Drainage district video falls short of the mark

The Grand Valley Drainage District can’t seem to get out of its own way. Having survived a preliminary court challenge of its decision to impose a controversial stormwater collection fee, it should have laid as low as possible until the case is fully resolved.

Instead, the GVDD invited more scrutiny by producing an educational video that gives off a whiff of politics where none should exist.

The video, available at http://www.thedrainagedistrict.org, has been shown to District 51 students. It’s part of an arrangement to provide financial relief to the school district and satisfy the outreach and education requirements of the drainage district’s EPA permit.

The drainage district will reimburse the school district $114,000 for showing the video. That’s a lot for the cash-strapped school district. It doesn’t really have a choice but to show the video and the drainage district took advantage by injecting some public relations spin into what should be a simple explanation of how development affects runoff.

Concerns we expressed earlier about the coercive nature of the arrangement seem now to have fully materialized.

In the video, Tim Ryan, the drainage district’s general manager, essentially defends the district’s action to impose a fee.

“The 5-2-1 Drainage Authority was formed in 2003 to help address stormwater runoff. After years of the 5-2-1 delaying any action, the Grand Valley Drainage District concluded that it would be irresponsible to ignore stormwater drainage issues,” Ryan says in the video.

While this isn’t untrue, does it really belong in an educational video? The goal seems to be impressing upon young minds the importance of providing infrastructure to handle runoff. Does the GVDD really have to portray itself as the only responsible agency in the valley to make this point?

The video is well done. It has high production value and some nice aerial shots of the valley. Ryan has good camera presence, too, even if he’s speaking over the heads of younger viewers.

For the most part, the video does a nice job of explaining how roofs and parking lots — “impervious surfaces” — have impacted runoff and water quality. But the GVDD couldn’t resist editorializing on its own behalf, thereby reducing an educational message to a clunky propaganda tool.

Maybe we’re overthinking this. It’s unlikely that the video will spur a family dinner discussion about taxing authority. Most students probably won’t even take away a core message. Still it must rub educators the wrong way to subject their students to political subtext and a subjective interpretation of local history.

It would be nice for the GVDD to recognize where it strayed from information into indoctrination and eliminate a few sentences. We’d certainly feel better about their educational “mission.”


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