By Kathy Smith, LNH ’12
Our fearless leader was conspicuous by his absence, but Allyson was able to channel him to great effect. And what a lovely spot for a discussion of water! It strikes me how well the idea of land grants – and the families and institutions that preserve them – have prospered agricultural research and environmental education in New Hampshire. Now that the Farm is independent and running as an education center, its staff can teach new generations about sustaining soil, earth, water, and also cultivate connections between consumers and the all-too-often invisible production of food. Orangesanyone? (Steve, we’ll explain later.)
John Gilbert (LNH -98, President of Synchrony, and Chair of the Governor’s Commission on Water Sustainability) was a convivial host of the opening session, inviting us all to a) the Feb. 15 legislative breakfast highlighting water issues and b) a day-long conference on H2O in March hosted by DES (see website for details) and leading a lively discussion. The points that registered with me I present in bullet form below in no particular order:
- The DES Primer was widely praised as a prodigious labor, a comprehensive document full of essential information about the state’s environmental resources;
- The “scale” of the Commission’s work is so comprehensive as to be dizzying – by June the Governor wants one strategic framework to guide decision making about water over the next quarter century (as if…probably more like October) ;
- Challenges to our sense of security over water include increasingly extreme weather events that create decline in the service H20 supply; development and more retirement homes near water; increasing mass of impermeable surfaces; lack of supporting infrastructure; run off of agricultural and industrial chemicals into water supplies; increasing number of septic systems and wells the waste from which flows down to Great Bay in particular and other streams and water bodies in general; degradation of soil and disappearance of riparian areas that provide wildlife habitat and absorb run-off and storm water.
- Focus on public awareness of these issues is essential to a balanced, sustainable future for quantity and quality of water as well as more certainty over public health safety.
- Can’t address all the issues. Key question is “What is it we MUST do in the next 25 years” before we reach the point of no return.
- Some social culture tendencies provide instructive hints on strategies to raise awareness: people assume H2O is clean or fish safe to eat until it affects health; people need to be reached on an emotional level – technological arguments don’t always win the day; need to appeal to people’s cherished memories of their relationship with water
- Money for infrastructure repair & monitoring/testing & research & enforcement & institutional support is dwindling
- We need to think regionally; think “watershed” rather than local water sources.
- Need to think carefully about water use in master plans; local development – important to educate municipalities – planning, zoning, conservation, etc.
- State is now registering new wells – gives information on the ground about H2O sources.
Bruce Mallory and Small Group Discussions
Defining question w/which NH Listens grapples: How do we work through complex issues in the public square civilly and with reliable outcomes/findings that help communities move forward? Goal is to train people in the art of listening, moving away from ad hominem argumentation and “serial presentations” of opinions. Start by getting to know one another – what informs the Core Values you hold around an issue? Hard to demonize the person who swam in the river just as you did as a kid. NH
Listens holds regional trainings for facilitators who work in communities to sort out policy issues such as what kind of education should be provided inPittsfieldor whether we should support extended gaming in NH. In this case, NH Listens might want to get us thinking in terms of “watershed,” something Bruce called as a bouncy starting point, “Flushing, Fishing, and Farming.”
Small groups considered critical issues around water:
- Need thoughtful planning around development, balancing access to water, growth and tourism, and protection of resources
- Need to set aside replacement costs for infrastructure – we found out later in the day that we are actually doing this through fees built in to water bills
- Need to protect against environmental degradation and invasive species such as milfoil
- Need to launch an education CAMPAIGN before water issues become critical
First panel Questions & Challenges:
Q We want to grow but how much growth can we manage – more people, more business, more impact on water and waste and systems
Q How do we manage flow in rivers and streams – what is the limits of withdrawal, how do we measure aesthetic concerns about water levels, what about habitat protection, aquatic life – do we maintain all species or just some?
Q How do control run off – reduce discharge from waste H2O plants; control nutrient run off (too much nitrogen inGreatBay, for example), change land us patterns that contribute to run off ( low impact development ordinances); stricter controls on chemical use?
C Current legislature handicapping DES – don’t want to deal with limits on use of private land; undercutting Shoreline Protection Act; don’t want to burden individuals or businesses with excess regulation; no office of state planning to think regionally about issues; don’t want any more taxes on local economies; research underfunded. Most salient problem is lack of long range planning (2-year election cycle) – we have short term triage mentality.
Q Should local municipalities have right to regulate water use? Assign greater costs for those using more resources?
Messaging: John Gilbert’s Challenge –
How do we motivate action out of constructive v fear-based values?
How do we accommodate uncertainty in complex systems?
How do we achieve suitable balance between personal and collective?
Recommendations from group:
- Launch a hard-hitting ad campaign (Native American litter guy from the 70s) to hammer home the message about water quality/quantity/dangers – let it go viral – make it personal – connect people with their memories of water. GOT WATER?
- If first phase builds emotional import, second phase could be more specific to problems such as invasive species or clean drinking water – maybe something along the lines of the Geico Geko (making this up as I go)
- Third phase is a call to action. Keep it simple! Like anti-smoking campaign (just say no).
- Build momentum on local issues: Do you know where your water comes from and where it goes?
David Miller was refreshingly upbeat about Manchester water supply and control. He invited us all to visit the water treatment plant and he would give us a tour of the facility. They are an award-winning facility – 11th utility in the nation for high quality of water in a surface treatment plant.
We should all watch two films: Liquid Assets, a PBS documentary on our public water system, and “Flow: for the love of water.”
Once againManchesterlooks like the poster child for a wonderful elementary education project that has kids engaged in a poster contest and an oral presentation on the water cycle. They put together a whole science fair project on water with judges, etc.
Great idea in the afternoon was “socializing” our ideas about water. We need a new conversation, both individual and collective, which is a call to action connecting water with innovation. How can we think in a new way about water conservation and quality? Good to think about the economy (since we are in a bear market) as a construct of our natural environment and our human culture. In terms of innovation, we must try to think beyond “tomorrow.” For example…do we really want to keep burying pipes in the ground – it is so expensive to lay one mile of pipe. Is there a way to get beyond incremental change and maintenance? How much quality drinking water do we actually need in terms of point of use when only a small fraction of the water we use is water we actually drink. Can we change building codes to reflect this thinking? Also, we need to think in terms of partnering with business & industry to make change: Example, moving from two stroke to four stroke engines.
Also need to stop being wishy washy about the primacy of good, peer-reviewed science. Reminded me of the potential of science cafes (catching on in NH) as avenue and method for to talk about this issue – sort of like Socrates cafes with a focus on science and technology.