Elections » Candidate Questionnaires

Danielle Adams

Candidate for Durham County Soil & Water District Supervisor

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Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Danielle Adams

Full Legal Name: Danielle Imani Asako Adams Davis

Date of Birth: March 6, 1984

Occupation & Employer: Graduate Student

Years lived in Durham County: 28 years

Email: imani.asako@gmail.com


1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham's Soil & Water District? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?

Every issue we tackle is something we find incredibly important, and we try to address each one as if it is the most important one at the time. The district is currently working on the Falls and Jordan Lake watershed rules, dealing with budget cuts at the state and federal levels, environmental education, state legislation, and moving our association forward.

If I had to make a top three it would include the watershed rules, environmental education, and moving the association forward.

Watershed Rules: Compliance to these rules is important to the district as our primary charge is the protection, conservation, and enhancement of our natural resources. Stage I and Stage II are going to be really expensive. So, while other entities work on challenging Stage II and the data and tools used for the baseline, we believe the best thing we can do is to put best management practices on the ground as soon as we can.

The district has been doing a lot in both watersheds. I am honored to represent 6 Soil and Water Conservation Districts on the Upper Neuse River Basin Association Board of Directors so I have the opportunity to have a direct connection with the decisions that are being made . Over a year ago the districts were stripped of our vote, so the state association is working with legislators to include Soil and Water Districts as voting members of UNRBA so that we can fully represent agricultural and stormwater concerns in the watershed with our vote. Currently the districts stand as the entities working with the agricultural rule of both watershed rules. Our district staff sit on the Local Advisory Committee (LAC) and have a huge role in the collection of data and registration of landowners that is required by the rules.

The district is working on two important projects regarding the watershed rules. The first is to encourage county commissioners to adopt a unified watershed ordinance. Currently, the two rules have different requirements that split down the county. We believe that a unified ordinance will streamline the process for Durham residents and will help homeowners to more easily navigate the requirements. The second project is a Voluntary Nutrient Reduction program that we are hoping many residents will sign on to do. Homeowners were not included in the Falls rules and we believe that if we can convince homeowners to reduce the amount of nutrients applied to their lawns, then we will see increased reductions of nutrients in our urban streams like Ellerbe Creek. I am proud of the central role Durham Soil and Water has had in both watershed rules and the increased presence the district staff have held in the Falls. We are moving forward and working with our partners to make sure the goals are met. This truly is a top priority for the district.

Environmental Education: Well-informed students, residents, staff, and supervisors make for a community that is both aware of natural resources and other environmental concerns, but one that is active in providing solutions to problems. Environmental education happens in many different forms, and here are a few examples that the district stands firmly behind:

Students:

We have numerous programs in schools that are meant to stimulate students and assist school teachers. Two of our staff members go into elementary schools throughout the school year to do environmental programs that fit with the state's standard course of study. They also provide training and demonstrations for teachers who would like to learn environmental classroom activities, in addition to allowing teachers to borrow from our environmental library located in our district office.

We offer many different contests for elementary and middle school students to participate in like poster, digital, public speaking, and speech contests. We host annual environmental field days for third graders in the county and have worked very hard to turn our district's land into a working educational experience. We also work with high

school students through our Envirothon program. Our Ag Economic Specialist has worked with special classroom students at Southern High School on Ag Economic Development by fixing their greenhouse and working on a horticulture program. He is also very active with Jordan High School's FFA students and Northern High School students as well.

One of my favorite programs is our statewide Resource Conservation Workshop. This week-long summer intensive at NC State is a college preparatory and scholarship workshop. The program shows students all aspects of natural resource conservation and shows them the many college majors and career opportunities that are available in this field.

We offer a ton of programs and opportunities that aren't utilized fully. There are some schools that never participate in our contests and scholarship programs. It is important to us that we reach out to all public and private school and to engage teachers and students. Many of our programs are attached to scholarship opportunities that are being missed out on.

Engaging young people is even more critical now than ever because of our aging farming community and aging technical staff. The district is aware that it is imperative that we engage and educate students on natural resources and the environment. This will enable them to become interested in natural resources, agricultural, and ecological majors in college and careers.

Universities:

I would like us to do a lot more in this area. The district is committed to working with our local universities to provide internships, service learning, and volunteer opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students. This is an effort I stand firmly behind as I believe it would allow our staff greater opportunity to provide technical assistance to Durham residents.

This is incredibly important because the requirements of the above-mentioned watershed rules has increased the amount of work our tiny staff of four are obligated to do. By tapping into this aspect of environmental education we are getting talented and skilled students to assist with the work that needs to be done. Further, students are learning hands-on technical skills that they can take into their careers.

Homeowners:

We have a variety of environmental education programs for homeowners, including educating residents on the aforementioned watershed rules. In addition, each year we hold a pond clinic for Durham County residents. We also hold our Food, Land, and People program for teachers and others interested in these programs. The other two large-scale educational programs we hold are Big Sweep and our Farm Family of the Year program. Through these programs we encourage residents to get directly involved in urban cleanup and agriculture in the county.

We need to continue to reach out to Durham residents so that they are aware of how we can assist them and take full advantage of our programs. This is incredibly important.

Staff:

More than anything, the district needs well-trained staff and well-informed supervisors. New and better techniques come around all the time and we encourage our staff to be on the cutting edge of those techniques. I am pleased that the County allows the Soil and Water staff some flexibility to go out and receive professional training. We encourage the staff to attend the Conservation Employees Training workshop every year and also support them as they attend state and national conferences. The NC Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts' fall and spring area meetings provide the staff and supervisors with key instruction on new policies and programs and the National Association of Conservation Districts' annual meeting allows us to connect with other districts across the nation to share ideas. Our staff is dedicated to serving members of the community. Therefore, we encourage them to continue to achieve Job Approval Authority on our various CCAP and AgCostShare programs so that we can bring down costs. Because we have a well-trained staff we also have an award-winning staff, district, and board. Here are a few of our state awards received since 2008.

2008: Chairman Talmadge Layton – Outstanding Supervisor of the Year.

2009: Director Eddie Culberson – Technical Employee of the Year.

2010: Durham District – District of the Year.

2011: Administrative Office Lisa Marochak – Administrative Employee of the Year.

2012: Soil Conservationist Jennifer Brooks – Environmental Educator of the Year.

2012: Secretary Danielle Adams – Outstanding Supervisor of the Year.

The district strives to be the state standard for conservation districts and we believe the best way to do this is through education. Our commitment to the citizens can be seen through our innovation, hard work, knowledge, and skills. The best part of winning awards is not the win in and of itself, but that it shows our commitment to doing the best we can for Durham.

Moving the Association Forward: The North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (NCSWACD) sets the rules for our programs and our legislative agenda. The Association is an educational, scientific, and charitable organization meant to support districts and enhance local conservation efforts. I currently serve as the Secretary of the Association and one of my greatest frustrations is the slow incremental changes that occur. It has been said that the association is stuck in the dust bowl era and I have been told by other local officials that we are seen as antiquated and purposeless. I challenge that notion based on the work that the Durham district does, but on a state level districts are not keeping up with trends. As an association we failed to take a stand on fracking. We have not broadened our scope to include climate change, air quality, mountain top removal, deforestation, stormwater, or nutrient management rules. In my opinion, our silence on many of these issues is shameful and I fully believe we have a duty to take a stand in favor of our natural resources and our landowners on these critical issues. Our purpose is the protection, enhancement, and conservation of ALL natural resources and until the association makes it a priority, how can we expect any other levels of government to take us seriously? We need to move forward. We MUST move forward. If we do not, then Soil and Water Districts will become irrelevant, out of touch, and obsolete.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district supervisor? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

I am extremely proud of the opportunities that have been afforded to me in this position.

I currently represent 12 counties from Area IV on the legislative committee of the state association.

I am the current secretary of the Durham district and the state association.

I am an ambassador to Oxfam America's Sisters on the Planet advocacy program. I have had the honor of attending a variety of trainings. In addition, I've also been able to lobby on Capitol Hill for funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation, other policies that impact global hunger issues like rising food prices, and sustainable agriculture in drought-stricken communities. One of my passions of this has become the right of ALL people to have access to clean drinking water.

I have lobbied on the Hill on behalf of the National Cattleman's Beef Association and the National Grange for Rural Broadband Access.

I have become a member of the Young Elected Officials Network (a sub-organization of the People for the American Way) and serve on the "Ensuring a Sustainable Future" policy council. We create the policy focuses for the year and share it with all 500+ past and present members of our organization so that we are all on the same accord with policy objectives.

I serve currently as the State Director of the YEO Network and recruit, mentor, and assist progressive young candidates and young elected officials in the state of NC.

I am finishing up my last year of graduate school at Appalachian State University. When finished I will have earned a Masters of Political Science with a concentration in Environmental Politics and Policy Analysis.

I serve on the County and Executive Committees of the NC Democratic Party and was elected delegate to the DNC last month in Charlotte.

Currently I serve on the UNRBA Board of Directors as an Ex Officio Member.

I am filling in on Durham's Environmental Affairs Board.

I have volunteered every year for the last 3 or 4 years with the Eno River Association's annual Festival for the Eno in the EEEK (Eno Environmental Education for Kids) area.

I received Spectacular Magazine's Emerging Leader Woman of the Year award in 2012.

I received the NCASWCD's Outstanding Supervisor of the Year award after only three years of service.

I have done a lot over the last four years to better serve the community at large as well as to make myself a better overall person. This list is in no way comprehensive but it is something I am very proud of.

3. Several major objectives are detailed in the 2011-2012 Soil & Water plan, among them working with the city, county, state and federal government on a strong water quality improvement program. If you are the incumbent, please assess the progress on meeting that goal. If you are a challenger, please tell voters about your vision for improving local water quality, including any funding issues.

The wonderful thing about the district is that it is an arm of the state, so the programs offered by the district are state programs. We are most successful when we are able to create strong relationships with our federal partners, other state agencies, and our local municipal government agencies, because districts can't survive without their numerous partners. The district is given authority under General Statute 139. Through the Soil and Water Commission and the assistance of the Division of Soil and Water, the district is able to provide cost share assistance through our Agricultural Cost Share Program (Ag CostShare), our Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP), and our new Agricultural Water Resource Assistance Program (AgWrap).

We are fortunate enough to work closely with our federal partners in the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). That partnership helps facilitate dialogue between our landowners and our District Conservationist to ensure that Durham benefits from federal programs like WHIP and EQIP.

Our function as Supervisors is to make decisions on the allocation of resources to our homeowners and landowners in the district by approving contracts, monitoring progress of those projects, and following up to ensure compliance with practices (we do this through our annual random spot checks). On the federal level, we hold an open dialogue with our NRCS District Conservationist, at the state level we are linked through our Division Area Coordinator, and locally we have made inroads with various city and county departments. All of our partners have a seat at our table so that we are better able to efficiently and better serve the people of Durham through various programs.

4. Along those lines, what are the challenges facing the district? How should the district address those challenges? How do these challenges affect the average Durham resident?

Staffing and funding are always challenges facing the district. We receive about $3,300 annually from the Division of Soil and Water. Then, we receive adequate funding for our AgCostShare program, less than desirable amounts for CCAP (but still more than other counties), and virtually nonexistent funding for AGWRAP. We then must supplement our programs through grants and donations that come in. Although we are very good stewards of the funds we do receive, we could always use more.

The County of Durham financially supports the Department of Soil and Water. Our four staff members complete the county's objectives but support the district board and our programs. What saddens me is that although our director is the longest-serving department head in the county, he is one of the lowest-paid. I believe that to be an indication of how Soil and Water is perceived. During the last budget cycle, we requested an additional FTE position to help the staff with the additional work required by the watershed rules. Unfortunately, we were not given the position and the new FTEs went to the Departments of Health Services and Environmental Engineering Services. The City of Durham does not financially support the district in any way, even though a majority of our projects are in the city's limits.

We do an incredible amount with a very small budget and bring in lots of money to the county. We have an amazing staff that is able to accomplish all of their tasks in addition to supporting the district board and the Farmland Preservation Board. Although these are persistent challenges, we are able to succeed despite them. This is accomplished due to our strong and engaged board, our award-winning staff, and our dedicated partners.

5. Durham County has two very distinct constituencies: largely urban in the central and southern part of the county and rural in the north. Tell us about the issues facing each constituency and how the district is addressing them.

Durham is one of the most diverse districts in the state and has been since the mid 1990s when Stella Adams was the chair of the board. Today, we continue to move the Durham district forward by extending services in urban areas of the county. I have worked hard during my time on the board to fight for expansion of programs into more urban areas. When the Division of Soil of Water was moved from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, I was one of only two supervisors in the state to go before the Soil and Water Commission to fight for programs that impact urbanized counties. I have challenged not only the commission, but the NC Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts on the inclusion of urban districts in their long term planning and program creation. Due to my efforts, in January of this year the Association created an Urban District Caucus so that urban districts could strategize on how to make long term goals.

The urban portions of our county have seen increased stormwater issues over the last few years. Clogged storm drains, the deteriorating health of Ellerbe Creek and increasing development are all issues they face. The district is working hard to improve our relationship with the city Stormwater Department, and is hoping to have a more prominent role in addressing these issues. Our goal remains to improve water quality and to ensure the health of Durham's drinking water reservoirs.

Our urban efforts can be seen in our increased visibility in the school system, our selling of rain barrels, compost bins, wild flowers, and tree seedlings. We have also grown our Big Sweep participation rates every year which has a particular urban focus and we are currently about to embark on a fantastic green roof project on top of our building downtown which will be the second green roof project we have worked on. Finally, we are hoping to strengthen our relationship with the City of Durham Stormwater department so we can further expand our urban conservation impacts and efforts and streamline services to our urban district residents.

Our rural neighbors are dealing with the watershed rules and the changes the rules require of them. A lot of our landowners are dealing with development and being able to afford to keep their land. We work with landowners through our cost share programs Ag CostShare and AGWRAP. We also encourage our rural landowners to consider placing easements on their properties so that it can remain as prime farmland. We have a deep historic tie with the rural part of Durham County and that relationship remains strong and secure.

6. How does the district conduct its the stream restoration projects? How are streams prioritized? Tell us what streams are at the top of the list, what has been done to restore them and what is left to do?

We have focused a lot of attention on stream restoration as they are some of the largest urban projects we tackle. Some of those projects include R.N Harris, Lick Creek, Stirrup Iron Creek, and our five phase Sandy Creek restoration, which when completed will be one of only a handful of watersheds in the state completely in best management practices.

Due to budget cuts we are unfortunately not able to be as aggressive in identifying and going after stream restoration projects. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund has taken hard hits in recent budget cycles and that has limited us greatly in applying for those monies. We apply for 319 grants and are usually successful in getting them. However, with federal cuts we have seen the selection criteria get more stringent and the amounts being awarded get smaller. Our priority of late is to ensure the completion of Phase V of Sandy Creek and we consider restorations based on water quality impact, costs of the project, and if it meets any of our other goals. We do not currently have a set ranked list of streams, but tackle them as work on them is requested.

7. What can the district doing to protect farmland? Are the districts efforts sufficient? Evaluate the success of the program and what can be improved?

We are definitely making progress in the area of farmland preservation. With a strong Farmland Board and a thoughtful Farmland Plan we are all working hard to preserve our agricultural acreage. A powerful example of this can be seen in the US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistical Survey. When one compares 2002 to 2007, one can see that there has been a slight increase in the number of farms and an increase in the number of acres in agriculture here in Durham.. I think this is due in large part to the district, the Farmland Board, and the Open Space department putting emphasis on easements and our Voluntary Agriculture Districts. Although the numbers of farms in the Jordan Watershed have fallen to less-than-desirable numbers, I have been pleased with the number of hobby farms that have appeared and the number of horse operations that have come to the county. New interest on the part of the city to see more urban agriculture and the increase in the number of farmer's markets will surely cast a light on our agricultural community as well. Hopefully, it will not only lead more citizens to consider farming, but to value the farmland and the products that come from our county.

8. Many Durham residents don't know what the Soil and Water District is, or what it does. How do you propose to educate the greater Durham area about the district's work?

We have made great strides in this area over the last four years. Most recently, our water conservationist and I presented to the Durham Inter-Neighborhood Council and numerous other neighborhood associations. We have also increased our presence in Durham Public Schools through various projects at Northern, Southern, and Jordan high schools. These include our numerous contests available to students, our environmental field days, and our annual workshops for teachers.

In the future, I would like to adopt a much more aggressive approach to awareness. Our board needs to increase its visibility in many different kinds of media. In addition to our new Facebook page, we need to expand to other forms of social media. I would like us to hold forums with female and minority land owners to increase their knowledge and participation rate in our state and federal programs. During the early 90s the Soil and Water District had a television show. I believe that, by revamping that show by doing webisodes on our own YouTube channel, we could reach a younger and broader audience.

We publish a spring and fall newsletter but could be better served if we sent them out to individual neighborhood associations across the district. I would like for the board to become more visible by writing letters to the editor and presenting more often at County Commissioner meetings, City Council meetings, and the General Assembly. By increasing our presence and our voice we will continue to grow community awareness about the district, our services, and our programs.

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