Plenary Session 2
From Neighborhood to Nation: Getting Better all the Time
Getting the Nation RainReady
Harriet Festing, Center for Neighborhood Technology
Elizabeth Rafferty's South Side Chicago home flooded four times in two years, causing an estimated $75,000 in damage. At one point, her basement filled with 5 ft of murky sewage water in less than an hour. That was the day Rafferty found the family's large oak dining room table crashing into the basement walls and the clothes dryer bobbing upside down in the water. Bad luck sometimes creates bad luck—Rafferty's flood insurance was canceled after her third flood. Rafferty is one of millions of homeowners across Illinois affected by urban flooding, defined as the inundation of property in a built environment caused by rain overwhelming the capacity of drainage systems such as storm sewers. Flooding can affect neighborhoods and homes in several ways: back-up through property floor drains, tubs, toilets, and sinks; seepage through foundation walls and basement floors; direct entry through windows, doors, or other openings; and overland flow from rivers, streams, and coastal areas. As cities, towns, and suburbs have developed to accommodate increasing population, more impervious surfaces have increased stormwater runoff, and natural drainage systems have been replaced with pipes and tunnels. In many cities, this infrastructure is aging, poorly maintained, and undersized. As a result, stormwater can overflow with devastating flood effects even after modest events. In Illinois, over 90 percent of the properties damaged are outside the floodplains. There's a clear link between the solutions to Elizabeth's misery, and the management of Illinois rivers—the stormwater runoff that causes billions of dollars of flood damage to homes and businesses is also a major threat to the vitality of the state's rivers and streams. So, imagine the power of bringing together flood victims and healthy river advocates around a coordinated program of action both locally and nationally. This is the essence of RainReady, a national program launched in 2014 by the Chicago-based nonprofit the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). RainReady helps individuals and communities find solutions to the problems of too much and too little water. Participating communities and residents are provided with planning and implementation services to improve stormwater management in ways that bring wider benefits to the community and water resources.
Harriet Festing, water program director at CNT, will describe the research, programs, and policies that underpin RainReady and CNT's work protecting American homes, businesses, and water resources in a changing climate.
Seeking Continuous Improvement in Farm Conservation Practices
Jon Scholl, University of Illinois
Farmers and landowners have made a lot of progress implementing conservation practices to protect soil and water. Significant public resources have been invested to assist with these efforts. More recently, technology has provided options that bring a new and exciting level of precision to the use and management of crop inputs. But the fact remains that there is a lot of work yet to be done. Vexing problems still challenge our ability to keep nutrients in their proper place and targeted to their intended purpose. Issues of soil health are becoming more prevalent. Regulatory pressures continue to build and the patience of others impacted by the off-site and cumulative effect of such problems is waning.
These are complex and difficult problems to address. Farmers and the public share the desire for a clean environment. Everyone wants abundant, high quality, reasonably priced food. Farmers are concerned about acquiring and maintaining economic security that will allow them to provide a reasonable standard of living for their family and to pass along a viable farm to the next generation. Balancing these and potentially other goals in the context of addressing environmental problems where the source and contribution of such problems is often unclear presents significant challenges. Devising a course of action that brings sustained environmental improvement often conflicts with choices farmers must make to protect the economic viability of their family farm.
This presentation will look at the progress and difficulty farmers and landowners have seen in managing their soil and water resources. It will address alternative courses of action and look at examples that provide the best opportunity to sustain long-term progress in achieving multiple goals on the farm. It will promote the idea of “continuous improvement” as the central idea in the conservation ethic practiced in farmers’ and landowners’ daily decision making.
Jon Scholl teaches agricultural policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as part of an experiential learning program focused upon a hands-on, real-world approach to learning. He served five years as president of American Farmland Trust (AFT), where he refocused the organization on a mission of protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices, and helping keep farmers on the land. He successfully led the organization through the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression. Under his leadership, AFT increased its credibility as a national advocate on land conservation issues and a convener of divergent interest groups consisting of farmers, consumers, and environmentalists. Prior to leading AFT, Jon served as counselor to the administrator for agricultural policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) in the George W. Bush administration. At U.S. EPA, Scholl led the development of the first national agricultural strategy, first agricultural advisory committee, and the first agency-wide cross-media agriculture team. He also helped direct agency regulations on animal feeding operations, spill prevention, clean air rules, and emission reporting requirements. In 2007, Scholl provided counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture farm bill team on conservation provisions. Prior to his work at U.S. EPA, Scholl was executive assistant to the president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. He also served as the director of public policy, director of national legislation, and director of natural resources. Over his 25 years with Illinois Farm Bureau, he worked with the Illinois congressional delegation and coordinated several legislative initiatives at state and local levels. Jon is a partner in a family farming operation in McLean County, Illinois that grows corn and soybeans and generates wind power. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1978 with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural science. He was the recipient of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Award of Merit in 2008. He is currently serving on the board of directors of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. He is the former chairman of the Illinois FFA Foundation.