Yes they can. Last night in Keene I attended a regional component of a statewide conversation about the future of water in NH sponsored by the Governor's Water Sustainability Commission and facilitated seamlessly by NH Listens, a civic engagement initiative of UNH's Carsey Institute. The objective was to "create the opportunity for NH residents to engage in an informed and productive conversation – we are not pushing a particular agenda or set of solutions, but are seeking to engage many people in order to gather ideas, experiences, and recommendations for the future of our state's water." In addition to Keene, conversations took place in Berlin, Greenland, Manchester, and New London. NH Listens will compile everyone's suggestions and opinions for the Commission and the participants.
Nine people attended Keene's facilitated conversation about 5 important water challenges that the state faces. But first we shared what brought us out on a rainy Tuesday night to talk for 3 hours about water. The answers were heart warming: water should be held in the public trust for the benefit of not only people but also the environment and all creatures; we can't live without it; and water needs to be elevated to a new level of awareness for its necessity and beauty. Sympatico level established right away.
NH's first challenge is the projected increase in population density in the southeastern part of the state and the resulting water needs, as well as stormwater management as forests are converted to developed land with impervious surfaces. The second challenge is the threat imposed by changing precipitation and temperature patterns, and extreme water-related events. The third is our aging and inadequate water infrastructure. (Photo above of burst water main in NYC in September discovered while taking a break from installing Stream of Conscience at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine) The fourth challenge is how to implement management systems for water information in this new era. And last but not least, how to fund resolving the first four challenges and how to raise awareness publicly and politically so that funding is palatable.
Lots of constructive ideas were discussed from reducing the amount of water that can be commercially pumped without a permit (currently about 57,000 gallons a day!) to establishing a school curriculum for all grades that fosters water awareness. There could be an opportunity to rethink how water is used as we upgrade our aging infrastructure to incorporate gray water for toilet flushing and lawn watering. Everyone acknowledged that water knows no boundaries, so it would be helpful to approach these solutions in terms of watersheds rather than municipalities or even states. Another idea is to establish a Clean Land Act to complement the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, which would further protect the environment when land is developed.
Three hours of genuine concern, thoughtful ideas, and constructive problem-solving. Kudos to Governor Lynch for establishing the Water Sustainability Commission and to the Commission for reaching out to the public for input, feedback, and ideas. It is wise to be having conversations now while the issues are still manageable. For the past 5 years, Art for Water's primary message is that it's time to start thinking about water. Way to go, New Hampshire, for joining the conversation! I'm hopeful that we can keep it going.