Washtenaw County’s New Water Resources Commissioner

By Karelyn Munro              

 

Evan Pratt, Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, stood on the stage of Woodruff’s Bar in Ypsilanti, MI, playing his saxophone with the band “Hullaballoo”, in a wordless song that was revealed to be about the” wolf population in Michigan”. Later, as he stood in Olson Park in Ann Arbor, describing rain beds for storm water filtration it became clear that he is always involved with the outdoors in some small way. Only at work, his involvement is not small; he is the man responsible for controlling a force of nature in Washtenaw County, a liaison between nature and citizens. 

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 (Evan Pratt at Olson Park)

Pratt grew up in Paris, Illinois; population: 136. “I played outside a lot, where the most interesting areas for a young boy were creeks, farm fields, and piles of dirt.” He spent less time playing outdoors, however, as he entered the obligatory part-time working phase of teenage life.  “I did manual labor in the summers to earn money, which gave me plenty of time to think about knowledge-based jobs, while teaching me the value (and values) of folks who do the dirty work.”

With adolescence behind him, and an appreciation for the outdoors and those who protect it, those who knew Pratt prior to college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could have easily predicted his future career path. “As I went to college in Boston, seeing the Charles River glowing green at night and having friends windsurf with Vaseline in their noses and ears to protect themselves” he wrote, (pollution particles stick to Vaseline), “I got a better understanding of urban pollution issues.” Pratt later took up an interest for large-scale construction and finally graduated with a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering in 1987.

Pratt has worked in both public and private civil engineering positions, and was the Planning Commissioner for Ann Arbor for nine years since then. Now he is responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of over 500 drains in Washtenaw County. This includes emergency flooding response during rainy weather. Compared to the rest of the nation, this is major.

Washtenaw County has some pretty high annual average rainfall at roughly 30 inches if you take into account that most of the nation gets below 25 inches yearly.  Pratt agreed. “Spring rains are usually the worst because the world behaves like a parking lot…either because it’s saturated or it’s frozen.” Former Water Resources Commissioner, Janice Bobrin commented on Pratt’s excellent character and explained how she thought he was perfect for the challenges of the job. “He was lead engineer on several projects that we did and over that time and I just got to really know and admire him. He’s just a very smart guy…and he was just a very resourceful creative engineer, I loved that.”

Pratt also gave an extreme example that many may remember from last spring. “We’ve got a situation on the south half of town where they got two and a half inches in three hours in March of 2012 and cars were literally floating down the street in a couple of places.”

This is an issue many, like Ann Arbor resident Ellen Fisher in a $25,000 lawsuit, would blame city officials for; but storm drains in Pratt’s jurisdiction are tricky when it comes to maintenance.  “We don’t collect any taxes so at the beginning of the year we can’t say we plan on doing all these projects.” This is an issue because it means that the budget is often unreliable, dependent on citizen coercion, and projected goals cannot always be met. “People have to present a petition that shows x amount of people have a need, it’s not a very straightforward set of laws.” He added.    Still, Pratt responds to customer service challenges with a congenial attitude, “It’s not a complaint, there’s people that need service. They should call us, they shouldn’t feel bad.” Bobrin’s remarked on this character trait and said it was a key reason she encouraged him to be her successor after being colleagues for over a decade. “Evan was born for this,” Bobrin said, “He cares about the environment and he acts on that, he understands engineering and he’s just a good, solid technical professional.”

The challenges of managing a county in one of the nation’s states that receives a moderate amount of rain, at least for a Water Resources Commissioner, are daunting.  However, Pratt has a handle on the job, Bobrin, the 38-year tenant of the position, would know. “He loves politics and people and he knows local government and that pretty much is a capsule of the skills you need for the job.”

 

 

 

 

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About karelynm

23 Ann Arbor University of Michigan '14

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