Jim Nash is completing his second term in office. He was an Oakland County commissioner for Farmington Hills for eight years prior, and was the Sierra Club Southeast Michigan group chair before he became a county commissioner. Nash is a veteran.
ROLE OF WATER COMMISSIONER
What is the role of the county water resources commissioner?
Simply put, we protect our water resources, ensure human health and support the public’s safety and convenience. Formerly Drain Commissioner, we oversee over 500 urban and rural separated storm drains, in all our communities. My staff of 370 positions, and budget over of $500 million, operates and maintains by contract 19 water and/or sewer services in 16 communities. We operate county and intercounty sewer interceptors serving over 800,000 people, combined sewer systems for over 200,000 people, soil erosion control programs for most communities, lake levels control structures for 53 county lakes and serve on 56 lake boards. We work with every community in Oakland County, our neighboring counties and cities, and our regulatory bodies in Lansing and Washington, to develop better stormwater policies, protect our precious water resources and ensure safe, affordable drinking water for all. We have been leading regional and state efforts to develop regional stormwater ordinances, use new technologies and techniques to limit stormwater pollution and extract energy from the wastes we process. We focus on public education, from fourth and fifth graders, to high school and college students, community leadership through an annual stormwater summit and national award winning library talks across the county.
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?
Regulation of toxic chemical sites and pollution are not the jurisdiction of the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner (WRC). We do work with the Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when spills and contamination are discovered. The toxic green slime that appeared on I-696 last fall was an example of cooperation from the city of Madison Heights, the WRC, the Oakland County Emergency Operations Center, EGLE and the EPA. As in most cases of toxic sites and pollution, this was an industrial site with a long history of chemical violations, in fact the property owner was sentenced to prison. At a town hall in 2019, a representative from EGLE mentioned that there are over 9,000 toxic sites in Southeast Michigan alone. The public has annual off-site opportunities across the county to turn in household toxic chemicals, electronic waste, old oil, paint and other dangerous wastes through the South Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (www.socrra.org). My office helps with public education and advertising for these events. Our pollution hotline allows people to report dumping so we can clean it up and find the polluter, at (248) 858-0931.
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?
Protecting our Oakland County water resources is a top priority of the WRC. Our separated sanitary sewer systems and combined sewer systems are all designed and operated to protect our lakes, rivers and streams from pollution and have an excellent regulatory record. In recent years we have developed successful asset management systems to ensure our infrastructure stays in good repair. The last pollution sources to our water bodies in Oakland County are the separated stormwater systems that release contaminated runoff from roads, parking lots and roofs without any treatment. We are working on a more efficient and effective way to design systems so the first inch of rain can be absorbed into the ground, bringing most pollutants with it. These cost saving new projects, technologies and techniques are called Green Infrastructure and seek to recreate how natural soils absorb rainwater before it reaches the storm systems. We also help communities develop these policies. We educate the public who live on water bodies how to build shoreline green buffers to absorb the fertilizers that otherwise bring nutrients into the water, which cause algae and bacteria blooms that close beaches. Together, residents, communities and institutions and are working to protect our water.
SCHOOL WATER TESTING
What more needs to be done on the issue of school water testing? Although the state has issued new requirements in recent years, do we need more regulation in terms of testing?
When the issue of lead contamination of the drinking water in Flint broke, my office began working with the Oakland County Health Department to collect data, consult with authorities and develop policies. Oakland County investigated our internal infrastructure and looked at local schools and day care centers. Internally we found some lead issues and remediated them immediately. We discovered that no legal authority existed to regulate schools’ drinking water so they were tested across the county. We established that some schools did have lead in their plumbing, old drinking fountains or faucets. Where this was found plumbing was replaced, across many schools old fountains were replaced with filtered fountains/bottle fillers and old faucets were replaced. Day care centers were also subject to testing and remediation. The Lead and Copper Rule of 2016 mandates the replacement of residential lead and galvanized iron pipes, under public and private property from the main to the house, over 20 years. Our office is on schedule and progressing. Interior plumbing and fixtures can also contain lead. Our water systems have used corrosion control for years to coat pipes and limit lead exposure. For more information and simple safety suggestions, go to oakgov.com/water.
REGIONAL SEWER/WATER SYSTEM
Has the new regional approach to delivery of sewer and water services been successful? Provide details for your answer.
My office, along with the Oakland County Executive, played a significant role in creating the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) from the old Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Our concerns were addressed through the process and the system was set up to give the customer communities a greater voice in operations and control. The current GLWA board is made up of one member each from Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, two from Detroit and one named by the governor. Since it’s creation the GLWA has built a committee system so all communities can have a voice in the direction of the system. These committees have been able to develop policies to run the system in a fair and balanced way. Not all issues have been resolved yet but we feel they are being worked on fairly and will benefit all communities. Each community individually contracts with GLWA for drinking water supplies and communities act together in regional systems to collect sanitary sewage for treatment at the Detroit wastewater treatment plant (the sixth largest treatment plant in the world). The four combined sewer systems that WRC operates also send their sewage/stormwater to Detroit for treatment. The system has been successful.
IMPROVEMENTS TO OFFICE
What changes or improvements would you like to see made to the office of water resources commissioner?
In my first year in office I started a five-year strategic plan to realign how we operated. We have made a concerted effort to improve morale, with more staff involvement at all levels, more activities and events and better communications. We have improved our communications with all our communities and we are working on projects and new innovative ways to maintain our systems. I am very proud of our relations with communities across the county. We started an asset management system using closed circuit TV in 2013, that saves money and improves our aging infrastructure. My office is leading efforts to develop green infrastructure, an efficient alternative to expensive gray infrastructure like underground pipes, pumps and tanks to deal with stormwater. The most important thing I am working on for the future is mitigating and building resilience to climate change. We are extracting energy from the sewage we treat, reducing fossil fuels and building systems to deal with more rain. Extreme rain storms have been the largest impact of climate change in southeast Michigan. We need more state and federal resources, the ratepayers alone can’t pay for all the work needed to keep us safe and our environment clean.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
How do your skills sets prepare you to represent the county better than your opponents? Be specific.
I have been Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner since 2013, before that I was an Oakland County Commissioner from 2005 to 2013. In both capacities I have been a strong advocate for sustainable policies. I was the chair of the Southeast Michigan Sierra Club from 2002 to 2005. As county commissioner I organized and hosted six annual Green Building Workshops, bringing experts to help local officials and citizens understand the benefits of green building, energy conservation and environmental protection. As WRC I have hosted seven Stormwater Summits, bringing state and national experts to help regional leaders and local officials understand stormwater and green infrastructure as we deal together with climate change. I have lead regional efforts to develop more efficient and effective policies. We are opening a new process to create energy from sewage to get off fossil fuels and new policies to deal with excess rainwater from climate change. I have received the Environmentalist of the Year from the Michigan Sierra Club and the Public Utility Management Professional of the Year from the Michigan Water Environment Association. My office just received the Utility of the Future Award from the international Water Environment Federation. Collaboration and regionalism are my goals.
Jim Stevens lives in Rochester Hills, and attended Macomb Community College.
ROLE OF WATER COMMISSIONER
The new role will ensure and provide proper drainage to landowners and developers to work together. The water commissioner will make long-term plans for sewage and storm drains systems. I want lower water rates, lower income families deserve reduced rates, I will work with the Detroit water monopoly to reduce rates or plan to build our own system at 50 percent reduction of current water rates.
I plan to work with recycling companies on better ways to dispose of household chemicals. Our residents are the eyes of the community. I will always meet with anyone with concerns.
Our lakes are especially important for recreational use, our kids swim and fish in our local lakes. We need to educate on how important our resources are by keeping them clean. Our county will strive to enforce and punish polluters.
SCHOOL WATER TESTING
Testing is a good safety check for our children to ensure clean water.
REGIONAL WATER AND SEWER
Currently we are in a monopoly of the Detroit water system. We need better water rates or look to team up with Macomb for our own water system. I want low water rates for lower income families. Many families being affected by Covid-19, by job losses. The government needs to step up with assistance. If not, I will do everything possible to help.
IMPROVEMENTS TO OFFICE
I would like every citizen to have an update on water testing and a hotline number for reporting polluters.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
I am a leader and plan to keep our rivers and lake clean. My opponent while in office, according to news briefs from local paper – January 1 to April 18, 2018 – a total of 95.4 million gallons of partially treated sewage were released into rivers. This needs to end. I will let voters decide if they like the current status.