Details for July 10th screening of DamNation at Oakwood Retreat Center in Selma, IN

DamNation – The Film
Oakwood Arts and Ecology Center at Oakwood Retreat, Rainbow Farm in Selma, IN

Thursday, July 10 6:00 social hour / 7:00 film (87 min)
damnationfilm.com

“This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation’s majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature.”

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Does the DNR have a pro-dam bias?

Last week, inquiry was made to Indiana Department of Natural Resources about the low-head dam on the Big Blue river which caused two swimming deaths on June 6th.   Since the media reports had not apparently identified the ownership and current use of the dam, I sought out the DNR Law Enforcement Division which was heavily involved in the recovery phase of the incident. I spoke with conservation officer Lt. Tim Beaver who is in charge of the investigation.  

When I asked about ownership and use, and suggested that if the dam was no longer used for its constructed purpose, then it should be removed, he immediately responded with two reasons why that would not be feasible or desirable.  He offered that removal would cost “millions and millions” of dollars, and that removal would have negative consequences for upstream properties.  I asked about the impacts, but he was non-specific about exactly what those impacts would be.  I had the distinct feeling he was blowing smoke.

Later, I emailed the town manager of Edinburg which actually owns the dam, according to Lt. Beaver.  I asked for removal cost data and any existing evaluation reports about removal.  I’ve not yet received a reply.   

I’ve also requested a copy of DNR’s incident report which Lt. Beaver is authorized to approve for release by the main DNR office in Indianapolis.  He has not yet approved the public release of the investigative report. 

From Lt. Beaver’s statements discouraging the notion of dam removal, it will be interesting to see if and how his report addresses ownership and the extinguished use and the relative desirability of dam removal.  Low-head dams are notoriously hazardous because they can easily trap people and wildlife in the revolving water machine just below the dam.

It’s hasty to broadly assume that DNR (or at least DNR Law Enforcement) is “pro-dam”.  But that’s the distinct impression created by Lt. Weaver’s statements. If the DNR is concerned about the safety of people and wildlife, it should be addressing and problem-solving this issue, and not trying to discourage consideration of the removal option.

Dams are being removed in increasing numbers all across the country.  Anyone interested in this issue should plan to attend a screening of the newly-released video DamNation.  It will be screened on July 10th at 7:00 p.m. (6:00 social hour) at the Oakwood Retreat Center at Rainbow Farm in Selma, IN near Muncie. 

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Summer reading at the shore: Blue Revolution— Unmaking America’s Water Crisis

It’s a very informative and inspiring book.  An official with the IURC said it was on her reading list.  Perhps other agency officials (e.g. IDEM, IDNR) will make time too. Here’s the description from the book’s jacket:

“Americans see water as abundant and cheap:  we turn on the faucet and out it gushes, for less than penny a gallon.  We use more water than any other culture in the world, much to quench what’s now our largest crop—the lawn.  Yet most Americans cannot name the river of aquifer that flows to our taps, irrigates our food, and produces our electricity.  And most don’t realize that these freshwater sources are in deep trouble.

“Blue Revolution exposes the truth about the water crisis— river not as much by lawn sprinklers as by a tradition that encouraged everyone, from homeowners, to farmers to utilities, to tap more and more. But the book also offers much reason for hope.  Award-winning journalist Cynthia Barnett argues that the best solution is also the simplest and least expensive: a water ethic for America.  Just as the green movement helped build awareness about energy and sustainability, so a blue movement will reconnect Americans to their water, helping us to value and conserve our most life-giving resource.  Avoiding past mistakes, living within our water means, and turning to “local water” as we do local foods are all part of this new blue revolution.

“Reporting from across the country and around the globe, Barnett shows how people, businesses, governments   have come together to dramatically reduce water use and reverse the water crisis.  Entire metro areas, such as San Antonio Texas have halved per capita water use.  Singapore’s “closed water loop” recycles every drop.  New technologies can slash agricultural irrigation in half; businesses can save a lot of water and a lot of money—with designs as simple as saving air-conditioning condensate.

“The first book to call for a national water ethic, Blue Revolution is also a powerful meditation on water and community in America.”

Service Advisory Board tighter than a clamshell

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve sought to learn more about the Service Advisory Board which is a semi-autonomous board comprised of officials from CW’s suburban community-customers such as Brownsburg and Zionsville.  From the beginning it has been an exercise in frustration.   

The Board is chaired by David George, a long time Fishers town councilor and real estate developer. Mr. George initially attempted to discourage me from attending the meetings, but could not actually prevent me from attending.  He was advised by Citizens Water’s legal counsel that the SAB is a public entity and thus subject to the public access laws (open door and public records disclosure), but that has not stopped him from giving me a very chilly reception.

I’ve attended two SAB meetings, and Mr. George has not welcomed or recognized the sole public visitor nor has he invited Public Comments, as is de rigeur for the agendas of the Citizens Energy and Water Boards of Directors meetings, its Technical Advisory Group, and other committees.

Recently Mr. George has been unresponsive to my several requests for the list of the SAB’s goals for 2014.  He and the board’s administrative coordinator, DLZ of Indiana, has been advised that the draft meeting minutes are, by an official advisory opinion of the Indiana Public Access Counselor in 1998, disclosable public records, but he remains unresponsive, i.e. he has not approved their disclosure after nearly a month (my initial request was June 6th). 

The SAB’s meetings and projects are supported by an annual $150,000 payment from Citizens Water.  Citizens Water has assured me that the neither the SAB nor its contractor DLZ (a principal proponent of the planned dam) perform any water supply planning for central Indiana.  Yet DLZ is the principal contractor for the dam feasibility studies. And of course the dam proponents have claimed that a future water deficit in central Indiana is the main purpose of the dam.

In this observers’ opinion, the SAB’s process is only nominally Public.  Its access to process and public records seems like trying to pry open a clenched clam shell.  It also projects an anti-public attitude.

Mr. George has chaired the board for a good many years and has definite reluctant if not oppositional feelings about making the process open and transparent.  If he can’t be persuaded to open it up, perhaps it’s time for a change in chairman.  As was glaringly revealed a couple years ago in Indianapolis, sometimes the long-time chairmen of committees (e.g. the Board of Zoning Appeals) become highly entrenched and opinionated and overtly hostile to the public they are supposed to be serving, and seek to control the entire board.  This is very dysfunctional.

In addition, it’s time for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to evaluate the utility and effectiveness of the SAB.  The IURC has required that the SAB process be continued when Citizens Energy took over from the City and its water contractor Veolia, and it has required Citizen’s ratepayers to pick up the annual SAB tab.  Are we the ratepayers receiving  fair value for this expense?   Based on my experience, the SAB’s performance and effectiveness should be formally reviewed or audited by an independent entity.

Clarke Kahlo

 

Phony feasibility study

Below is a recent comment by a participant in the Heart of the River coalition which captures the concern we’ve had all along, but have not directly expressed.

“… As science or research goes, the feasibility study is ass backwards:  the FIRST questions should have been “Does Central Indiana need more water?”  If yes, the next question should have been, “How can we best provide it?”  Based on decades (centuries?) of data, the answer to that would not be “Build a dam”.  But even if it was decided another reservoir was needed, the next question would be “Where’s the best place to build a dam?”  The answer would not have been the most damaging possible alternative site (i.e. the Mounds Lake site).  

So the ‘feasibility’ question was “Can we build a dam here?”  And any school child could tell you it’s feasible to dam a river. The science/research protocol is so bad, DLZ should be sued for malpractice.”

Maybe fraud would be a better charge. Some engineering companies have acquired a reputation for gaming the system at the expense of the public. The floodway fill on White River at 96th Street for a retail center is one example.  Depositions in the permit-appeal litigation revealed that the DNR computer modeling staff had manipulated the inputs to achieve a result which met the state standard. DLZ’s project manager on the planned dam is familiar with that issue.  Indeed, he was part of that problem, although he worked for a different company at the time.

The tyranny of gas-guzzling power boats

Recently it was disclosed that one reason that a local river group took so long (more than a year) to adopt a position opposing the planned reservoir was that a reservoir would be welcomed by the bass boat-owning portion of the membership.  “If you bought a $50,000 bass boat, you’d want a place to use it.”

These days, the big bass boats come equipped with huge gas-guzzling outboard motors, many in the 150-200 horse power range.  This enables them to attain high speeds quickly and cover a lot of water.  These boats are noisy, create a lot of wake, and scare wildlife.  Sooooo, according to this mode of myopic thinking, let’s take a beautiful, free-flowing, natural river and turn it into a playground for power boats.  Brilliant!

A recent post quoted author Kurt Vonnegut.  Another apropos Vonnegut-ism might be: “The good Earth– we might have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.” (Man Without a Country, 2005).  In that section, he was referring to our fossil-fuel addiction and its resultant effects on climate change (and now, looming chaos) and the end of oil.  “We have squandered our planet’s resources, including air and water, as though there were no tomorrow, so now there isn’t going to be one.  So there goes the Junior Prom, but that’s not the half of it.” 

Edward Abbey: The damnation of a free-flowing river is an act of terrorism

I’ve been reading Postcards from Ed— Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast, published in 2006 by his wife Clarke Cartwright Abbey.

One of Ed Abbey’s letters (Nov 13, 1982) is directed to Eugene Hargrove, Editor, Environmental Ethics  He reminds Mr. Hargrove that his book The Monkey Wrench Gang is pure fiction and not a manifesto, and that the “book does not condone terrorism in any form”.

He defines terrorism:  “It means deadly violence — for a political and/or economic purpose — carried out against people or other living things, and it is usually carried out by governments against their own citizens… or by corporate entities …. against the land and all creatures that depend on the land for life and livelihood.  .. The damnation of a flowing river followed by the drowning of Cherokee graves, of forest and farmland, is an act of terrorism.”

Of course Abbey’s view contrasts sharply with that of the dam’s proponents who claim noble public purposes— economic development, community amenity, upscale housing choices, recreation, flood control, and pubic water supply.  Nevertheless, in Abbey’s view, the builders of dams are terrorists because their product is lethal.