Author: FLOW Editor

These Young People are Fighting for Water Justice and Building Community in Michigan and Ohio

Matt Harmon is FLOW’s Milliken intern for communications

Photos courtesy of We the People of Detroit

By Matt Harmon

Gathered in the gymnasium of the Flint Development Center, young representatives from the community organizations We the People of Detroit, the McKenzie Patrice Croom Flint Community Lab, and the Junction Coalition of Toledo spoke to an enraptured caucus on August 12 on their respective organizations, their summers advocating for water and environmental justice, and what adults can do to support them and their efforts.

To say these young people have had busy summers is an understatement. We the People of Detroit representatives Jatonah and Brooke participated in the We the Youth Water Testing Project. Over the course of eight weeks, Jatonah and Brooke went door-to-door and collected water samples in two Detroit neighborhoods to test the residents’ water for lead. While the city maintains the water itself is safe for drinking, officials acknowledge the fact that corrosion in water service lines and in household plumbing can result in elevated lead levels.

According to research from Bridge Michigan, Wayne County has 3,025 service lines and expects to replace 100% of them due to their being either lead pipes or galvanized steel service lines that are, or once were connected, to a lead line. A state rule change in 2018 following the Flint Water Crisis has given counties 20 years to replace these lines, but local municipalities are already requesting extensions, so the work Jatonah and Brooke were doing this summer was of the utmost importance.

“I was discussing with one of my teachers, and they were really surprised. They didn’t even know Detroit was dealing with a lead problem and especially that there were youth all over Michigan and in Toledo working against this problem,” Jatonah said.

Addison, Ben W., and Ben S. with the Flint Water Lab are part of this team of young people working to detect and remove lead in Michigan’s drinking water. The McKenzie Patrice Croom Flint Community Lab is the first community-based laboratory of its kind in the world. It is run completely by Flint residents, including high school and college students, and provides free water testing for lead and other metals, while also connecting residents to social services and keeping the City of Flint accountable for the changes it says it is going to make.

Ben W. started working in the Water Lab in March. As a chemistry student at the University of Michigan—Flint, he said his time at the Lab was valuable in getting hands-on experience in this setting and helping the community.

“It was a really great opportunity for me to be able to not only learn all of these instruments and know how to use the actual science of testing water in real life, but it also gave me this experience of doing it for the community, which I thought was really cool … It gives people like us, and people within the community itself, the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of water testing and the ability to learn the science behind it, and that’s what I really love,” said Ben W.

When Ben W. refers to working with the community, Joel and Aleyah at Junction Coalition knew all about that from their own experiences gained this summer. Junction Coalition was founded with the purpose of creating a better life for residents and business owners in the Junction neighborhood of Toledo. The organization works to build healthy relationships between local, state, and the federal government and its citizens.

Joel works at Junction Coalition as a gardener at their community garden on Bloom Street, “Bloom on Bloom,” as they call it. As food justice and water justice are inextricably linked—you need clean water to produce clean crops after all—Joel said his role transcends gardening and is really about community building.

“One of Junction Coalition’s main pillars is environmental justice. Our main goal is to provide a voice for that neighborhood. Part of that is taking care, including cutting grass or planting flowers around neighborhoods or even taking care of the houses … Part of my job besides gardening is to make sure we’ve got people in those houses and they look nice, so we do painting and carpeting and all that, mostly to show that the people in this neighborhood take care of its neighborhood. That way, it gives us more of an incentive to go to the city and ask for something we might need from them,” said Joel.

Through the program, Aleyah noted she was able to participate in the community building Joel mentioned while also engaging in her own professional development.

“With the Junction, we are helping the community and learning at the same time. For instance, they’ll have people come in and talk to us about college to get us ready for our education. Yesterday, a lady came in, and she talked to us about our taxes because that’s something we’re gonna have to know how to do when we get older,” Aleyah said.

As for the collaboration across organizations, all of the youth representatives were in agreement that their missions were intertwined. From experiences with learning how to respond to common excuses for why someone doesn’t want their water tested to lessons on how to build community through their work, each member of the team shared stories that showed their aligned activities.

“We all have the same goal, and we’re working towards it together—and things just fall into place when you’re trying to get the same thing done,” said Ben S.

It was clear from the audience’s questions and comments that the older members of the caucus had great respect for the young people and what they were accomplishing through their respective summer programs.

“It’s heartwarming to see young people who are providing service to the community, that there are still a lot of young people who care about the community and care about the safety of community and feel that have something to offer, so thank all of you for what you’ve done and what you’re doing,” said an adult audience member before a rapturous applause.

Eventually, the conversation moved into what the young people want adults to keep in mind and do to support the youth’s own activism and work. Brooke said she wishes adults would take a moment to envision a life beyond the one they’re currently living, where the problems they’re being faced with, but might not know about, no longer exist.

“I feel like not enough adults are getting the right amount of knowledge on the situation, and they’ve been living in these areas for years, and because they aren’t aware of this, they feel like nothing’s wrong. I had one person say, ‘I’ve been living here for years. It’s fine.’ But it’s not fine,” said Brooke.

“Another thing that adults could do is spread awareness and ask the youth, because even though we’re young, we have a lot experience with issues that people from the ‘90s, people from the ‘70s, people from the ‘80s haven’t really dealt with—so we could just communicate because there’s things you know that we don’t know, and that we know that you don’t know. It’s conversing,” said Jatonah.

Addison recognized the urgency of issues like water justice and said adults need to take responsibility for their inaction and empower youth to make the necessary changes to our system.

“For a long time, a lot of environmental issues have been a thing where it’s, ‘Oh, the next generation can deal with this. It won’t affect us.’ But it seems like a lot of people in our generation are realizing, ‘We can’t wait because it’s affecting us now.’ We need to be the ones to make the change, because if we kick it down the road any longer, there’s no coming back,” said Addison.

Take it from a Fifth Grader: Shut Down Line 5 Now

The Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac—which Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on Enbridge to shut down by May 12—pose a multigenerational threat to citizens of the Great Lakes.

Take it from Sage, an 11-year-old from Oxford, Michigan, who chose to do her 5th grade final project on Line 5.

“My love for the Great Lakes,” Sage opens her essay.

I was swimming in the crystal clear blue waters of the Great Lakes. Splashing in the refreshing water in my swimsuit and new goggles. It was a sunny day and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  The golden sand on the beach shimmered when the sunlight hit it.  I could see tiny little fish swimming around me.  It felt like I was in a tropical paradise. I plunged into the water feeling refreshed and relaxed. As the big waves came towards my sister and I. We jumped into them feeling the coolness of the water. We swam out towards the big rock. When we got there, we saw Mom, Dad, Nana and Papa waving to us. We waved back as we stood on top of the rock. We cannonballed into the water, plunging in like someone putting ice cubes into a drink. Now imagine dark oily, dirty water with dead fish floating at the top. This could happen if Line 5 is not shut down. Enbridge Line 5 needs to be shut down.”

Read the rest of Sage’s project below:

What Is Enbridge Line 5?

Enbridge Line 5 is an oil pipeline owned by the Canadian company Enbridge Energy Inc.  The Line 5 runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac.  It was built in 1953 and was only meant to last 50 years. Even though the pipeline is 68 years old today, and not in  good condition, it still exists. Every day, Line 5 transports 22.68 million gallons of oil.  The pipeline is 645 miles long. It transports oil to Sarina, Canada.  So that means that the oil pipeline is not even benefiting Michigan, in any way shape or form.  Line 5 should be shut down because according to Oil And Water Don’t Mix: Every day, nearly 23 million gallons of oil flow through two aging pipelines in the heart of the Great Lakes,  just west of the Mackinac Bridge. Constructed during the Eisenhower administration in 1953, the two 20-inch-in-diameter Line 5 pipelines owned by Canadian company Enbridge, Inc., lie exposed in the water at the bottom when they cross the Straits of Mackinac” (Oil And Water Don’t Mix) This is just unsafe. This is a recipe for a disaster.

Six decades of metal being underwater has to cause some damage.  It is covered in algae and other sea life. It is rusty. Since Enbridge Line 5 is so old it has had to have many repairs. Just like an old person, things age and  require more maintenance.  As people get older, they need more procedures, surgeries, and medicine.  Enbridge line 5 is the end of its life.  For example, in the article, (Oil And Water Don’t Mix) Enbridge installed several support structures under the pipelines in 2006 and again in 2010 and 2018, following the company’s oil spill into the Kalamazoo River.

Now, hundreds of supports elevate 3-miles of the pipeline off the lakebed into the turbulent current. This design was never approved and makes the pipeline unsafe. In other words the pipeline is very old and could rupture at any moment. Even though Enbridge has added updates to Line 5, the pipeline is still unsafe. What are they going to do with Line 5? Because of Enbridge’s past, there is a lack of trust in them. On July 26, 2010 there was a giant oil spill operated by Enbridge. 

According to Wikipedia: “The Kalamazoo River oil spill occurred in July 2010 when a pipeline operated by Enbridge burst and flowed into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. A 6-foot break in the pipeline resulted in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history”When the Kalamazoo oil spill occurred almost 1,000,000 gallons of light crude oil was spilled. Because of that, the future of The Great Lakes right now should not be in the hands of Enbridge. As the Line 5 Pipeline ages, it increases the risk of an oil spill in The Great Lakes. If the Pipeline were to rupture in The Great Lakes, then it would cost more than $1.9 BILLION DOLLARS AT LEAST to clean it up! That is a lot of money.

Here is something to help you imagine $1.9 billion dollars better. According to: Research Maniacs If you had $1.9 billion, you could buy 63,333 cars at $30,000/each or 9,500 houses at $200,000/each. If you were to travel 1.9 billion miles, you could fly around the world 76,302 times, or take a round trip to the moon 3,977 times.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan [has given] Enbridge 180 days to shut-down the Line 5 Pipeline PERMANENTLY. But Enbridge will not shut-down the Line 5 Pipeline without a fight. So until then, The Great Lakes will be at stake.

What Can Go Wrong With Line 5? And What Would Happen To The Surrounding Areas?

Not only is Enbridge Line 5 unsafe, but it also threatens many ecosystems and the Great State of Michigan. According to the Sierra Club: “The  Enbridge company is playing with fire.” and I agree. The longer the pipeline stays, the longer we risk damaging The Great Lakes and other ecosystems. The Great Lakes ecosystems include a large variety of habitats  and more than 3,500 different species of animals and plants. If the Line 5 pipeline were to rupture then, it would negatively impact people, the environment and animals. Here is an example: All living things need water to survive. So if oil were to spill in the water we drink we would die. Not just people would die, but animals would die too.

Here is another example: Let’s say that we had another source of water. We would be fine for now, but all of the fish and animals would die. So then we would run out of food. If we dont start taking action, then the examples that I talked about could become the reality. The Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline is unnatural and unsafe.If Line 5 where to rupture then we would be DOOMED. First things first, we would lose 20% of the world’s fresh surface water. Second of all, everything in The Great Lakes would be dead! The fish, the and all of the ecosystems. A lot of bears and deer and a bunch of other animals would die too. That would happen because if they were to drink water from The Great Lakes after an oil spill. Then they would die because the water would be toxic. If Line 5 were to rupture, then the oil would spread through the whole Great Lakes. That would happen because all of The Great Lakes are connected and have strong currents. Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario would all be flooded in oil if Line 5 were to rupture. Michigan would lose all tourism as no one would go to Mackinac Island, Traverse City (The Cherry Capital Of The World), and other popular lakefront destinations. The economic impact would be felt for decades and recovering the state would cost billions of dollars. Michigan’s slogan “Pure Michigan”, would turn into “Crude Michigan”. That slogan does not have as good a ring as “Pure Michigan”. All outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, hunting and lots of others would disappear forever.  Imagine oily, dirty water. With dead fish floating at the top and black greasy beaches with brown foam floating at the top of the water. Birds that are covered in oil drying skin and feathers being polluted.

This could become Michigan’s reality if we don’t take action and shut-down Line 5 today.

Line 5 “Reality Check”—We Don’t Need Line 5 to Supply Energy to Canadians and Michiganders

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

Click here to read Part 1 of Jim Olson’s Reality Check.

Recent Canadian news stories reported that Ontario and Canadian oil refineries have already started to establish an alternative plan to transport crude oil from other outlets by rail or ship up the St. Lawrence to Sarnia. This appears to be a threat to scare the public into visualizing oil transport on scores of tankers, raising the spectre of spills. But there is plenty of capacity in Enbridge’s system to handle enough crude oil to make up for most of the loss in Line 5 when it is shut down. My first reaction to the alternative plan was, “good, let Canada deal with it.” But then I thought this was unfairly parochial, so I started looking more objectively at the alternatives question.

Most corporate logistical experts and executives would neglect their duty to their company’s board of directors and stockholders if they didn’t have a backup plan to keep the oil moving at some level in the event of a pipeline shutdown—either a permanent shutdown like Line 6B after the Kalamazoo River disaster, or a shutdown such as the lawful revocation of Line 5 to prevent an even greater disaster. They must have a backup plan. If not, that should frighten Canadians, the refineries, and the good people who expect better planning than that. Enbridge’s system crisscrosses North America, and the larger pipeline system looks like someone threw pickup sticks on the living room floor.

The stark reality is that, by using surplus design capacity in the Enbridge system and a few adjustments, using other pipeline routes and capacity, along with a small percentage of crude oil needs handled by rail, the shutdown of Line 5 will not significantly impair the jobs and economy associated with the refineries in Sarnia and Ontario. 

Within a year of the Kalamazoo River watershed spill, the company took advantage of the extra 400 barrels per day design capacity in Line 78 that replaced Line 6B across southern Michigan, with a branch to Sarnia and another branch to Detroit and Toledo. There is also a new line that connects the crude oil production in Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio with Toledo and Detroit. This extra capacity is more than enough to offset the average flow of crude that courses through Line 5 each day. And, frankly, if the Sarnia refineries are planning to use rail to ship some crude from the East Coast back to Sarnia by rail, this will make up the difference between using the surplus capacity of Line 78 and terminating the flow of crude oil from the shutdown of Line 5. All spills are unacceptable, but cleaning up an oil spill on land would be easier than hundreds of miles of coastline and thousands of square miles of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The US Coast Guard has warned that a response action would be impossible in winter ice, storm, or night conditions. Even in daylight, no more than 30 percent of the oil, at best, would be recovered.

Seven years ago Enbridge doubled the capacity of Line 6B-78—from 400,000 to 800,000 bbl. per day, doubling Line 3 and others. Then it pushed Line 5, initially 300,000 to 580,000–using anti-friction fluid devices and rearranging pumps approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) without connecting the dots on its doubling of oil through Line 6B. Enbridge, with or without MPSC’s complicity, managed to increase its crude oil capacity in Michigan from 700,000 bbl./day to 1,380,000 during the same time frame without any determination of the public interest, necessity, safety and evaluation of alternatives.

This was and is unconscionable, coming right after the rupture of the old Line 6B in 2010. Michigan rewarded Enbridge for one of the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history.

The shutdown of Line 5 to prevent $6 billion or more in massive harm to the Great Lakes, Michigan, and Ontario won’t significantly change the Sarnia supply. Enbridge and Canadians can use the extra 400,000 bpd in the new 6B-78, together with adjustments of the system and modest use of rail or trucking with little effect on jobs or the economy, and at the same time shift its policy consistent with the need to mitigate the looming cataclysmic forces of climate change to Canadians and U.S. citizens, livelihood, and economy alike.

Reality Check No. 2—Michigan has the sovereign authority to shut down Line 5

There is an even bigger picture that will not require any alternatives at all. As noted above, the existing pipeline system in combination with modest rail crude oil transport will most likely accommodate the oil demand of Canada, the United States and other countries. Add to this the projected decline in U.S. and international demand for crude oil as auto manufacturers shift to electric vehicles, and renewable and clean energy supplants fossil fuel supplies, not to mention moves by California, Massachusetts and several nations that intend to prohibit the sale of vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel fuels. 

“As a Canadian, I am ashamed that our federal and provincial governments still put the health of their economic and political agendas above the health of the atmosphere that gives us air to breathe,” said revered Canadian leader David Suzuki. 

Add to that the billions on billions of dollars that must be spent on Great Lakes shorelines, infrastructure, shipping, roads, dams, railroads as a result of rising water levels, flooding, and erosion from climate change. Why aren’t Enbridge and the Canadian government taking into account the apocryphal reality of climate change? U.S. President Joe Biden wasted little time to recommit the United States to the Paris Climate accord when he took office on January 20 and charge his administration and country to make climate change his number one priority after we overcome the COVID 19 pandemic.

What we really need is for the State of Michigan to call this entire pipeline scam what it is: an intentional end-run around state law so Enbridge can have its way to export oil to Britain and transport synthetic crude and NGLs to Sarnia.  MPSC, EGLE, and Governor Whitmer must reset the clock and conduct a full review of needs, alternatives, and impacts in the interests of Michigan’s citizens as one Enbridge system, and out a stop to this manipulation by Enbridge; take charge governments, this segmented, fragmented divide-and-conquer scam by Enbridge must end.

In fact, we must demand that our Congressional delegation and the new Biden administration, based on its dedicated commitment to mitigate climate change, conduct a full investigation of crude oil pipelines and system into and out of the Great Lakes region, the economics and need and volume needed for crude oil, the alternatives, and impacts, including climate change with its direct devastating impacts on Great Lakes, infrastructure, shorelines, property.

There are three routes involved: Keystone XL, down to and around Chicago, and Line 5 down through Michigan and the Great Lakes. The first thing to determine is where the oil is going, how much is going where, and how much is needed in the context of a steady decline in demand and rapid shift to solar, wind, conservation and efficiency. The second thing is to determine if there is sufficient capacity in existing pipelines to meet this need. The third is to determine if there is a true need for more capacity and newer or replaced pipelines. The fourth is to conduct a comprehensive impact and alternative capacity and pipeline routine analysis to meet the true need,

Michigan has the sovereign authority to shut down Line 5.  In fact, the public trust, common sense, and the law require it—for Canadian and Michigan citizens in the Great Lakes Basin alike.