Danielle Adams - Durham County Soil & Water Supervisor | Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County | Indy Week
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Danielle Adams - Durham County Soil & Water Supervisor 

Name as it appears on the ballot: Danielle Adams

Campaign website: https://www.facebook.com/AdamsforNC/

Phone number: (919) 685-7856

Email: imani.asako@gmail.com

Years lived in Durham County: 32 Years

1. Why are you seeking the office of Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor?

For 8 years, since the ago of 24 I have served the people of Durham in the capacity of Soil and Water Supervisor and although I have accomplished really meaningful rules, policy, and funding changes and additions for the District there is a lot more work to go in moving our conservation and education practices forward here in Durham, across our region and across the state. There are still major obstacles the District has to overcome with collaboration with City of Durham departments, battling the state for funding for our urban conservation needs, and promoting diversity across our state and in our programming. I am seeking this office because I still want to serve my community and to do that I want to make sure we get these wins.

2. What are the three most pressing natural resources issues in the county? How do you plan to address these issues? Please be specific.

Typically I would address the need of agricultural land preservation, the watershed rules in the Jordan and Falls Lake watershed with nutrient loading and protection of wildlife habitat but as Durham continues to change and grow it requires a Conservation District that is capable of being just as dynamic to meet its needs. As the City of Durham continues to expand and develop the natural resource concerns of the Durham District are shifting to be more urban in focus. The three most pressing natural resource concerns in Durham County still align with the core of the District, that is Durham’s soil, Durham’s water, and Durham’s food systems (ag). 

What do I mean by this? I will explain that. How do we address it? The simple answer is proactive collaboration between the 6 main arms that make up the governing bodies of Durham; the District, the County, the City, the School Board, and to a certain extent, the Registrar and the Sheriff (I will explain this too).

Our soil concerns used to mostly come out of stopping erosion of ag production land and preventing sediment from entering our waterways. With the increased development in the urban corridor and out in the county, one of our top resource concerns is sediment and erosion control across the entire District. Unfortunately, our Sediment and Erosion Control at the County/City lacks the capacity to have dedicated staff to enforcement of S&E rules and regulations and relies heavily on a citizen reporting system to go out and address S&E concerns on construction/development sites. S&E plans are often rushed through and end up at the District (where it is statutorily required to be) where the plans are marked as adequate or inadequate. No further followup is given to the district and inspections of sites during construction is limited if it happens at all. Sediment in our waterways and in our reservoirs can lead to many other natural resource concerns.

The solution to this is a comprehensive Countywide Stormwater program. My personal opinion is that because the environment does not acknowledge jurisdictional boundaries we should not treat our environmental needs and issues as City vs County departments so we should have a comprehensive plan and a collaborative joint City/County department (much like planning and sustainability) that falls under the District because the District is the totality of Durham.

The second concern ties in with soil and that is our water. With increased growth and development comes increased strain on our water quality and quantity. The major concerns around quality and quantity in Durham is stormwater runoff. Our growing development means that we have to look at floodplain planning to address the increased volume of water flowing in the City. With the loss of our urban canopy and larger development we increase the “heat island” effect that increases the rainfall during storms which leads to sediment erosion from construction areas which often enters our waterways and impacts water quality because of pollutants attached to the soil or coming off of roads and services. This ultimately ties in with our soil issue with sediment entering our drinking reservoirs and decreasing the volume available for our water which has the potential to lead to a quantity shortage if we come across another extreme drought year.

The solution to our water quality and quantity issues is a Watershed Improvement Commission. The District Board has presented a proposal to both the City and the County and has faced pushback from City Stormwater who appears to believe that such a commission is not needed. I believe there are political motives to this pushback that I would hope to address with our new County Commission and looking ahead to City Council and Mayoral changes in 2017. Durham needs to proactively address water quality and quantity concerns and it requires our elected officials to engage on the issue. A WIC would converge members from the main elected bodies (City, County, District) to establish a cohesive funding strategy and technical approach to solving our water resource needs.

Finally, the third most pressing resource concern in Durham is our food system. A lot of investment has been made by the City to encourage and grow the Local Food movement. We have a popular Downtown Farmer’s Market and when concern was raised over that fact that only 6% of the vendors in the Downtown Market were from Durham County, the Durham Roots Market was formed. We have numerous local restaurants that buy local food and produce incredible meals and we have an incredible Co-op market and smaller local and specialty markets as well. Despite these wins a number of Durham residents are food insecure (as the Indy has covered before) and many parts of Durham are still considered food deserts. There is a lot of work being done to address this issue but more can and should be done. 

The solution for our food system resource concern is multifaceted but I offer that the way the Soil and Water District can help move this forward is to continue working with ag producers on getting GAP certified so that we can continue to work collaboratively with the Sheriff and the School District on their institutional purchasing. 

By supporting the work of the Farmland Board, investing in our Ag Economic Development specialist and program, we can continue to provide new and urban produces along with our established, more traditional ag producers the resources and training they need for certification. With that certification the jail and school system can then purchase directly from local producers which helps grow the Durham economy and brings in more jobs. It requires investment and ALIGNMENT from all of us, which another reason I advocate for stronger relations between the main governing bodies in Durham.

3. Identify examples of how the district can best balance agricultural/rural and urban interests in regards to soil and water conservation.

I hope the answer to the previous question gave some insight to what the answer to this question would be. The District tries to work hand in hand with both the County and the City to address natural resource concerns. Our programs are just as diversified as our County is and if you ask anyone at the state level or in other Districts we do more than anyone would expect. We focus our urban work in the city’s areas of the most need and work directly with homeowners and neighborhood associations on putting best management practices on their properties and educating them on programs. While doing this we still stick to our roots which were first developed out of the Dust Bowl era. Our small staff is working hard on Ag Economic Development, preservation of Open Space, and our food systems just as the Board is. There are no other Districts in NC partnering with their Sheriff to ensure that producers benefit from the purchasing the jail does for inmates. There are no other Districts in NC working directly with a school to save the school money on athletic field irrigation by building a bioretention pond that will collect runoff from the parking lot and be able to be used to water the fields. The Durham District is ahead of the curve of balancing the ag and urban needs of Durham. We are proud of that and I am proud to be a part of that.

4. What funding issues are facing the Soil & Water District? How do you propose to ensure the district receives full funding? Are there alternative funding sources the district could explore? If so, what are they?

The Department of Soil and Water is one of the smallest departments in the County as well as a department that receives one of the smallest budgets. One of the Commissioners affectionately refers to the Department as the “Little Engine that Could” because despite the lack of resources we are given we are able to bring in much more through grant writing and hard work. That money is for Departmental functions and staff but not for programming. The District receives a under $4,000 from the State of NC for our allocation of Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) money, a little under $50k for our Agriculture Cost Share Program (ACSP) and generally enough money to fund one project for our Agricultural Water Resource Assistance Program (AgWRAP). 

The District is an arm of the state so we are dependent on State budgets to receive our funding. Many statewide value the Agriculture aspects of our over the urban conservation ones so receiving the funding we need has been difficult. We are currently facing a change in the rules that could detrimentally impact the allocations Durham receives as the state has decided to move to a regional allocation for CCAP rather than a District one in hopes that by funding larger projects it will look better to the legislature who will in turn increase allocations to the program overall. I do not share the same hopes as my colleagues on at the state level of the efficacy of this plan.

The City of Durham has a Stormwater fee which they use for their programs and staffing needs. We have tried to work collaboratively with City Stormwater but with on very little success. It is my belief that a Watershed Improvement Committee (WIC) could ask Durham residents for a watershed tax that would create a revenue stream that is dedicated to on the ground projects to protect watersheds and improve water quality. I would like to spend this term working on that.

Despite our very small allocations we are able to do a LOT for Durham. We have received $400k from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) and $360k from the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (UNCWI) to do Stream Restoration projects. We have also received $435k from the Environmental Enhancement Grant (EEG) of the US Department of Justice to do our very exciting Stormwater/Stream Restoration at Southern High School. 

Despite our very small allocation we were able to put over $150k in CCAP project on the ground in the City of Durham and received a $100k grant from the Duke Energy Foundation which we shared with Wake County Soil and Water to continue to put in projects on the ground in the Cape Fear waterways. 

5. Many residents don’t know what the Soil and Water Conservation District actually does. In what ways would you reach out the residents of Durham County to educate them on the issues facing the county and the efforts of the district? 

My hope is that the opening statement is less true than it was when I first started on the Board. In the last four years we have done an incredible amount of work with staff and supervisors a like speaking in from of Neighborhood Associations, I myself have visited numerous schools and spoken in front of incredible classrooms of children, and we have done more in publishing OpEds and articles in local papers and through County Communications. We have also started putting up signs at the locations of some of our projects and have recruited community members like David Harris, Mark DeWitt, and Melissa Harris to join our Board as Associate Supervisors. As we continue to expand our programming we also continue to expand how we best communicate to residents our offerings, like with our annual education contests, urban conservation awards, our Pond Clinic and Big Sweep. 

I received a grant to produce a video that we posted on YouTube about one of our educational opportunities that was filmed by a local videographer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QiBfkAUPtE . Although slow in going because of lack of funding, we have two other videos on our YouTube channel as well. We have a great new Supervisor in Katie Locklier who is incredibly savvy on social media and producing digital content but I did start the District’s Facebook page and try to continue to support the District in utilizing the many digital communications pathways available to us.

I enjoy working with students and interacting with communities so I will continue to increase my presence in working with teachers in the Durham Public School System, remaining a volunteer with the Festival for the Eno and other Eno River Association events (like the New Moon JamborEno) and by being a visible and vocal champion in political circles of natural resource issues. 

6. What is the district’s role in making sure all Durham County residents’ water–including those people who use wellsis safe to drink? 

We as a District work hard to ensure that the water in the ground is of the highest quality. We do this by putting in best management practices that reduces nutrients and pollutants from entering our watersheds. As much as I would like to play a more crucial role in protecting our drinking and well water, during the late 80s or early 90s the County created a Division of Environmental Health in the Department of Public Health that is responsible for protecting citizens when it comes to well water and septic tank issues that might contaminate groundwater and impact well health. Similarly, the City of Durham has a Wastewater Management Department that has a strong role in ensuring the the drinking water of residents receiving City water is safe. 


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