In a finish that may have surprised even the candidate himself, Oakland County Commissioner Jim Nash (D-15th District) won a tight race Tuesday to become the county's Water Resources Commissioner.
Nash, who was redistricted out of his seat, beat out 12-year incumbent Republican John McCulloch by less than 1 percentage point, or about 2,700 of the more than 581,000 votes cast.
What does a Water Resources Commissioner do?
"The responsibilities are just about anything you can think of with water in Oakland County," Nash said. "We're in charge of all the water once it crosses Eight Mile ... except municipal (systems)."
That means keeping track of lake levels, monitoring agricultural drains, dealing with water issues on construction sites, sewer and water infrastructure and more. According to the Oakland County website, the office is staffed by 225 employees.
"This is something I've been involved with ever since I've been in office," said Nash, who was elected county commissioner in 2004. He has organized seven Green Building Workshops, is a founding member of the Regional Partnership for Sustainability and has served with a wide range of groups and organizations whose focus is sustainability, energy conservation, alternative energy and environmental education.
While the Water Resources Commissioner may not be as visible a position as, say, County Executive, Nash says he'll oversee a resource that's vitally important to county residents.
"This area is the source of 20 percent of the world's fresh water," he said. "We're the headwaters of five rivers in Oakland County." Problems with the water supply can affect property values, he added.
About 120 people attended a September town hall Nash co-hosted on fracking, a controversial procedure that involves using a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to break apart energy-rich rocks.
"It's something a lot of people see and something very few people in politics or the media talk about," he said. "We're densely populated, and it's dangerous to have this stuff."
Nash also plans to focus on a regional approach to storm water, working with other counties and the private sector. And he hopes to move forward an idea that would put power generating turbines in the sewer system that could harness the power of constantly flowing water and turn it into energy that could save millions of dollars in energy costs.