Jennifer (Jenna) Austin Wadsworth | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Jennifer (Jenna) Austin Wadsworth

Wake County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor

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Full Legal Name: Jennifer Austin Wadsworth

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Jennifer (Jenna) Austin Wadsworth

Office Sought/District: Wake County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor

Date of Birth: 11/16/1988

Home & Mailing Address: 217 Gardner Street, Raleigh, NC 27607

Campaign Web Site: www.jennawadsworth.com

Occupation & Employer: Full-time Student at N.C. State University

Home Phone: (919) 915-0896

Work Phone: n/a

Email: jenna@jennawadsworth.com


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

I am a proud North Carolinian, having grown up on a local family farm which raised corn, soybeans, tobacco, cattle, and hogs. I left home early to spend a summer studying coastal geology with a state grant at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington before graduating from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. I went on to attend North Carolina State University in Raleigh, becoming active with various environmental groups and participating in grassroots efforts to lobby for bills addressing local environmental issues. I am always looking for ways to better our community and I found a big opportunity to do just that when I became involved with the Conservation District.

I became a Friend of the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District earlier this year and have been actively engaged with issues affecting the District. I attend the District's board meetings, and have visited several sites which have been appropriated District funding to comply with best management practices or with laws enacted by the General Assembly. In June, I even spoke before the Wake County Commissioners about potential budget cuts to the Soil and Water Conservation District. I have traveled around the county to meet with local farmers to discuss the issues facing them, talked with vendors at local farmers markets about their concerns, and attended meetings on farmland preservation and local foods enhancement.

I am seeking this office to help maintain our community so that Wake County continues to grace those "Best of" lists for years to come. I believe that our residents deserve clean drinking water, better management of erosion and drainage problems in their neighborhoods, as well as safe and picturesque parks for recreational needs. Citizens should be sold local foods that are indeed grown locally, and have a resource which can be counted on to assist them when it comes time to seek help for conservation needs with their homes or businesses. I hope that you will join me in my campaign to ensure a future where we move forward instead of backwards in tackling the environmental issues of today, all while keeping Wake County beautiful, taxpayers happy, and citizens healthy.

What are the most pressing natural resources issues in the county?

The most pressing natural resource issue today in Wake County concerns the Falls Lake Watershed and the quality of water which our citizens have access to. I think that we can all agree that every citizen wants- deserves, even- clean drinking water. Falls Lake was never meant to be a drinking water source, as it was created primarily for recreational needs. Through largely unregulated development, we have created an unstable situation where we are now seeing dangerous levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in the water. We need a solution to this very real problem and I believe that I am the candidate to provide that solution. Decision makers in this county must do whatever is possible to ensure environmental quality because people will not move here if they hear that homes are being built in places where homeowners do not have wells deep enough to meet their daily water needs or that they do not have a safe source of drinking water. It should also be a goal of the county to ensure that people who live here- hard working people who pay taxes and who invest in this county- have the resources necessary to maintain a certain standard of living, and it goes without saying that one of those resources should be clean water.

Another pressing issue in Wake County is farmland preservation. I want to work to preserve the state's original business engine- the family farm- by helping farmers thrive here in the capital conservation district. As someone who grew up on a family farm and who has seen the effects of the one-third decline in the number of such farms in Wake County since my birth, I realize that this is a problem which requires immediate action. With corporate farms comes less interaction between the buyer and the farmer, and perhaps less responsibility to produce products with a level of care that is seen on the local level. We need to re-examine our use of the Ag Cost Share program in the hopes of keeping more farms here.

Since a significant portion of Wake County is urban, there are also lots of drainage and erosion problems within our cities and residential neighborhoods. As we continue to develop and see an increased amount of nonporous surfaces- i.e. concrete parking lots or roads- there will be even more drainage and runoff issues. Urban run off costs a lot of money for taxpayers since that runoff generally ends up back in the water source which will have to undergo additional treatment before becoming drinkable. To promote sustainable development- which emphasizes an increased need for porous surfaces and sound environmental practices- District Supervisors will have to be more savvy with their use of Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) funds to offset some of the urban runoff.

How do you plan to address these issues? Please be specific.

Wake County is one of the top ten fastest growing counties in the nation, so problems concerning our water are just going to escalate unless we work to see real solutions implemented. As a District Supervisor, I will encourage projects and training workshops which reach out to residential, commercial, and agricultural land owners to educate them about smart decisions to make, such as reducing the amount of pesticides or lawn care products they use, or about cleaning up waste from animals or engine fluids. Although supportive of development, I believe its approach should be mindful of our natural resources and taxpayer dollars. Pursuing sound environmental practices will save Wake County taxpayers money, which is why I am in support of raising awareness about policies for low impact development, especially in our urban areas, where smart planning has to potential to lead to significant savings.

Most of our food travels an average of 1500 miles before it ends up on our plates. That is unacceptable! The detrimental effects of the economic downturn can be challenged by the personal choices we make, starting with buying local. The United States Department of Agriculture has recently started a campaign which encourages people to "know your farmer, know your food". I am a big fan of local food enhancement and will work to see locally grown products implemented into our local economy- being sold in our restaurants or our farmers markets- in order to keep money and jobs here in Wake County.

I also plan to follow the General Assembly session very closely, using my political connections to work with the Wake County delegation. Having previously worked in the legislature for elected representatives- including the former chair of the House Committee on the Environment- I have a unique understanding of the ins and outs of the lawmaking process. This will be crucially important as the legislature reconsiders the Falls Lake Rules this session, and as the Ag Rule and other sources of district funding are considered in budget negotiations.

I also believe in collaboration with neighboring districts- especially Durham- to increase the strength of our conservation efforts here in Wake. If we want to clean up Falls Lake, we are going to have to work with Durham to do that since the headwaters are located there. I have attended a Durham Soil and Water Conservation District meeting and have expressed my interest in both of our Boards of Supervisors teaming up in order to better serve us- the citizens- in the implementation of projects to clean our water.

As a District Supervisor, I will continue to utilize the local, state, and federal funds for watershed improvement projects. The Conservation District receives funding which allows for stream restorations, which will be particularly useful in the Falls Lake Watershed. Moreover, I will explore innovative and new opportunities for funding projects in the district, especially as we face the threat of budget cuts from current funding sources. We need someone in Wake County who is willing to do this because progress depends upon it, and citizens should depend on their elected officials to make progressive decisions that help to move their community forward.

Examining the current Board of Supervisors what perspective or expertise is most lacking from the group and why are you the best person to add it?

I respect the current Board of Supervisors for their commitment to ensuring conservation needs are met in Wake County. However, I feel that their current approach is lacking in that they often resign themselves to staying put in the District office and not making connections with other elected bodies which are responsible for the funding and enforcement of district policies. As an elected official, I realize that I am a public servant who must use political prowess and my connections to effectively lobby on behalf of the Conservation District. The current board is often rendered ineffective because they do not spend much time interacting with our City Councilors, County Commissioners, Legislative delegation, or federal policy makers. I have worked on campaigns for local officials to our Governor, have helped research environmental bills in our legislature, and am involved with groups- such as the Sierra Club- which will help me fight for the sound environmental policies we want enacted. In order to be an effective body, it will take the election of someone like me who understands policy and who knows how to get the face-to-face meetings necessary to keep funding here in the district so that the district can continue to serve YOU.

Voters often feel uninformed on the issues and their importance when voting for a candidate for this office. What steps would you take to increase the amount of public involvement in and understanding of the work of the Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors?

It is not just the public who feels uninformed about this race, even other governing bodies are not fully aware of the District's role in their everyday lives. There are a number of things Supervisors can do to change that, but first they should continue to focus on projects which have received District funding and become more involved in open forums which establish a dialogue about issues pertinent to the District. I would like to push a neighborhood strategy that targets homeowner associations working to green their neighborhoods through CCAP programs that encourage use of pet waste receptacles, the building of backyard rain gardens, the implementation of cisterns, and the usage of rain barrels. I would like to increase public involvement in and understanding of the work of the District by hosting a broader range of educational activities targeted toward suburban areas, perhaps through lawn care clinics and composting tutorials. Most importantly, I will make sure that the positive things the District does are publicized in the media. Issuing press releases and notifying citizens about upcoming District clinics and forums- both in print and through social media outlets- is an easy way to better the understanding of the role of the Conservation District.

I believe that I have already started to change people's outlook on this position through my campaign. Not many candidates for this race often engage in an active campaign, which I believe is problematic since people who do not know what the Board of Supervisors does have a harder time holding candidates elected to this office accountable. As the only candidate with an active online campaign, I am able to reach out to followers via social networking sites quickly to let them know what I am out doing in the community or what the Board of Supervisors discussed at their most recent meeting. I have been the only candidate actively attending board meetings since filing for this office, as well as the only one with an established committee so that I could afford purchasing campaign materials to distribute to voters with information about why this race deals with issues that are important to them. Through speaking at forums- like the 8th Annual Women's Candidate Forum at Peace College- and meeting voters- whether it be at farmers markets, local street festivals, citizen advisory council meetings, or church groups- I am increasing awareness about the Soil and Water Conservation District and I am giving people a reason to vote for this race on their ballots.

Soil and Water faced budget cuts this year. Given the state of the economy, what will you do to make sure that the board is able to complete its work with fewer resources, or what will you do to find new sources of funding?

Ag Cost Share, CREP, CCAP, and a number of other essential programs were cut from the Soil and Water budget this year. This means that the Conservation District has to plan wisely about the projects it does appropriate funding for, while also applying for 319 grants and looking for new grant opportunities and/or partnerships. All government entities are facing these budgetary issues, so it will be tough to find additional funding sources which makes my ability to use political prowess all the more important when fighting for our share of government monies.

In June, I spoke before the Wake County Commissioners about the budget cuts facing the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District because a conservationist staff position was threatening to be cut. As someone running for the Board of Supervisors, I knew that if that position was cut, the Board would become less effective and less capable of serving you, the citizens. And as someone running to make the Conservation District more effective, I want to see the District be as viable as possible and as able to do as much as possible for our community. Not only could a person have lost her job, but citizens who are required to implement and comply with the Jordan Lake and Falls Lake Rules would likely have had to do so without the expertise of District conservationists. Further more, reduced funds from the County Commissioners would likely have resulted in decreased funding from both the state and federal levels because the District would have been unable to offer the same level of services currently provided. Cuts to the district at this time would have had long reaching and detrimental effects to our county's environmental future.

I believe there are other cost saving mechanisms which the District can employ, such as creating an intern program with the local colleges for course credit for students who can help staff conservationists in the field. I would also like to re-examine the time at which the monthly board meeting is held, which is currently in the middle of the day on the third Thursday of the month. We should look at moving these meetings to an evening time slot- like the Durham Board has- so that staff can use daytime work hours for productive use. This time change would also make it easier- in my opinion- for more community members to attend, thereby increasing awareness of the District's programming and purpose.

Identify examples of how the district can best balance agricultural/rural and urban interests in regards to soil and water conservation. Point to an example of a project or initiative that accomplished this goal particularly well, in your view.

The district is currently engaged in several projects which do a good job of balancing agricultural and urban interests, most of which are made possible through the Agriculture Cost Share and CCAP grants. CCAP assistance can only be provided on lands that are not directly involved in agricultural production. The Ag Cost Share program helps to reduce agricultural sources of nonpoint source pollutants through the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs).

At the end of the summer, the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District held the annual meeting of the North Carolina Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP). The Conservation District spotlighted progressive stormwater CCAP projects here in Wake County. Conservationists gave a brief overview of each of the sites the group would be visiting during the sponsored luncheon, before everyone loaded up in vans to visit these sites. First the group visited Wiley Elementary School, where the District worked with the Parent Teacher Association, the Division of Environment and Natural Resource's (DENR) Division of Soil and Water, and North Carolina State University to install a compost blanket and compost sock seeded with fescue and rye to reduce stormwater runoff. The most interesting project was perhaps the one located in the Falls Lake Watershed in the Black Horse Run Subdivision where stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces had created such extreme gully erosion that property owners practically had a small creek running through their yard during intense rains. The runoff was being discharged into the Upper Barton Creek, which is a stream within the Falls Lake Watershed, which led to further decreased water quality in Falls Lake. The stormwater ditch installed as a project of the Conservation District's helped to decrease the velocity of the runoff and filter the pollutants before recharging the ground water supplies. A couple underground cisterns and rain gardens were also installed on the property. Interestingly, a project more focused on agricultural outputs was also completed in this same subdivision, where the District helped with both a stream restoration project so that horses would not dirty water sources leading to Falls Lake, and with a manure composting operation.

The District also works with local farmers to bring locally grown products to farmers markets held in urban areas. This is an easy way that the District can help with farmland preservation, by ensuring that farmers have a way to market and sell their product. There are some great examples of low impact development (LID) in Wake County that balance growth with sustainability. The North Carolina State University campus has experimental farms and the Centennial Campus even has green buildings. Something else I would like to see Wake Soil and Water do is engage in innovative programs like the Durham Soil and Water District has with helping to restore greenhouses- and thereby horticulture programs- on high school campuses.

Land use policy impacts the quality and quantity of our natural resources, including drinking water. In light of Wake County's rapid growth, how should the conservation district work with planning and zoning departments to protect the area's soil and water from urban runoff?

I believe that the Soil and Water Conservation District should have a voice in the Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO). Regardless of whether the District has a farm plan or if the District gets a seat on the planning committee, the District should be more involved than just saying if SEC plans are adequate or inadequate. The District understands the importance of implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) on the land, and understands the need for green spaces in downtown settings.

The board's FY 2010 Work Plan promises "the most extensive 'make over' the District has ever seen" and promises a "progressive and modern" approach. What does that mean to you and how has the board performed in meeting its stated goal?

To me, this means that the Board wants to balance being an urban, suburban, and rural district. The Work Plan incorporates traditional funding methods with possible new methods to increase its budget so that it can host forums and informational sessions in the community about the work it does, as well as continuing to implement projects- like easements, stream restorations, well closures, fencing livestock out of streams, sediment control structures, cropland conversion to permanent vegetation, nutrient management, and so much more- which funding has been allocated for. The Work Plan also stressed the need to expand environmental education in the public schools, like we saw through the project completed at Wiley Elementary School, and through programs such as the biannual Big Sweep (where community volunteers and civic groups spend several hours cleaning litter and trash out of local watersheds). Most importantly, the Work Plan suggests the importance of building and/or mending relationships with other government bodies, and hints at working closely with neighboring districts in order to take ideas for new conservation programs to the Area and State wide level of Conservation Districts, where Wake should be seen as a leader amongst conservation districts across North Carolina. I believe the Board does a good job at standing out amongst other districts across the state, since we have a diverse makeup of urban and rural needs and receive the same amount of certain government funds as counties smaller than our own. This challenge has forced Wake to look at partnering with organizations- such as N.C. State University, DENR, school PTAs, and private landowners- to complete more projects at a lower total cost to the District.

What's the most pressing and vital concern for Wake County farmers? How will you address it while making sure that land is protected?

The most pressing concern for Wake County farmers is being able to keep their land and continue to make money without having to be bought out by developers. As I mentioned several times earlier, I will fight for farmland preservation. The General Assembly made farmland preservation a recurring budget item in the last session, but the two million dollars it allocated for the cause is not nearly enough to meet the needs of endangered farms across this large state. To increase funding for this purpose, it is necessary for the District to raise awareness about why local farms are vital to preserving our community's quality of life so that citizens will communicate the desire to preserve the family farm to their legislators. Another way to protect farmers and their land is to find money for easements, which can help farmers keep their land workable. The local food movement and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs also help to ensure that farmers have a place here in Wake County as consumers become more conscious of where their food comes from.

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