by Bri Kilroy • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
When Kent County Drain Commissioner candidate Rachel Hood needs to find peace in chaos, she turns to the water; seeing it, being near it, sustaining it and creating innovative ways to protect it.
Home to a segment of Michigan’s longest river running through its territory, Grand Rapids ensures that Hood and its other inhabitants are never too far from the peaceful oasis that a natural water body brings. Our city thrives with invitations to connect with water whether it’s kayaking the current from Riverside Park’s boat launch, fishing from the shores of the Riverwalk along Monroe Avenue or serving as a beautiful backdrop for events occurring in Ah-Nab-Awen Park.
As the Grand River’s possibilities have pushed themselves into community focus with initiatives like GR Forward plan and the Grand Rapids Whitewater Project, the interest in conserving our water has flooded the trending tables as well, but water conservation is not a new practice for Hood.
“I’m part of the generation that started their engagement in environmental protection because of the Star Trek movie about the whale,” Hood smiled. For those who don’t know (or are Star Wars fans), 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home portrayed the environmental message of “Save the Whales” by showing how the fate of one species affects others.
At Royal Oak Kimball High School, Hood was part of Students for Environmental Awareness. Hood recognizes her luck in having passionate teachers who served as strong influences, and shaped her environmental literacy during her school years.
Hood went to Michigan State University, where she attended James Madison College to study public policy, learning how to use policy to improve quality of life. After graduating and landing a job in Grand Rapids community development, Hood was introduced to sustainable business practices. She discovered a connection between her passion for environmental protection and her work to heal hard-hit urban neighborhoods, in part by creating more connections to nature.
“Many think conservation and sustainable practices mean giving something up, but that’s not the case,” Hood said. “We can protect our natural resources and enjoy quality of life benefits if we are able to innovate the way we live, work and play.”
The opportunity to sustain our quality of life exists in minor changes that, if practiced, reduce our impact on the world. Hood suggested simple things like using green cleaning products (many of which you can make at home; find recipes at WMEAC.org/livegreen), shopping with reusable bags, filling your fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables and figuring out a way to use your bike as a method of transportation a couple times per week.
“Just start somewhere,” Hood said to those who experience trepidation in changing their habits. “When you solidify certain behaviors, you will start to see and understand the benefits, and that refuels people for the next step.”
Hood speaks from first-hand experience as she practices what she preaches. She recounted her family’s “Car-free Weekends” where she, her husband Dave, and their two daughters take a break from their automobiles and commit to a couple of days of alternative transportation. Hood and Dave are also heavily incorporating sustainable practices and locally sourced ingredients in the production
of the upcoming City Built Brewing Company (820 Monroe Ave.), which Dave co-owns with Edwin Collazo.
The achievements Hood has accumulated from over 15 years of developing and executing strategies that promote sustainability for people, profit and the planet are things Grand Rapidians benefit from daily. She served as the Executive Director at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) since 2007 and resigned this year to pursue new opportunities. During her time at WMEAC, she helped improve management and financing of Grand Rapids’ stormwater assets and created programs that deliver interactive education to adults and youth to engage more people in water conservation practices. When the opportunity to serve as Kent County Drain Commissioner rose after Bill Byl announced his retirement, Hood was inspired to use that opportunity to increase the scale of her efforts, further improve the community’s drain districts, and in turn, protect public health, safety and infrastructure.
“I’ve been working on stormwater policy for the last 10 years,” Hood said. “I love the multitude of benefits that come from managing stormwater the right way and that love is rooted in my passion for connecting people to nature in urban environments.”
She applauds Byl for laying the foundation for a different approach to stormwater and is proud of the work Grand Rapids has done for water quality in the past. Hood is eager to build from that groundwork with innovations of her own, like transforming the drain commissioner’s office into a Water Resource commissioner’s office, which focuses on managing both quantity and quality of water.
A County Drain Commissioner is responsible to work with local government and property owners to protect neighborhoods, buildings, farms and infrastructure from erosion caused by unmanaged stormwater. Hood’s goal is to incentivize property owners to use green infrastructure to catch water near the place it falls, allowing nature to safely absorb water and prevent flooding and the spread of pollutants. If elected, Hood will manage nearly 600 miles of drain infrastructure in Kent County, including over 350 stormwater ponds and local lakes.
Additional goals include improving customer service, data management and technology at the Drain Commissioner’s Office. In addition to managing stormwater, Hood will sit on the Kent County Board of Public Works to help manage the county’s sewer infrastructure and influence decisions about solid waste and recycling.
Knowing that water is one of Kent County’s greatest commodities, Hood wants to put her most innovative, driven and valuable foot forward for our community and the environment that surrounds it. For more information, visit HoodforDrainCommissioner.com, where you can educate yourself on the work of a drain commissioner and the importance of our water. You can also visit and “like” Hood for Drain Commissioner on Facebook and find up-to-date information on her campaign and where she’ll be next.
In the meantime Grand Rapids, take care of yourselves, your home and its future by voting November 8. Water you waiting for?
Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.