Blog: Pam Labadie

Pam has been drinking water from the Huron River since she moved to Ann Arbor in 1999, and before that for four years while she attended the University of Michigan as an undergrad.

In addition to her role as marketing director for the Huron River Watershed Council, Pam and her family protect the river by conserving water with a 1.5 gallon per minute low-flow shower head, limiting showers to five minutes, and collecting rooftop runoff in a couple of rain barrels for use with flowers and their vegetable garden.

Pam has worked in sales and marketing for roughly 12 years, after a brief stint as a lawyer. She has been with HRWC for four years -- her first foray into the world of environmental nonprofits, where every day she is grateful to work with such an amazing group of knowledgeable and dedicated professionals.

Pam Labadie - Most Recent Posts:

Post 3: The United Nations of the Huron River

I recently found myself in a conference room at Columbia College in Chicago surrounded by a diverse group of thoughtful, articulate, focused nonprofit communicators.  These were folks from every size and shape of nonprofit – service organizations like Women Employed, Christopher House, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy, and government coalitions like Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council. We all had one thing in common – our desire to create strategic communications plans and use our organizational values to craft strong messages.

Our leader, the venerable president and co-founder of Community Media Workshop, was Thom Clark. CMW is an organization dedicated to providing communications coaching for grassroots, arts and other nonprofit organizations. Thom has over 35 years as an editor, photojournalist and social enterprise entrepreneur in Chicago's nonprofit sector and he was at the Making Media Connections conference to teach us how to tell people what our organization does in less than five minutes.

Fondly known as "The Elevator Speech," the idea is to state a common easily-understood problem, how your organization solves it, and the benefit to your listener. Then according to Thom, you are supposed to launch into a funny or startling metaphor that makes your work familiar. Thom advised that the metaphor could be a fairy tale, jingle or ad campaign, biblical, musical, cultural . . . the idea was try to find something memorable.

As we did the elevator speech exercise, thoughts raced through my mind. How am I going to describe an organization whose work is as varied and complex as the 10 staff members who run it in one or two minutes? What funny or startling metaphors could possibly apply? Is the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) like the head coach of a Big Ten football team, coordinating a win of each game and ultimately the conference title? Or is it more like a primary care practitioner working with specialists taking care of a patient with cancer? Is it like the Round Table where knights come together to pledge allegiance to King Arthur and Camelot? Or is it like Dumbledore's Army, sworn to protect the both the magical and muggle worlds from Voldemort and his Death Eaters?  Thom, to his credit, encouraged us to relax and be creative – "It's called brainstorming," he said.

So here it is. HRWC is like the United Nations for the Huron River. We are a multi-jurisdictional organization that facilitates cooperation among a varied group of Southeastern Michigan communities in protecting and revitalizing the single natural feature that we all have in common – the river. We work with elected community leaders, government employees, businesses, other nonprofits and concerned individuals that share the goal of providing clean drinking water, river-related recreation and economic and ecological prosperity to our area.

Like the UN, whose role has expanded from its original mission of stopping wars between countries, HRWC's role has expanded. HRWC was established by law in 1965 to address river pollution. Our work now includes coordinating programs and volunteer efforts that include pollution prevention and abatement, hands-on citizen education and river monitoring, natural resource planning, mass media education and information, and wetland and floodplain protection.

We have a few publicly recognized programs. For 20 years, Adopt-A-Stream has sent hundreds of volunteers out into the watershed to identify and count river bugs that are sensitive to water pollution and habitat changes. The newer Huron River Water Trail is a collaborative effort to develop recreation on the river and economic opportunity for the communities along it through better access and easy-to-get information.

But we also work on many programs that are less visible to the public. There's our work in coordinating water quality monitoring and developing outreach materials for communities managing stormwater regulatory compliance. There's our River Scouts program that teaches canoers and kayakers about the Scenic Rivers Section of the Huron and enlists their help in protecting its natural habitat as they paddle a section of the river rich in fish, wildlife, vegetation and scenic beauty. And the Bioreserve program, working to map and prioritize the remaining natural areas in the watershed for preservation.

Like the UN, we have a dedicated professional staff. HRWC staff members include watershed planners with backgrounds in environmental management, conservation biology, and public policy; and ecologists with expertise in aquatic macro-invertebrates, fish ecology, GIS analysis, and code and ordinance development. Our executive director was the first to earn a joint MBA and MS (in natural resource policy) at the University of Michigan.  Our stewardship coordinator has over 10 years experience working with and developing volunteers in environmental conservation specifically.

Like the UN, when action needs to be taken, HRWC steps in. We restore stream banks, put in rain gardens, sell rain barrels, install detention basins, hold workshops and find project funding.

Like the UN's work in world peace, HRWC remains the only environmental organization dedicated solely to the health of the Huron River. Fortunately we have a lot of help. Individuals, local businesses, and more than 40 communities currently support our work through voluntary membership. Hundreds of volunteers work with us. And over the years, HRWC has accomplished its goals through the use of technical data, factual information and citizen stewardship to influence decisions made by various local agencies, businesses, and the people who live within the watershed.

Post 2: RiverUp! The Time Has Come

RiverUp! is a new initiative to create a river renaissance for the communities along the length of the Huron River. Responding to a call to action from Congressman John Dingell, a highly-charged group of business leaders, community activists and city officials are launching a new effort to make a healthy Huron River into a vital economic and recreational resource for our communities, and a destination for visitors from far and wide.

Starting with the pilot effort RiverUp! Ann Arbor, and quickly expanding to Ypsilanti and other river communities, this group plans fix-up, clean-up and build-up along the Huron River corridor by building canoe and kayak portages, reclaiming old industrial properties, and shaping a Huron River Water Trail.  Through RiverUp!, communities will turn to face the river and will realize their recreational, ecological and environmental potential.

I recently became aware of the RiverUp! initiative through my work at the Huron River Watershed Council. Through HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin and Watershed Planner Elizabeth Riggs, who are both working on the project, we bring our organizational expertise in river ecology and natural resource policy and planning to the table.

Some great minds have risen to the RiverUp! challenge. Leaders of the initiative include John Carver, co-founder of National Wildlife Federation's President's Council; Ray Pittman, retired executive director of Ford Europe; Paul Dimond, expert in conservation law and author of children's literature; Dr. Thomas Buhr, board member of Anglers of the Au Sable and editor of The Riverwatch;  Andy Buchsbaum, director of National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters Coalition; Steve Hamp, former vice president and chief of staff of Ford Motor Company; and Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company.

Recognizing that the Huron River is "the jewel in nature's crown that runs through our very back yards," these local leaders and more seek to ensure the life of this incredible Southeastern Michigan resource for future generations. Like San Antonio's famed River Walk or Baltimore's Inner Harbor, they want the Huron to be an asset, not an afterthought. The initiative's long term plan is to invest in recreation infrastructure, improve the ecological health of the river, and transform it into a premier destination for people throughout Michigan.

The RiverUp! approach is "whole river" from Milford through Ypsilanti and down to below Flat Rock. It will include cleaning up historically contaminated areas and restoring more natural shorelines and river flows. It will augment existing and future efforts to develop park systems that provide access and venues for canoeing, kayaking, rowing, biking, walking, swimming and fishing, just to name a few. Goals include improving recreational access and making the river corridor a destination location that includes B&Bs, waterfront restaurants, riverside cultural attractions, and places for community events.

The Huron River Water Trail, as reported by Concentrate back in May 2011, is a major initiative of RiverUp!

The public has a unique opportunity to come learn more about RiverUp! and its pilot efforts in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti at a "River Up! Launch" on Tuesday, August 16, 1:30-2:30pm at Island Park in Ann Arbor. There will be light refreshments and live music. Congressman John D. Dingell, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, Ypsilanti Mayor Jerry Jung, HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin, and Tom Woiwode, director of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, will talk.

The time has come for us all to RiverUp!

Post 1: Save Water, Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet

Many Michiganders take water for granted. We think our water is abundant, that it is constantly replenished and ever flowing. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

While our water supply might seem abundant, the facts tell a different story. Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population nearly doubled, while our use of water through public supplies more than tripled. According to the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency, at least 36 states anticipate some degree of water shortage by 2013. Even communities in the Chicago area face supply issues and are investing planning resources to ensure the availability of clean water for household and commercial use in decades to come.

In Southeastern Michigan, water supply concerns due to population growth do not have the same urgency as in other parts of the country. However, scientists tell us that climate change is a factor that could impact our water supplies in the future. Over time, our region will likely see longer, hotter summers, changing precipitation patterns, longer droughts, bigger storms, more widely varying stream flows, altered stream channels, changing floodplains, earlier snow melt, and more invasive species. The Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) considered these impacts of climate change on the watershed from a variety of local perspectives in its quarterly newsletter, Huron River Report, Climate Change Edition, Winter 2009.
We have an interest in ensuring the future of our drinking water – the Huron River provides 85% of the water for residents of the city of Ann Arbor. Other Huron River watershed communities get their water from underground aquifers or surface waters such as the Clinton River, the Detroit River, the Rouge River, and the Ecorse River in the U.S., and from several rivers in Canada. If you want to know where yours comes from, my fellow HRWC staff members have posted a new map here.

Right now, there's a lot of local conversation about reducing energy use. Home weatherization, hybrid cars, compact fluorescent and LED lighting are at the top of the list. Yet, most people do not realize that the energy used to pump, heat, deliver, and treat the water we use every day is much more than a drop in the bucket. In the U.S., it accounts for more than 13% of our total electrical energy.

In addition, water has its own carbon footprint. Gas emissions from water-related energy consumption account for about 5% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions annually, or 290 million metric tons. This is the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 53 million passenger vehicles or the annual electricity use of over 40 million homes.

By using a little "water sense" we can all use water and energy more efficiently and preserve our nation's energy and water supplies for future generations. The key to saving our water is thinking about our habits. Each American uses an average of 100 gallons of water a day. We can cut that by as much as 30 percent through a few simple steps.

First, we need to be more aware of how we use water. Most of us don't realize that leaving the tap open during a daily ritual like brushing our teeth can use up to eight gallons of water. That's the same amount as the average person drinks in 16 days. By turning the tap off, you'll use just half a gallon.

Second, technology is making water efficiency easier than ever. Efficient appliances and fixtures are cost-effective and can dramatically reduce your daily water use.

High-performance, high-efficiency toilets can cut your indoor water use by about 16 percent. A new crop of dishwashers and washing machines are using considerably less water than conventional models. Point-of-use water heaters prevent excess water use while waiting for the hot water to reach the faucet or shower.

Third, we can change the way we use water outside our homes too. Many people don't realize that 30 percent of household water is used outdoors, typically for irrigation. Use drought-tolerant native plants that thrive on rainfall; rain barrels for capturing and reusing rooftop runoff; and if you have to, a well-maintained sprinkler system that produces droplets, not mist, and which includes timers, rain shut-off devices, and moisture sensors, will reduce excess water use and runoff.

HRWC is launching a new Save Water Save Energy campaign that seeks to educate homeowners about water-efficient plumbing products, water saving habits and practices, and shows how saving water at home translates into saving money and energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It includes a website with top water saving tips, and helpful tools and calculators. Future plans are to offer a "showerhead tryout week," how-to workshops, an online pledge and monthly tips and information by email.

A key component of the Save Water Save Energy effort is our new partnership with an EPA program that seeks to help protect and preserve the nation's water supply by promoting efficiency. WaterSense® offers a simple way to make product choices that use less water. Just look for the WaterSense label at your local retailer. Toilets, faucets and shower heads that meet EPA specifications are independently tested to perform as well as or better than conventional models with no sacrifice to quality or product performance.

To learn more, join HRWC at an upcoming Save Water Save Energy Breakfast on Tuesday, August 2, from 8 to 9am.  We're teaming up with the Clean Energy Coalition for this "free bagels and coffee" event at HRWC's offices on the Huron River, 1100 North Main, just south of the M-14 exit.

We'll teach homeowners about how easy it is to reduce water use. Water efficiency kits will be available for demonstration and for purchase, including a water-saving shower head, three faucet aerators, a toilet tank bank (reducing flushes by 0.8 gallons), a toilet leak detection kit, and information on other ways to save. The $25 kit can save an average Ann Arbor family of four over $300 on their annual water and energy bills!

You can sign up at Save Water Breakfast or on find the event on HRWC's Facebook page.

If you look at the numbers they certainly add up. Saving water is smart, cost-effective, and easy. In short, it's a good idea!