By Carolyn Diana
The residents of Kalamazoo would be knee deep in storm water flooding if it wasn’t for a very important elected official, whose job mostly goes unnoticed: The Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner.
Patricia Crowley has held the position since 2008. She is up for reelection in an uncontested race. The two main issues she faces are flooding and protection of water; the area would be full of swamps without her job and the work of the people in her office.
“Drainage is one of the most essential things associated with doing business or living in a place,” Crowley said. “You don’t really think about it until it doesn’t work but it is one of the most critical functions that we have, just like drinking water, knowing where your waste goes and construction so it’s a fundamental process that is very important to the economy of an area.”
Duane Hampton, an associate professor in the Geosciences Department at Western Michigan University, said that Crowley deals with this “unique” position and the ongoing problems of drainage in this area very well. Hampton is an associate professor of physical hydrogeology and groundwater modeling with a Ph.D. in civil engineering and a B.S in geology.
“The drain commissioner doesn’t get credit for the important role that she plays in the environment. They preserve wetlands, they deal with contaminated sediments, with flooding, because if you don’t maintain the drain they usually clog and they flood. So there’s all kinds of things going on with the drains,” Hampton said.
Crowley has been in office for eight years and has accomplished more than any of her predecessors because of her unique outlook and diverse background, according to Hampton.
“She brings to the table a whole rich, diverse background. She was a Peace Corps volunteer; she has a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering, which is, amongst other things, drainage. She knows how to work with people. And all of these skills come together and have enabled her to sail smoothly through very choppy seas whereas not so much for her predecessors for the last 30 years,” Hampton said.
The water problems and drainage issues, that came from heavy storms this past summer along with Kalamazoo in general being very wet lands, are an ongoing battle that Crowley is working hard on, according to Hampton.
Although Crowley’s job is essential to the ecosystems of Kalamazoo and the citizens alike, many people don’t know that without her job of draining WMU and the entire Kalamazoo area would be one giant swamp, like it was many years ago.
Western Michigan University senior and employee at the Office of Sustainability, Natalie Bond, worked with Crowley at the Kalamazoo County Fair on her floodplain model, which is an interactive and fun way to show people the importance of wetlands and designing communities in a way that keeps flood disasters from happening.
“Without drain commissioners, we would literally be under water,” Bond said. “The drain commissioner’s job is to develop and correct flooding and drainage issues. Each City needs someone to do this important job, in order to keep our homes and communities healthy and safe. Another large part of the drain commissioner’s job is to educate community members on ways they can assist in keeping their city flood-free.”
Most citizens and students don’t know the importance of the job of the drain commissioner and how much her job is a part of citizens daily lives, according to Bond. The work of the drain commissioner can be seen pretty much everywhere in the community.
“We are really trying to do a better job to get the public to understand how they can do a better job in keeping the environment cleaner. It’s pretty important and for rainfall and storm water that’s a big part of it,” Crowley said.