Rachel Marco-Havens has always been one to lend her support to a cause, to protect, nurture and stand behind the ones she loves and the things she holds close to her heart. But recently, her voice became a little louder and was heard a little more clearly as she made the decision to use that voice in a bigger way to promote positive change and protect those things that are near and dear not just to her, but to her neighbors, her community, her state, her country and her planet as well.
Marco-Havens is no longer just a voice in the crowd, but a leader -- certainly in the recent fight by those in the Hudson Valley region of New York - to stop Niagara Bottling from erecting a 415,000 square foot water bottling plant in Tech City - siphoning an unprecedented 1.75 million gallons of water, each day, from Cooper Lake in Woodstock, NY.
At first, she admits she wasn’t sure she could make a difference, but she said she simply knew she had to at least give it a try.
“When I joined the effort to understand and bring awareness to the risks involved with tapping a small lake/reservoir. I wasn’t even sure if my assistance would be effective, but I was not going to stay asleep on it,” she said. “But I must note, I refuse to make any of my participation in civic engagement about a fight. If the ship is sinking, do we fight the waves or do we row together to stay afloat? And even better, do we work together to build a strong, resilient vessel capable of navigating the waters, and then get on board to take a journey together, working collectively in a sustainable way?”
For her, she said, it’s always been a dream to find true collaboration in action.
She’s found that by joining forces with the water and environmental group KingstonCitizens.org, which worked directly with the likes of Riverkeeper, the Woodstock Land Conservancy, Esopus Creek Conservancy, Woodstock Transition and several other groups in the Hudson River Valley to stop Niagara’ s move to Cooper Lake.
Niagara Bottling, based in California, proposed to build a $53 million bottling facility on a 57-acre piece of land on Cooper Lake in which it would suck water from the reservoir, bottle it and sell it for a profit to retail outlets. Scientists said there would not be enough water in Cooper Lake to meet public needs and bottle for sale. But taking an already scarce public water supply for profit is just a part of the story that had many, like Marco-Havens, outraged. If the plant came to fruition, 342,000 gallons of plastic waste would find its way to the Hudson River and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.
“Billions of plastic bottles per year is not what I, as a member of the Hudson Valley community, wish to serve our oceans,” Marco-Havens added.
Furthermore, she said, the bottling plant would have been built on wetlands in which hundreds of tractor trailers would arrive and depart every day, putting added stress on the local roads and disrupting the lives of those in Woodstock and its surrounding towns. Marco-Havens’ voice was one of the loudest that spoke out and stopped public officials and government agencies from awarding $10.8 million in grant monies as well as StartupNY tax incentives to Niagara Bottling.
When she originally got onboard, Marco-Havens said she was out to save “her” lake, a body of water that she personally cherishes and holds sacred. “But immediately I became aware of the selfishness of my directives -- I was motivated to save my lake -- but it wasn’t just my little lake that was threatened, it was the whole region, the state, the east coast, the country, the planet,” she said. “That drove me to take action like I had never taken action before.”
In February, Niagara Bottling withdrew its proposal -- something Marco-Havens certainly calls a win for the region. But, she’s just as quick to point out that there’s work left to be done, not just in upstate New York, but around the globe. She said she can’t say why getting involved and taking action should be important to others, but whatever the reason may be, advocating for the world’s most vital element is indeed important to us all as H20 is in fact the essence of all life. Locally, Marco-Havens and KingstonCitizens.org have been working together to secure infrastrutures, repair inter-municipal relationships and update policy to protect the community, its citizens and its natural resources. The group is currently working with the Kingston Common Council to adopt a local law that would include the council in all large water sales coming from the reservoir.
Battling for that water source, she said, is something that has been and will continue to be worth taking an active role.
“I am a mother, a lover, a sister; I am a friend, an aunt and maybe a grandmother some day, and if I had stayed on the couch for the last nine months I wouldn’t even understand the value of showing up to meetings and speaking my voice, staying up all night to study policies and directives of my elected and appointed officials, holding them accountable in a direct way -- I wouldn’t even know to feel very ashamed of myself for not picking up an oar,” she said. “But I now have tangible evidence that rowing as hard as we could was valuable and I feel empowered. ...But I am only one rower in this lifeboat.”
One phrase may sum up her feelings best: “The bucket is smaller than it appears… think every drop.”
And as Rachel Marco-Havens has shown - People do have the power, indeed.
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