The road ahead

Infrastructure design and construction companies are no doubt encouraged after the recent election of Donald Trump who has trumpeted the need for more infrastructure spending as a way to stimulate economic growth.  The Madison County Corporation for Economic Development is likely also excited and hoping that the Trump-Pence team would be its ticket to a pot of Federal gold for dam construction.  Perhaps so, considering that in 2014 then-Governor Pence authorized $650,000 in discretionary funds for a wasteful phase 2 feasibility study which was largely a money-grab by the engineering firm which conducted the “study”   Despite the CED’s misleading claim that the resulting study identified “no fatal flaws”, the dam plan was deemed unacceptable with the vote-downs by two of the municipalities and by Delaware County which did not agree that a sufficient case had been made, especially regarding the impacts on their property and residents.  Will a resuscitated CED plan be able to overcome the objections and limitations of the rebuffed reservoir?  Time will tell.  Will the CED go to the public teat again?  Of course it will. 

Will the Trump administration, often quoted as seeking to “drain then swamp” of special interests, be able to see through the heavy pro-dam propaganda and lobbying, if indeed a revised reservoir plan is concocted?  We’ll see.

a rivers and canoeing Thanksgiving

Today (at waters’ edge/by the rendezvous fire or hearth) we give thanks for the gift of canoes and water, the essence of life.

And for our beautiful streams and their forested greenbelts which host our treasured paddling expeditions.

And for our early antecedents, the First Peoples of North America for the legacy of their splendid canoe—

an incarnation of grace, a tool supremely suited to its purpose and place, a design of indigenous genius’.   (Paul Gruchow).

We’re grateful for being able to quietly connect with our natural heritage which is so closely linked, through the millennia, to our sense of well-being.  It’s especially welcome in this trying age of mass consumerism, the anti-democratic corporate state, and the “increasingly platitudinous present” (Thomas McGuane, 1993).   “The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten.  It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfaction.” (Sigurd Olsen, The Singing Wilderness)

We’re grateful for the spiritual values provided by our river sojourns.  “Rivers have what man most respects and longs for in his own life and thought– a capacity for renewal and replenishment, continual energy, creativity, cleansing.”  (John M. Kauffman, American Rivers, July, 1977)

And for the friendly camaraderie afforded by our paddling friends— like-minded folks who appreciate natural heritage and good cheer.

And for today’s grassroots advocacy groups who battle against the “Perpetual Power and Growth Machine” to defend our streams which would be voiceless without them.

For the future, we pray for more public vigilance, and for honest and enlightened public officials who refuse to cater to the pervasive commercial interests which degrade our streams and their riparian greenbelts just to maximize their short-term profits and corporate brand.  We pray also for the individual courage to “step forward” (Lakota) when needed to vigorously defend our waters and watersheds against the greed of callous developers and relentless commercial enterprise. Lastly, we pray for those not yet educated in the values and responsibilities of conservation– as their enlightenment will be key to preserving Nature and our treasured paddling experiences.


Looking back and ahead for Indiana greenspace and surface water quality

This being the bicentennial year of our statehood, and also the target year of a 1996 statewide 2016 visioning conference (for greenspace and surface water quality), I wanted to briefly reflect on where we are and how we’ve fared.

The conference was held in July, 1996 at McCormick’s Creek State Park and was organized and sponsored by the Indiana Environmental Institute.  It was attended by a mix of invited representatives from State regulatory agencies, environmental advocacy organizations, and industry folks.  The main idea was to “move ahead on Indiana environmental issues in a 20 year framework”.  This was boiled down to a compilation of main principles for action in 6 topical areas—Indiana environmental ethic, double-green philosophy, making tough choices, environmental priority and planning, commitment to consensus and partnership, and sound methods for environmental decisions. 

As noted by one of the conference organizers, it has been “a mixed bag” of results over these past 20 years.  There would be successes, but many disappointments.  Perhaps the most telling sign is that we used to have an annual Governor’s conference on the environment, but that valuable program was dropped around the year 2000.

One of the notable observations, in speaking with the principal conference organizer, is that the greatest energy for positive change in  the 1996 conference came not so much from the environmental advocates attending, but rather from inspired corporate people.  He noted that this impetus is no longer felt nearly as much due to the many mergers and acquisitions and the departure of many of these committed people over time.  They have not been replaced with people of the same awareness and vision.  What we seem to have now are primarily corporate functionaries who are not particularly vested in Indiana.

Picking from the list, one of the most prominent, frequently mentioned results from the compiled results was for riparian protection and enhancement and “water greenbelts everywhere”.  This remains an elusive goal as development inexorably whittles away at our river environments and floodplains.  Others were “more natural areas” and “landscape—not lawnscape”.  Indeed!

Oren Lyons: the River of Life and “sustainable development”

“Even though you and I are in different boats, you in your boat and we in our canoe, we share the same River of Life.  What befalls me, befalls you.  And downstream, downstream in this River of Life, our children will pay for our selfishness, for our greed, and for our lack of vision.

Five hundred years ago, you came to our pristine lands of great forests, rolling plains, crystal-clear lakes and streams and rivers.  And we have suffered in your quest for God, for Glory, for Gold.  But we have survived.  Can we survive another five hundred years of “sustainable development”.  I don’t think so.  Not with today’s definitions of “sustainable”.  I don’t think so.”

Excerpted from Oren Lyon’s essay Keepers of Life as published in Moral Ground—Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, edited by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson.  Lyons is the Faith Keeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee.


Our story– a strong defense of our river

American Rivers recently put out a call for river stories to describe how rivers connect us.  Here’s a brief account of how a plan for a dam and reservoir triggered a grassroots response that engaged the community and defeated the ill-conceived plan. Other coalition participants will have their individual takes, but here’s mine.

Our river story reminds me of a pertinent river quote: “A strong defense begins with a strong offense. Go. Do.“  (borrowing from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.,  founder and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance

When the local Corporation for Economic Development (CED) announced its plan in early 2013, it had been created entirely by financially-driven “stakeholders” and made no attempt to gather broader community input.  If they had consulted the community, they might have saved themselves, and subsequently the state taxpayer, thousands if not millions of dollars.  Of course, the promoters were paid for their time while the defenders volunteered their own time and money.

Shortly after the plan was announced, a coalition, comprised largely of a broad array of community, professional, and conservation-minded perspectives, was formed to analyze the plan  The Heart of the River coalition worked diligently for nearly 2.5 years to educate the communities and their elected officials about the destructive effects of the plan and its failure to demonstrate a need for public water supply (which was a transparent tack-on rationale after the CED realized that a destructive private economic development project would not receive environmental regulatory approval).   In addition, the plan received the scrutiny and critique from several respected policy experts from nearby universities.

The Heart of the River participants worked throughout the  2.5 year period—researching and analyzing, hosting community forums, organizing educational events and news conferences, networking with sympathetic organizations, testifying at public meetings, and even sponsoring community art exhibits, in an effort to bring light to the issue and combat the well-funded pro-plan propaganda.  All of this paid off in summer of 2015 when 2 town councils (Daleville and Yorktown) and the Delaware County council voted down a proposal to join in a reservoir planning agency.  This effectively killed the plan at its intended location.  We shall see if the CED revises its plan by moving it to another location.

Several important factors were key to our success:  A well-researched and articulated effort which, as the word got out, continuously attracted folks w/ diverse backgrounds, community connections, and skill sets.  Our effort was funded initially by passing the hat and donation jars, and later was able to attract several large grants from established philanthropic interests.

Personal passion and resolve to fight the plan were also a major contributor.  This passion reminds of Tom Dustin’s observation that free-flowing rivers justify a strong (“junk-yard dog”) defense–

”In a 1996 book entitled The Call of the River, author Page Stegner provides this characterization: ‘The call of the river is a complexity of motion and sound which extracts from mere mortals  the wildest diversity of emotional response.  Awe, dread, tranquility, devotion, ecstasy.  The river is an abstraction of universal force’. 

                Yes, the call is all of that, but it is still more.  One does not have to conquer a river to feel its tug upon our souls; in the very end one is not even required to paddle it to feel its magic.  As with a distant wilderness that we may never see, it is a fulfillment to know at least  that it is there,  and with that knowledge as our main reward, we are justified to fight like junkyard dogs to assure present and future generations that a good representation of these creations remain to enrich all life by its very existence”.        Thomas E. Dustin, Indiana Izaak Walton League, 1998 speech in Indianapolis

Post-election reflections from American Rivers

Moving forward after the election: Rivers Connect Us

Rivers and clean water can and should be bipartisan issues. But make no mistake: we will stand in strong defense of rivers and clean water when we must.

JD Hascup

After one of the most divisive presidential election campaigns in history, the American people have spoken and Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

In a country divided in so many ways, we must strive to remember those things that connect us. Rivers connect us to one another, to nature, to our history, and to future generations.  Regardless of political party, we all need clean water and healthy rivers. By uniting around healthy rivers, we can improve public health and safety, ensure reliable water supplies, grow our economy and boost quality of life in communities nationwide.

President-elect Trump’s rhetoric about the environment during the campaign was not encouraging, but I hope that, in governing, his administration will continue to recognize that protecting the environment for all Americans is not a partisan issue.

Indeed, some critical American Rivers successes have been launched by leaders of both parties.  For example, the Penobscot Dam removal was jumpstarted by $10 million secured with the invaluable help of the George W. Bush administration and its then-OMB Director, the current Senator from Ohio, Rob Portman.

The program that provides funding for many of our dam removal projects was last authorized in a law passed by a Republican Congress in 2006 and signed by President Bush.

The Yakima Integrated Plan has Republican and Democratic elected officials leading the way.  And the legislation that protects the headwaters of the Snake River as Wild and Scenic is named after the late Republican Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming, who fought for its passage.

Rivers and clean water can and should be bipartisan issues.  As the new administration takes shape, American Rivers will work with it and Congress where we can to protect and restore rivers and conserve clean water.

But make no mistake: we will stand in strong defense of rivers and clean water when we must. With our quarter-million members and supporters behind us, we will vigorously fight all efforts to weaken environmental protection. And we will redouble our efforts to ensure that we have the financial resources to do so.

On a more personal note, the campaign brought out some dark and ugly rhetoric about people of color, Muslims, the disabled, immigrants, Native Americans, women, and the LGBT community.  Rivers don’t care where you came from or where you’re going, what you believe and what you don’t believe, who you love or who your parents were.

At American Rivers we respect the dignity of every human being who works for us, who works with us, and who we see on the river.

American Rivers’ greatest strength lies in our people – our staff, supporters, activists and volunteers – and the knowledge, experience and passionate commitment to rivers that we bring to our work every day.  The election results have not changed that.  In fact, as we rise to new challenges and our resolve is renewed, that strength will only grow.

More quarries a possibility and closing on the Olio Road quarry

I was noodling around in the Citizens Water’s public records realm recently and learned an interesting fact— that there are more stone quarries in the service area which could provide significant water for the future.  A consultant’s report mentioned the viability of the large quarry on East 96th Street, just west of White River.  It did not state the potential capacity and production potential, but it would be very significant.  No doubt Citizens is eyeing this quarry as potential future water supply.

Subsequent conversations with Citizens personnel indicated that there are other quarries in central Indiana as well.  He also mentioned a very large one west in the Cloverdale area.  We trust that future assessments of potential water production will evaluate these ready-made reservoirs— instead of the various more expensive sources.

At the October meeting of CW’s Technical Advisory Group, it was reported that Citizens has recently closed on the purchase of the future Citizens Reservoir (quarry) located adjacent to Geist reservoir on Olio Road in Fishers  Citizens will take possession in about two years.