WaterOne Board candidates on the issues: Addressing climate change

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for the WaterOne Board of Directors address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a three-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues facing our community.

We are publishing the candidates’ responses to a question per day. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following:

Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. How will the increasing likelihood of flooding and drought events impact the sources from which WaterOne draws its supplies? What can WaterOne do to ensure its infrastructure is ready to handle more extreme weather?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Member 3 Seat

Steve Gordon

As a part of its normal process, WaterOne already meets regularly with the Army Corps of Engineers.  As a person who has experience working with water chemistry for twenty years, I know that there of a lot of factors in nature that dramatically affect the purification of water.  For instance, as the river levels rise and lower, the amount of particulate matter in the water changes, necessitating closer monitoring on the processes that produce clear, potable water.   The rate at which waters are released from our reservoirs has a direct effect on our process.  Working hand in hand with entities such as the Army Corps of Engineers and other players in our environment is as good for our environment as it is for those who use the clean water we produce.

Joann Atchity

WaterOne has been building resiliency into its system and has added additional storage in recent years.  During hot weather months there is an increased usage of potable water for watering monoculture turf lawns.  Another excellent way to increase resiliency is to focus instead on promoting and supporting diverse permaculture landscapes which can be designed with native plants especially those that support pollinators, rain gardens and biodynamic food forests.

WaterOne continues to add fluoride to our drinking water, a practice which goes against every principle of informed consent.  The hydrofluorosilicic acid added to our drinking water is the toxic waste byproduct of fertilizer and aluminum manufacturing.  It is captured by the air scrubbers so that it does not become air pollution.  It makes no sense to them add it to drinking water.  In addition to the dangers it poses to human health, it adds to the fluoride in our groundwater.   For more information on fluoride visit fluoridealert.org.

Kay Heley (incumbent)

We are already observing the adverse climate events in our region caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions and our use of fossil fuels – more days with temperatures over 90 degrees, drought and flooding. Our community gets its water from the Kansas and Missouri Rivers and various wells. When examining the impacts, we have to consider our rivers as part of large watersheds that extend up and down the rivers from us and include reservoirs like Milford and Tuttle Creek Lakes which provide water storage. Extreme temperatures and drought cause lowered lake and river levels due to evaporation as well as the increased need for water by farmers upstream who irrigate crops as well as by residents and industry. Lower river levels cause damage to infrastructure like our water intakes and pumps. Extreme heat and drought also increase water main breaks. Consider the more frequent and intense rainstorms we are having. There is a limit to how much the Army Corps of Engineers can control lake and river levels and avoid flooding. Intense rains in any part of the watershed can wreak havoc on the lake and river system downstream overwhelming levees, dikes, lake and river banks and causing extensive damage to infrastructure, energy transmission, boil water orders, increased water pollution making water treatment more complicated and expensive, and can overwhelm water treatment plants.

WaterOne builds infrastructure to the 500 year flood standard. The 40 Year Master Plan includes planning for redundancy and the expansion, assessment, maintenance and replacement of pipes and infrastructure. Natural gas generators backup power failures and 12 million gallons of storage was recently added. We are fortunate to be the only utility in the area with two treatment plants with intakes on two rivers. If there is an emergency with one river or one plant, staff can switch to the other river or plant. WaterOne has a robust Emergency Response Plan for many adverse climate event scenarios. Staff practice how to run the treatment process remotely and manually. While the pandemic has revealed supply chain issues for some, one advantage of our newer ozone facility at the Hansen Treatment Plant is that replacing chlorine with ozone as the primary disinfectant requires fewer chemicals that need to be obtained and transported. Our community is fortunate to have two rivers and a well-run water utility that plans for climate adaptation. I ask for your vote.

Member 4 Seat

Jeffrey Mendoza

Climate change will continue to negatively affect the operations of WaterOne for many years to come. I know that climate change is real. Climate change continues to degrade our two water sources, the Missouri River and the Kansas River.  The first step in addressing this concern is identifying that a problem exists. As a board member, I will ensure scientific data is collected so that we make decisions on accurate and current information.
The WaterOne board is a policy-making board that looks at the utility company’s long-term outlook. As board members, we would be responsible for establishing WaterOne’s 40-year plan. This requires proactive thinking to anticipate and address upcoming problems and concerns. The increasing likelihood of flooding and drought events could have a potentially drastic and negative effect on where WaterOne draws its supplies. However, that negative impact is avoidable. Catastrophe will only strike if we are unprepared. I aim at ensuring we remain ready and prepared to tackle all incoming challenges. As a Marine Corps Officer, I understand navigating change, adapting, and overcoming challenges.
I’m glad Shawnee Mission Post readers are concerned with how climate change will affect access to clean water. This is a real issue, which left unaddressed would have disastrous consequences. I’m prepared to address these issues and bring with me a voice with diverse opinions and years of experience. I will ensure that WaterOne’s infrastructure continues to meet the needs of our community. I’ve met with and spoken to current board members. I stand ready to join their battle of continued success of the water utility company.
In order to do my part, I need your support.  Early voting starts October 23rd and culminates on November 2nd. Please make sure you exercise your voice and vote! As a Marine Corps Officer and a trial lawyer, I stand ready to anticipate future problems and address head-on any challenges presented to WaterOne. As a new father, I have a vested interest in ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to successfully distribute the clean water that WaterOne produces. I will ensure that my son and all the children of the water district enjoy clean water for their entire lifetimes. Thank you for taking the time to read these responses and for being an informed voter.

Bob Reese (incumbent)

Did not respond

Member 5 Seat

Jill Westra

Climate change impacts can include damage to physical/mechanical infrastructure (line breaks, treatment plant flooding) that could prevent adequate water intake at the source. Major storm events can lead to increased bank erosion, sedimentation, and an influx of contaminants from upstream in the watershed – which, aside from having an impact on treatment strategy, will also play a role in increased treatment costs. Conversely, drought conditions can equally increase risk, as we rely on the US Army Corps of Engineers to balance the needs of communities upstream and downstream and hope that this can be appropriately managed on our behalf, yet outside of our control.

A renewed focus on risk management and emergency response planning are two areas that I feel WaterOne should approach with an increased level of inspiration and energy. Currently, “climate change” and “resilience” are terms notably lacking from the strategic plan or budget. While WaterOne management has done great work on delivering the best water quality, there appears to be plenty of room for improvement on strategic asset planning related to future environmental risk, not simply regulatory guidance. I would like to see an approach to risk management that is systematic and considers potential climate change impacts. EPA and FEMA guidance relies on existing 100-500 year flood patterns, but does not leave much room for planning based on potential natural disasters associated with climate change.

While I believe that this textbook federal guidance (identify vulnerable assets, evaluate mitigation measures, plan how to implement mitigation measures) is valuable and should be factored into risk management and emergency response planning, I believe more is required. Modeling climate risk, for one. I am a “data person”, so I would appreciate the development of models that help us understand potential water quality changes due to rising water temperature (i.e. eutrophication) or excess sediment from storm events, which may degrade water quality at intake points. As a Board member, I would want to ensure that Resiliency Planning appears in the budget and the Strategic Plan. We cannot only place our energy and focus on exceeding regulatory water quality standards and simply keeping the system running. We must have serious, honest conversations about risk and emergency planning, accepting the point that the environment is not under our control, and that factoring upgrades into the budget and future-proofing assets now will be far cheaper than laying blame and paying the price later.

Missey Smith

Did not respond