This is an opinion piece written by Leslie Danks Burke, the Democratic candidate for State Senate against incumbent Senator Tom O’Mara (R, Big Flats) in the 58th district, which includes Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, and part of Tompkins counties. It was NOT written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit an opinion piece to The Ithaca Voice, contact us at

ITHACA, N.Y. — When the 30-day supply of water in Ithaca’s reservoir grew threatened late last week, the city’s leaders asked for voluntary water restrictions. The very next day, my opponent in the race for State Senate, incumbent Sen. Tom O’Mara, called for energy deregulation in order to extract more natural gas in our region.

Most people – 70 percent – understand that climate change is real and it’s causing extreme weather changes, like the drought in the Southern Tier right now. Unlike most people, Senator O’Mara rejects the science of climate change, even though he chairs the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. My opponent favors the needs of out-of- state fossil fuel companies that contribute to his election coffers, over jobs for local people who deserve to have a representative fighting to bring clean energy manufacturing here, and over local farmers who want to preserve the land for generations to come.

It’s difficult for me to ignore drought. I grew up in Colorado with a timer in the bathroom that limited showers to three minutes. I moved away from Colorado 22 years ago, and I still marvel at the lush, green landscape here. In the county where my parents have farmed since I left for college, there’s a ditch irrigation system and farmers take turns lifting gates to let carefully- conserved water run onto their property. The quickest way to tick off your neighbor is to forget to close the gates, because that’s bound to hurt the guy downstream.

LDB headshot

It’s time to pick a leader who will consider the neighbors. Here, it’s been easy to take our water for granted, surrounded by beautiful lakes, creeks and rivers fed by steady rains. But that’s changing, in a slow, insidious shift that feels off kilter, even as we enjoy sunny, clear days. The people who work the land know it in their bones. I’m a member of a CSA where the coordinator sends out funny emails about fruit that is smaller, but sweeter. Yet we all know this loss in poundage translates into a real loss in profit. Climate change is hitting New York State. The Southern Tier is experiencing its worse water emergency since the state began compiling drought statistics in 2000. Statistics show we now have longer summers, more intense summer heat waves, and warmer winters than in decades past. Scientists predict more frequent droughts like the one we are going through. Extreme weather shifts mean we also can expect more catastrophic storms like Tropical Storm Irene that devastated large portions of our region in 2011, overwhelming sewage systems, wiping out crops and destroying bridge, roads and culverts.

Cornell University, dependent on a creek, also faces a water emergency and is scrambling to put plans into effect to meet the water needs of 10,000 students that will arrive on campus in late August. Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future is implementing sustainability initiatives across the world and right here in the Southern Tier. Community colleges are partners in this effort. The Sustainable Farming and Food Systems program at TC3 is training a new generation of young people in the social, business and practical skills they need to farm on a small sustainable level.

With so many resources on our side – local municipalities taking action, education institutions working on the regional and global level, scores of small businesses ready to put green energy jobs on the ground – the only thing we lack to meet this challenge is political will.

My opponent argues that more energy deregulation is the key to our economic prosperity, ignoring the needs of our municipalities, our local farmers, and our growing agritourism industry. Climate change is a 21st century problem that demands 21st century solutions, and I look forward to being a full-time State Senator to stand up for us in Albany. Let’s get to work.

Leslie Danks Burke is the Democratic candidate for State Senate against incumbent Senator Tom O’Mara (R, Big Flats) in the 58 th district, which includes Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, and part of Tompkins counties.

Featured photo by Michael Smith