William Cole | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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William Cole

Candidate for Wake County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisors


Name as it Appears on the Ballot: William Cole

Date of Birth: 11/24/1958

Campaign Web Site: none

Occupation & Employer: Sr. Business Consultant, Blue Cross/Blue Shield

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

I feel that a balanced perspective is needed for the management of our natural resources. Historically board members have fallen into one of several camps; the environmental, the agricultural, and the urban property owner. We need a management approach that balances the needs of all these constituencies.

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

  • Availability of fresh water

  • Land management

  • Wildlife management

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

  • Fresh Water - We need to look beyond our present approach to water management. Watersheds don't respect political boundaries. We need to work cooperatively with neighboring SWCBs to manage our mutual water supply. Developing a wide-area conservation strategy is critical for the future. The end goal here is to proactively manage water resources, instead of waiting for State government to declare a water emergency.

  • Land management -- There's an extremist faction of property owners who advocate absolute rights of control over property. On the other side there's the Environmental faction that advocates heavy regulation of land use. Somewhere in the middle ground lies a reasonable future course. I don't know precisely what that middle ground is, but I can give you my own views of land management, broken down into three interlocking ideas:
    • The environment is a closed system. The chemicals we use in the environment don't disappear, they go somewhere.
    • Absolute property rights are a fiction. Don't believe me? Try dumping 100 gallons of mercury or arsenic into a hole in your back yard. I guarantee you that several three-letter government agencies will soon be hauling you into court on criminal charges. This doesn't include the civil lawsuits once your neighbors find out...
    • Property rights are not perpetual. We only "own" something so long as we are alive on this earth. Afterward those rights pass on to someone else. The rights of ownership come with a responsibility of stewardship to those who come behind us.

  • Wildlife management - This is an area that I feel has been shortchanged in past discussions. Wildlife is an important aspect of soil & water conservation. What concerns me the most is that there seems to be little data on the composition of fish populations in our watersheds, and the effects of local water pollution on those fish. I would specifically like to see testing done for heavy metal accumulation in the bodies of local fish. Additionally, Wake County has a chronic overpopulation of Deer, resulting in increasing numbers of auto accidents, and incidences of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Our SWCB needs to be a part of discussions with local sportsmen on solutions to managing the overpopulation of Deer (and other species who have lost their natural predators).

4. What, if any, permanent water conservation measures should be implemented in Wake County? What usage goal, in gallons per day, should be set for residential customers? Industrial/ commercial customers? How can the county achieve these reduction goals?

Mandatory conservation measures are the last solution I would consider for managing water resources. Mandatory conservation measures are appropriate only for temporary emergency drought conditions.

5. On a related note, which do you favor—voluntary or mandatory measures? Which do you believe is more effective and why?

Voluntary measures supported by market forces are by far the most efficient mechanism for conservation. My preferred approach is to use price controls to moderate usage. By using water pricing to control use, the decision is given to the consumer as to the most efficient use of that resource.

6. Thousands of Wake County residents rely on groundwater and domestic wells for their drinking water. How should the county address the quantity and quality needs of those customers?

I think the Wake SWCB is doing a good job of providing water quality support services for groundwater users. It is not clear to me how widely these are services are known to county residents.

The quantity issue is a tougher problem. Irrigation and commercial operations put much greater stress on the water table than the average rural user. There needs to be some type of regulatory solution to prevent our shared water table from being exploited by a few users.

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

This is a non-question. It assumes that agricultural/rural and urban users have competing interests when it comes to soil and water conservation. Though they may approach solutions differently, I believe that both parties have a vested interest in achieving the same goal – maintaining the quantity and quality of our Soil and Water resources

8. How should economic incentives be used to protect the area's natural resources? What are the financial resources for these incentives?

Aside from those outlined in question 5, I don't believe that specific detailed economic incentives are that effective in the long term. The problem is that our economy is not a static system – it's continuously changing. For instance, incentives created for the small farmer of 30 years ago would have unintended consequences with the consolidation of small farms in today's agricultural economy.

9. 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?

This is another area where regulatory solutions are needed to curb property rights for the common good. We need mandatory development guidelines on buffer areas and riparian (wetland) zones to manage urban runoff. Most of this work needs to be coordinated by the flood water control arm of the SWCB.

10. Tropical Storm Hanna resulted in flash flooding of Crabtree Creek and parts of Crabtree Valley Mall parking areas. Is this an area of concern for storm water runoff? Identify other areas in the county with similar problems and how they should be mitigated.

The situation with Crabtree Valley Mall is a classic case of bad planning. This area was a known flood zone, yet development of the Mall proceeded anyway. And we pay the price for it every year. We have to realize that there are some areas in Wake County that will always be prone to flooding. We also need to remember that storm water runoff is not just an urban problem, it happens in rural Wake County also. For better or worse, we are blessed with a thin layer of topsoil over clay, which means that significant amounts of water will runoff in heavy rain.

Storm water runoff is difficult to mitigate without massive civil engineering programs (for example, the flood control channels in Los Angeles County). Our best short-term approach is to institute real-time monitoring of stream/river levels to allow for some level of advance preparedness (even if it's just minutes). This issue also ties into water quality, as storm water runoff is the leading cause of pollution into our watersheds.

11. Assess the effectiveness of the voluntary agricultural district, which is designed to increase the visibility of farms and to support Wake County farmers.

I think it's done a fair job of raising the visibility of Wake County farmers to the urban population. I believe it's also imparted a positive image for farmers to the rest of Wake County. Has it raised enough visibility or political capital to convince urban residents to make sacrifices on behalf of farmers? No.

12. What funding issues are facing the Soil and 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?

Having no insights into the SWCB budget prevents me from commenting on details of funding. As far as alternate funding sources, there are government grants from the EPA and other Federal agencies that could be leveraged for individual projects – like fish population studies or real-time monitoring of stream & rivers in our watershed. I would aggressively pursue these funding options.

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