On Jan. 18, Gambier Mayor Leeman Kessler ’04 attended a reception in Washington hosted by the Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as part of the 92nd Winter Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors (UCSM). The reception primarily focused on environmental issues, with an emphasis on water sustainability, and was held in coordination with Climate Mayors, Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative and C40 Cities.
Although UCSM is limited to mayors of municipalities of 30,000 people or more, Kessler was invited through Climate Mayors to attend various receptions that took advantage of the larger conference. For the Village of Gambier, which has experienced regular water leaks since before Kessler’s time as mayor due to a “legacy system” of water pipes, the reception provided an opportunity to discuss ways to protect smaller communities. Kessler emphasized the benefits of being able to meet with and speak to Mayor of Cleveland Justin Bibb about Ohio-specific issues regarding water loss that affect both Gambier and Cleveland.
“It was a really fantastic opportunity,” Kessler said in an interview with the Collegian. “I think it was useful for folks who are used to talking about big-city and larger-municipal concerns to hear how folks who are in that last mile or those smaller communities are impacted, and how policy needs to reflect those concerns as well.”
Also present at UCSM were John Podesta, who spoke on behalf of the White House’s Office on Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who discussed ways that smaller municipalities can benefit from federal funding to address water sustainability and climate change.
Unlike larger municipalities, Gambier does not draw its own water, according to Kessler. Instead, the Village purchases water from Mount Vernon, then resells it through the Village and to Kenyon. In comparing the amount of water purchased to the amount of water resold, Gambier has been able to identify vast quantities of water loss over time. Though leaks are regularly identified and repaired, Kessler expressed the difficulties of working with a legacy water system.
“It’s a long process, a difficult process,” Kessler said. “You’re sort of playing whack-a-mole at times because when you relieve pressure in one area, it gets increased elsewhere.”
While the event in Washington was a large-scale gathering dedicated to water sustainability efforts, Kessler emphasized that similar, smaller-scale efforts are often made within the Village and Kenyon as well. The internship program between the Village Council and the College, dedicated to mapping water loss locations and utilizing geographic information system technology, has helped Kessler and Village Council discover new areas of water leaks.
“We’ve been very grateful that we’re able to work with some truly fantastic students,” Kessler said. “I think there’s some opportunities to continue making use of the talent that we have right here in our own village.”
Kessler emphasized that the reception in Washington was one step in a long series toward drawing awareness to and addressing water sustainability, both in Gambier and in similar small municipalities. “We talk a lot about climate change in big grandiose, either global or national, terms,” he said. “But there are real local solutions and real local ways to get involved, if there are people in the community who feel powerless about what’s happening nationally.”
He added that although fully resolving water loss in Gambier is a perpetual issue, residents of Gambier and students at Kenyon have the ability to enact change outside of large-scale conferences like UCSM. “They are not powerless,” Kessler said. “There are ways to get involved locally, and see real results.”