Spokane Watershed Heroes 2008

Julian Powers & Jane Cunningham  --  Buell and Donna Hollister

an interview with Julian Powers & Jane Cunningham

December 4, 2008  (JO - John Osborn, RPO - Rachael Paschal Osborn

JO:  how did you come to become an activist – and why did you focus on the Spokane Aquifer and River?

Julian:  I was on a train in Indonesia.  It was a hot, dirty, noisy place.  In the corner between 2 cars there was a young woman feeding her baby from a large Coca Cola bottle.  A rowdy group of men stood in another corner.  One man came over, the man and woman argued some, he left, he came back, argued again, then he grabbed the bottle, threw it out the open window and I could hear it crash on the rocks below.  That seemed to be an affront to the environment as well as the young woman.

Jane:  Julian, what about global warming?

Julian:  In 1975 a boss of mine retired.  I asked him "Hi Howie, what are you doing?"  "I'm writing a book about global warming." I hadn't heard of global warming so asked, "what is that?"  He had made engineering estimates of the warming of the climate extrapolating from population growth, the increase in mechanization (more cars, trucks, etc.) and then exrapolated to what the climate would be as late as 2100.  His projections are pretty dire.  He had no benefit of computer technology or teams of researchers.  A very smart man,  a PhD,  assistant U.S. head of DARPA.the head of the Research Lab at Santa Barbara Research Center {owned by General Motors), etc. .  The name of the book is Hothouse Earth, Howard Å. Wilcox.  I've bought and given away 8 copies of his book in the attempt to influence people.  That was when I first understood a little bit about about global warming.   I've written letters-to-the-editor on global warming for the last decade.

JO:  Jane, how did you get started?

Jane:  I've been an environmentalist for a long time. After my first husband died and the children left home, I met Julian and things came together.  There was an Earth Day celebration at Church, which we organized.  It was the first one here in Spokane, I think.  Julian was interested in bike riding and that led to him being on the Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board.  Sheri Barnard appointed him.  Julian went further into transportation with Al-trans (now Transportation Choices).

I was doing things with our Church on simplifying lifestyles and reducing pollutants and so forth. I got interested people together in the church – 5 groups of 7-8 people – and we studied, weighed our garbage, energy use, water use, and transportation  miles in our households, then tracked our usage reductions.  I still keep track of our own usage with our utility and energy bills. We also worked on church recycling.

Then the Gingrich revolution came and we saw all these horrible things happening to the environment, and so we started getting involved in the political network.  Julian worked on clean air and I got involved with Washington Environmental Council, and later, The Lands Council.  We went to a meeting at the library -- I can't remember who started it, but we got involved in the BNSF deal.  There were 7-8 people there.  Was Richard Rush at one of those first meetings?  I don't remember who the leader was.  That started our work together on Aquifer issues.  That's how we first met Rachael too.  Working to protect the Aquifer and River kind of grew on us.  But water has always been one of my major concerns.  I grew up at lake where I went swimming every summer.  I was sent to the lake cabin to be with my grandmother – and had a wonderful time just doing whatever I wanted to – in the lake, swimming, rafting, canoeing.  Both my father and my first husband were fishermen.

JO:  Can you describe a little more your involvement in the Aquifer protection effort?

Jane:  We got acquainted with Buell & Donna Hollister about that time.  It seemed like we were going to a lot of meetings together.

Julian:  The most significant involvement on that was a public meeting held in Idaho.  They wanted people to testify, so I testified and the Hearing Examiner's report did include my invoking of the Precautionary Principle.

Jane:  We got those beautiful atlases on the Aquifer and became quite concerned about the whole thing.

JO:  Did the Aquifer Atlas influence your efforts?

Jane:  It gave us more information.  We could see more clearly the problems with the River and the Aquifer.  I don't think it was "eureka!"  --  as I look back on our activism, one thing led to another.

Julian:  The Atlas was/is very interesting.  All you have to do is use your head a little bit and the water contamination threat becomes obvious.  BNSF wanted to put that refueling depot where it owned land and where the tracks were going through.  But that location was also a place with fast movement of water underground.  If they would have gone a few miles away, they could have put the depot where there was a geologic rise and movement of groundwater therefore was quite slow – a far superior place on the assumption there may be a leak.

Jane:  Julian was acquainted with Stan Miller who was a source of information.  We went to SINES [Society of Inland Northwest Environmental Scientists].  We would see movies, read book and articles.

JO:  Could you describe your involvement in helping protect the Spokane Aquifer and River?

Jane:  Basically, Julian writes letters and testifies. I do that too to a limited extent.  We've always tried to influence other people.  I also participated  in The Land Council's water program and on the "Middle and Little Spokane River" watershed planning committee.  I learned a lot and  and made a few suggestions - which were very much changed in the final document.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that you need to support legal action and do political things – that's the only way you're going to make any kind of change in the ways things are.

My "election comments" all started when certain interests  wanted to pack the school board with creationists.  Most of my information came from reading the daily papers every day. Now I clip out political information on all local candidates.  I got interested in local politics with Lisa Brown's campaign – her very first one.  We've followed her for a long time.  Actually, Dave Crandall who worked for the Public Lands council recruited us into WEnPac (Now Washington Environmental Voters). As we've interviewed candidates and worked on their campaigns I've learned more.  So now, the comments that I write for each election have kind of blossomed and gone out via the internet and word of mouth and have, I think, been my best environmental and social justice contribution.  It's because, having followed the local political scene I know the people.  I read every single day's  newspaper.  When  we go on a trip I have them saved.  Now there's a lot of secondary distribution of my comments about candidates.

Julian:  How did I get involved with water?  It just seemed so logical – water is absolutely crucial and the City of Spokane only has one water source, the aquifer. But the important thing is that the Spokane River, in slack times, will not support the fish or be pure enough to drink.  As you know, warning signs are posted for immigrants who eat the fish out of the Spokane River because in some places the fish are too contaminated.  This is a very important issue.

JO:  Julian and Jane, you were always there.

Julian:  I just wrote a few things.

Jane:  You showed up.

RPO:  As Woody Allen says, half of life is showing up.

Julian:   Both Jane and I served on the board of Friends of the Aquifer. FOA had a significant role in this issue.  I was educated and worked as an engineer.  People should follow the data and you can't really argue against facts.  Truth will win out – although it takes a long time sometimes.  How many years, John did you publish and were the sole work force on TLC?

JO:  Jane and Julian, your work together is …

Julian:  More than the sum of the parts?

JO:  Yes,  like 1 plus 1 equals 5.  Could you talk about your work together?

Jane:  A a lot of meetings we went together – the water meetings usually.  It was just the way we reinforced one another.  As far the political things go:  I write them, he types them, I correct them, and he sends them out.  We just try to help each other.

Julian:  1 plus 1 equal 3, perhaps not 5.  It's a synergistic relationship.  It really works.

JO:  I want to close by asking you both --- why should regular citizens get involved in the Spokane Aquifer and River?  What advice would you give to people?

Julian:  If people would really understand how significant an adequate supply of clean water is, they would all be much more concerned about where things are.   The water coming from Idaho into Washington is at the legal limits of pollution so NO additional contamination can be added to our water supply yet all water users obviously add some contaminates.  It is imperative that Idaho not continue to contaminate the water coming to Washington.   Usable water is critical.  It's not just that fish die in the hot part of the summer – it's that the polluted water is here and when water is polluted, people will suffer.  It's a human rights issue.  What can you do without water?

Jane:  Global warming is so much on my mind. Water is a matter of life and death. This area -- where my family is -- we are lucky to have the environment that we do have.  The future looks pretty grim for a lot of places.  One of the reasons is because they are running out of water. Even here it may soon be a matter of life and death for my grandchildren.  Anyway, that's how I feel about water.

Julian, with help, organized a series of four community presentations on "Religions and the Environment".  They were held in Gonzaga's large auditorium.   Panels of pastors and representatives of a number of religions told what their congregations  believed and were taking actions on relative to the environment.

Julian:  Yes, people came out of the woodwork.   The torch has passed.