstream of our freshwater intake. The beaches downstream become un-swimmable, and several of our rivers become un-fishable. With engineering we can make these sewer overflows rare, and we can help the rivers clean themselves from highway runoff. I want to make Oakland County a place of safe, clean, fish-filled rivers.

SCHOOL WATER TESTING

What more needs to be done on the issue of school water testing? Although the state has issued ne requirements in recent years, do we need more regulation in terms of testing?


Currently, every township in the county does some testing for lead, copper, and organics. I favor expanding this to test for viruses, especially including COVID-19. Testing doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s an important part of solving it. To protect our drinking water, we’ll want to treat the water right, with filtration and UV, and by adding the right chemicals in the right amounts. It will also be important to not dump sewage into the Clinton River; the Clinton River exits upstream of our water intakes.

REASON FOR RUNNING

Obviously you must think improvements are needed in the water resources commissioner's office or you would not be seeking office. What failings to do you see with the incumbent water resources commissioner and what specifically needs to change in this office.


The main reason I’m running is to improve the way we deal with water, mostly rainwater. To the detriment of the county, my opponent ignored drainage problems in the years leading up to the flood of 2014, and has not addressed those weaknesses since. We are just as vulnerable now as we were then. He has proposed a four-mile-long rain storage tunnel, 16 feet in diameter, 100 feet below Hwy 75. This, frankly, makes no sense and is far too expensive to receive funding. A similar tunnel under Tokyo cost the city two billion dollars and protected only a fraction of the city. The tunnel to Windsor is less than one mile long and nowhere near as deep-down. I propose a far more cost-effective (and simply effective) approach, a French Drain and bicycle path combination with a controlled runoff flow. This approach is far more beautiful, viable, and flexible. San Antonio did this with their Riverwalk. It’s also how Disney World avoids flooding despite heavy rains and a flat topography.  

WHY VOTE FOR YOU

How do your skills sets prepare you to represent the county better than your opponents?  Be specific.


I’m an engineer, and a good one, running for a job that has always relied on engineering. On the other hand, my opponent is a political scientist; he is very capable of framing his ideas nicely, but his ideas themselves lack basis and real-life experience. I have worked in engineering my whole life, and I am excited and equipped to learn more. My opponent has – and is – not. I have a vision of where to and how to get there: beautiful and cost-effective ways of providing clean water and flood control. My opponent’s ideas often betray his lack of knowledge of what those aims actually entail. I believe I will greatly improve the ways our water is being managed now.

STEVEN JOHNSON

 
Johnson resides in Highland Township and holds both a bachelors and master degree. He is the owner of a consulting business.

ROLE OF WATER RESOURCES COM.

There are many laws, regulations, and guidelines, such as: Michigan State law, known as Drain Code, Act 40 of 1956; Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, Public Act 399 of 1976; Act 451 Water Quality Rules, State and Federal Wetland Regulations, and Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), Part 327, declares that groundwater and surface water are one single hydrologic system. Plus many more. I would say – Water is life, without it we are nothing. We are so very fortunate to live in the Great Lakes region, with its abundant resources. The role of the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner is to protect and be a good steward of those resources. Following the laws listed above, providing enforcement as needed. Taking care of the great resources that we have and protecting them for future generations.  

TOXIC CHEMICALS

Chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, and in some cases excessive discharges of organic materials can harm our water supply. Chemicals were developed to benefit industrial processes, agriculture and the daily lives of people. Without proper use, containment, and disposal, they can become dangerous and toxic problems. Where there are issues, we need to correct problems to ensure the chemicals are handled properly from manufacture through disposal. When it becomes apparent that a toxic chemical is dangerous to the community and the environment, yes, decisive action must be taken to rectify the problem, whether it is through a ban, or other means.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Yes, I would recommend that we provide more chemical/toxic material disposal events. Reporting of dumping potentially dangerous materials needs to be encouraged and proper enforcement action applied. Clean-ups are expensive, it is best to ensure compliance with regulations through educating our communities and businesses to avoid potential issues.

SCHOOL WATER TESTING

Proper water infrastructure and filtering must be in compliance, with filters changed and systems maintained. We need to follow current mandates for now and if testing shows that safety levels are near the threshold of the desirable range, then armed with those facts, we take action.

REASON FOR RUNNING

It is my feeling that the incumbent recognizes the ticking time bomb of the count's water-related infrastructure but is failing to lead with creative ideas to tackle the tasks and problems.

WHY VOTE FOR YOU

I am rather analytical, curious, and creative by nature and have a technical background professionally. Thus, I will analyze and prioritize issues in cooperation with the engineering staff to ensure that we are not only addressing maintenance and repair issues but planning for our future in making system improvements with leading technology. We cannot afford problems like sewer blobs as Macomb County had, the Flint water crisis, and dam failure as in Midland. Empathy, humility, and understanding are important traits in recognizing that not all have the means to afford their water bills. It is my goal to develop a basic level of service that may be available to all or just low-income families at no charge. There are some things that can be done to conserve and save, greywater reclamation systems as an example, and some other ideas that may save Oakland County families money.

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