Pure Oakland Water tackles fracking

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published August 13, 2013

 Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash, middle, chats with employees of Pure Oakland Water.

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash, middle, chats with employees of Pure Oakland Water.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

SOUTHFIELD — “Water knows no boundaries.”

LTU civil engineering professor Don Carpenter knows that’s a cliché, he said, but it’s understated, nevertheless.

“One of the issues with water resources is that everyone has the tendency to think about their own city, but water doesn’t understand those boundaries,” said Carpenter, who teaches water engineering courses and founded the university’s Great Lakes Stormwater Management Institute in 2009. “We really need to be working across boundaries to protect our water.”

That’s among the many reasons Carpenter and other local water advocates are excited to see Pure Oakland Water step onto the scene — the new non-profit initiative spearheaded by newly elected Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash.

“I hope (POW) can help us do education outreach in the community,” he said, adding that his office doesn’t have the budget for many of the things the group envisions doing, such as looking into how the area’s water resources can help produce energy. “We have several projects in the works, for instance, to get energy-generating turbines into the sewer systems around our pumps.”

In addition to Nash, the organization’s board of directors includes Craig Covey, treasurer; Ryan Cook, secretary; and Phil Sanzica and Clinton River Watershed Council Executive Director Anne Vaara as board members.

Most recently, they’ve been hosting town hall meetings about fracking around the area, and according to Covey, the next date has been set for 6-8 p.m. Aug. 20 in campus rooms A201 and A202 at Oakland Community College in Southfield, where people on both sides of the controversial oil- and gas-drilling technique will speak.

According to experts, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, extracts natural resources by drilling and injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground. Recent drilling innovations let drillers burrow horizontally for long distances, as well as vertically — but some opponents say this is dangerous and pollutes groundwater.

Some proponents of fracking say the practice can help the United States become energy-independent and create jobs.

“It’s a very new process here, and there’s potential for real issues in the environment,” Nash said, citing the possibility of accidents or leaking, and adding that other states have had issues with opening up sensitive land to oil drilling. “I see my job as protecting water resources, and I think this is a new and pressing fret for us.”

Beyond exploring where fracking intersects with a sustainable future for water resources, POW has more on its mighty agenda.

Promoting conservation, community education and local preservation, and supporting water quality are all some of the things founder Nash said he had in mind.

To that end, one of the biggest productions POW promises to locals is the Stormwater Summit coming in the fall. It will be a free, community event held on LTU’s campus in collaboration with Carpenter’s GLSMI to address topics like the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations, emerging green technology, funding opportunities and regional collaboration, according to Nash.

Carpenter emphasized the importance of collective advocacy to make a greater impact.

“Each rain garden may not make a difference, but if everyone has a rain barrel, that makes a huge difference,” he said. “Pure Oakland Water is Nash’s opportunity to convene people to do things you can’t necessarily do as a government organization, and we are excited to be working with them to bring people together to talk about water issues in the region.”

To keep POW moving, funds will be raised through corporate support, event sponsorships and donations. Last month, a fundraiser was held at the Cranbrook Institute of Science as the organization’s first public event. Proceeds from the Stormwater Summit will also benefit POW.

The group plans on sponsoring several water festivals at Oakland University and at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, which Nash said have been running seven or eight years now. The festivals reach thousands of school-age children with programs on river health, pollution prevention and the importance of protecting natural resources, he said.

State Rep. Rudy Hobbs, D-Southfield, will also be hosting the town hall meeting Aug. 20. Oakland Community College is located at 22322 Rutland Drive in Southfield.

For more information about Pure Oakland Water, visit www.oakgov.com/water.