Traverse City, Mich.—FLOW is celebrating our 10th anniversary of keeping the Great Lakes public and protected and kickstarting the next 10 years.
Founded in 2011 by Jim Olson and directed since 2012 by Liz Kirkwood, both environmental attorneys, FLOW is a nonprofit law and policy center based in Traverse City dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes, groundwater, and drinking water for all. Independent and nonpartisan, FLOW works with the public and decision-makers to hold the government accountable in protecting and providing access to public waters.
Notable highlights of our 10th anniversary year and celebration include:
Tuesday, September 21, from 7:00-8:00 pm EDT—“Confluence”—FLOW’s marquee 10th anniversary event, live-streamed and emceed by dynamic Traverse City talent Ben Whiting. Free and open to the public, the online event will include a special honor for FLOW luminaries Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey, and promises a fun and fast-paced frolic through FLOW’s history and heroes, with special guests, and prize-drawings for Patagonia gear! Register here.
The addition of FLOW’s first-ever full-time legal director, an achievement many years in the making. Environmental attorney Zach Welcker joined FLOW in July, after more than a decade representing Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest on water, fisheries, and other natural resource issues. Zach now carries the legal torch borne since 2011 on a part-time and volunteer basis by Jim Olson.
Video reflections by FLOW supporters, staff, and collaborators who have been instrumental to our work and shared successes over the past decade—meant to inspire everyone to join us in protecting freshwater for all. See the video series here.
Release of a penetrating groundwater-protectionreport—Deep Threats to Our Sixth Great Lake: Spotlighting and Solving Michigan’s Groundwater Emergency—and fact sheet authored by Dave Dempsey and conveyed via webinar. See FLOW’s groundwater program page for more.
By Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, and Mike Vickery, Board Chair
Being in, on, or near water brings us into balance, restores clarity, and grounds us in understanding what matters most. Water is life. These elemental connections to water and nature were profoundly important to all of us in the tumultuous year of 2020, as the coronavirus upended our lives and economy.
In reflection, as we recount in our Annual Report released today, November 2020 marked an extraordinary milestone for the Great Lakes—and for FLOW. After seven long years of advancing public trust law as the legal basis to shut down Line 5, FLOW watched Governor Gretchen Whitmer and DNR Director Daniel Eichinger assert public trust law as the cornerstone of the state’s action to advance critical legal action to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill.
Equitable and affordable access to clean drinking water remained at the forefront of our work in 2020 as we partnered with frontline Detroit and Flint groups to successfully persuade Governor Whitmer, and then the legislature, to extend a moratorium on water shutoffs through March 2021. We also partnered to form Water for All of Michigan to evaluate equitable and just financing and funding strategies to assure safe, affordable water for all communities. FLOW’s model legislation, Public Water, Public Justice, is a key part of this work.
FLOW also worked to spotlight and protect the Sixth Great Lake, Michigan’s groundwater, unveiling a groundwater story map in March and a June webinar to highlight the implications of a preliminary state decision approving Nestlé’s permit to increase withdrawals for commercial bottled water. And we chronicled a baffling decision in November by the State of Michigan to dismiss the citizen-led contested case challenging the Nestlé permit. In a year dominated by a global pandemic, a reckoning with racial injustice, record-high Great Lakes water levels, an unprecedented national election, and profound challenges to our most important institutions, FLOW stood firm as a fair witness to, and advocate for, the power and value of the public trust in moving forward. Working alongside our partners, allies, supporters, and friends, FLOW planted new seeds from which will grow a more just, diverse, inclusive, equitable, prosperous and resilient water future for generations to come.
Your support and passion for the Great Lakes, groundwater, and drinking water for all inspires us and helps drive us forward. Thank you for our shared successes. We hope you enjoy reading about the fresh waters and public trust rights that we have protected together in our Annual Report 2020.
Liz Kirkwood, environmental attorney and executive director of FLOW (For Love of Water), reacts to news today that the State of Michigan has granted environmental permit approval for Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac:
“We are deeply disappointed by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE’s) decision today to approve permits for Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac.
“EGLE’s permits ignore direct adverse evidence of the tunnel’s risk to surface waters, wetlands, public trust bottomlands, cultural resources, endangered species, treaty fishing rights, climate change impacts, local economic impacts, tourism, and public and private property. In addition, EGLE’s permits ignore feasible and prudent alternatives to the proposed tunnel.
“EGLE’s action is directly at odds with the legal process underpinning the Governor Whitmer’s revocation and termination on November 13 of the easement allowing Line 5 to operate in the public waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes. The governor’s November decision was based on determinations required under the Public Trust Doctrine. Those same findings, required by law, were never made for the proposed tunnel.”
Many years and legal and regulatory hurdles remain in the state and federal permitting process for Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel, which might never be built, but continues to distract from the clear and present danger posed by the decaying Line 5 pipelines in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac.
Final approval of Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel remains in doubt as permitting reviews continue by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is assessing environmental impacts and alternatives, and the Michigan Public Service Commission, which is considering the project’s public need, climate impacts, and location.
The proposed tunnel, at roughly 20-feet in diameter and 4 miles long, would house a new Line 5 pipeline. Enbrige’s goal is for Line 5 to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
Enbridge has a terrible track record of oil spills across Michigan from Line 5 and from Line 6b, which in 2010 dumped more than a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.
Editor’s note: This is an Oil & Water Don’t Mix (O&WDM) media release.
Twelve organizations and Michigan tribal representatives today (Dec. 7, 2020) called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Enbridge Line 5 Straits of Mackinac oil tunnel project. If not dismissed now, the Army Corps risks a repeat of a July court ruling that threw out a permit in another major federal pipeline case.
In their submission of comments, the groups told the Army Corps that the permit for the tunnel should not be approved without a full review that evaluates the consequences of an oil tunnel for the Great Lakes, coastal wetlands, historic archeological finds, and navigation within the Straits of Mackinac.
“Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is a major federal action demanding a full environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “A review of Enbridge’s incomplete application reveals a highly controversial project with extraordinary impacts to coastal wetlands, millions of gallons a day of surface wastewater discharges and water treatment additives, underwater archeological sites, incomplete geotechnical studies for tunnel construction, lack of a credible estimate of project cost, and unprecedented climate change impacts to extend the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years.”
Official comments from the organizations come as the Army Corps holds a single public hearing today on Enbridge’s proposal for a federal Clean Water Act permit to construct the oil tunnel. The Army Corps public comment period ends on Dec. 17. It comes as the Michigan Public Service Commission and the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy also evaluate permit applications from Enbridge and follows a decision by Gov. Whitmer to revoke Enbridge’s operating agreement for the existing Line 5, citing the company’s history of failures and ongoing, incurable violations of the agreement.
“Line 5 will transport 540,000 barrels of oil that when burned will emit over 57 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon annually – more carbon than is emitted by the nation’s three largest coal plants combined,” said Kirkwood. “Let’s not forget what’s at stake – a proposal to build a mega tunnel in the heart of the largest and most valuable fresh surface water system in the world. It’s difficult to conceive of a project more worthy of a full environmental impact statement under federal law.”
The groups and tribal representatives warn that approving Enbridge’s proposed application would violate the same federal law that prompted the U.S. District Court in July to block a final permit for the Dakota Access pipeline in the Dakotas. In the Dakota Access case, the court said the Army Corps must conduct a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act because it was a major federal project with widespread potential impacts, including threats to drinking water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
The Army Corps has yet to decide whether Enbridge’s permit application for the tunnel should be subjected to a full federal review that could include looking at other alternatives, including existing oil pipelines within Enbridge’s massive North America pipeline system.
Concerns with the tunnel proposal cited by the groups and shared with the Army Corps include:
Drinking water threat. Enbridge proposes withdrawing 4 million gallons a day of water and discharging 5 million gallons a day of water and slurry into the Straits of Mackinac. Nearby communities of Charlevoix, Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, Alpena, East Tawas, and Tawas City rely on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron for drinking water.
Geotechnical problems. Independent experts who studied Enbridge’s proposed tunnel plan concluded that it “raises serious concerns regarding the feasibility, integrity, and planning for the construction of the tunnel.” More than 75 percent of the tunnel boring area is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions, the experts warned, also citing the potential for explosions because of the presence of methane gas.
Sovereign tribal and fishing rights. The Straits of Mackinac are the spawning and fishing grounds for 60 percent of the commercial tribal whitefish catch, which could be negatively impacted by the tunnel project and continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits.
Northern Michigan economy. Emmet, Cheboygan, and Mackinac counties would be heavily impacted by the tunnel project, straining police, fire, health emergency services, and rental housing that would typically go to seasonal tourism workers who constitute an annual $153 million payroll. Dust, noise, and intense trucking and machinery activity will also stress local communities.
“Michigan deserves more than a rubber-stamp permit approval from the Army Corps,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator. “What we need is for the Army Corps to follow the law and prioritize protecting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and our climate. A Canadian company’s oil profits shouldn’t be more important than Michigan’s future.”
Those submitting joint comments include For Love of Water (FLOW), League of Women Voters of Michigan, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, TC350, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA), the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment.
Oil & Water Don’t Mix is a citizens’ movement committed to protecting the Great Lakes and decommissioning Enbridge’s dangerous Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. More information: https://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/about.
Photo above: MPSC Chairman Sally A. Talberg, presiding over the Commission hearing today on Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac.
FLOW E.D. Liz Kirkwood
The following statement can be attributed to Liz Kirkwood, environmental attorney and executive director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City:
“The Michigan Public Service Commission’s decision today is a big win for all Michigan residents that upholds their public trust rights in the Great Lakes. The MPSC flatly rejected the untenable claim by Enbridge that it had somehow already received approval in 1953, when Line 5 was built in the Straits of Mackinac, for an oil tunnel it is proposing 67 years later in 2020. The 3-0 vote by the MPSC means Enbridge will not be allowed to dodge a full review of their proposed oil pipeline tunnel, including an August 24 public hearing, which is desperately needed in light of the potential impact on the Great Lakes and its regional economy.
“We applaud the MPSC for rejecting Enbridge’s declaratory ruling request, and instead, requiring that Enbridge’s application be reviewed as a contested case with a public hearing under Michigan’s Act 16. Enbridge now has the burden to show a public need for this proposed oil pipeline under the Great Lakes, ensure no harm or pollution to our public trust waters and lands, and fully consider feasible and prudent alternatives to this project. With society’s urgent need to tackle climate change head on and ensure freshwater security, Enbridge cannot show that its proposed fossil fuel infrastructure is a credible solution for Michigan’s 21st century just and equitable future.”
See FLOW’s additional coverage of the MPSC review of the Enbridge oil pipeline tunnel here:
To alleviate the rising threat to the safety and economic security of Upper Peninsula residents, a state energy task force at its April 13 online public meeting should act with urgency to adopt, prioritize, and schedule the implementation of the 14 recommendations in its draft propane supply report. Swift action is needed in order to end reliance on the risky Line 5 pipeline, dismantle the Canadian energy monopoly over the Upper Peninsula, and secure more diverse and renewable energy choices, said FLOW (For Love of Water) in formal public comments sent Monday to state officials.
FLOW’s letter to the U.P. Energy Task Force, which Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created last June, comes at the deadline for the public to review the March 20 draft report on propane supply options. FLOW is urging the task force to act immediately on both short-term and long-term recommendations for the State of Michigan to resolve the clear and present danger to public health and the Great Lakes posed by Line 5.
FLOW finds that the most reliable, secure, lowest-cost, and lowest-risk alternative for propane supplies in the short term is a combination of the recommendations on rail and truck, plus an increase in propane inventory in the Upper Peninsula. Highest priority should be given to recommendations with a full range of diverse alternatives that are not dependent on the decaying Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which crosses the Upper Peninsula and the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac.
FLOW also urges the task force to evaluate all of the environmental and health impacts and risks that each alternative poses to air, water, and land resources. The Great Lakes and other natural resources remain at grave risk with the continued daily operation of Line 5, and impacts to these public trust resources must be fully considered in the final propane report.
FLOW also calls on the task force to expedite its work and complete its renewable energy plan in 2020, well ahead of its March 2021 deadline for reporting to the governor. Michigan and the Great Lakes cannot wait another year for more studies as Line 5 continues to age.
“The U.P. Energy Task Force draft propane report concludes that both short-term and longer-term feasible and prudent alternatives exist to decommission Line 5 and to secure reliable, safe, and affordable energy to U.P. residents based on adjustments within the energy system,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “Given the current propane monopoly and lack of backup alternatives to Line 5, U.P. residents are exposed to substantial financial and safety risks. Moreover, Line 5 also poses unprecedented and devastating economic, environmental, and public health risks to the Great Lakes.”
With the help of the task force to prioritize recommendations and advance much needed energy planning, the State of Michigan can work as expeditiously as possible to decommission the aging Line 5 pipeline and transition to safe and affordable energy alternatives for U.P. residents.
The U.P. Energy Task Force, formed by Gov. Whitmer’s Executive Order 2019-14, is charged with “considering all available information and make recommendations that ensure the U.P.’s energy needs are met in a manner that is reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound.” The Order also directs the Task Force to examine “alternative means to supply the energy sources currently used by U.P. residents, and alternatives to those energy sources.”
The precipitating force behind this urgent energy analysis is Enbridge’s increasingly risky 67-year-old Line 5 pipeline, which has ruptured or otherwise leaked at least 33 times since 1968, and the failure to date to prioritize and assure a backup alternative for delivering propane in the Upper Peninsula. Line 5 is operating far past its life expectancy and continues to threaten the Great Lakes, public health, and drinking water supplies for thousands of Michiganders. With no backup plan for delivering alternative propane supplies to the U.P. in the event of a catastrophic Line 5 pipeline rupture, including in the dead of winter, the outdated pipeline also endangers the safety, security, and energy independence of Upper Peninsula residents who rely on propane to heat their homes.
Above: FLOW Board Chair Mike Vickery and Executive Director Liz Kirkwood gather with FLOW staff and board at The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City to celebrate Liz and her family before their planned journey in early January 2020. (Photo by Jacob Wheeler)
By Mike Vickery, FLOW Board Chair
While visiting my grandchildren during the holidays, I went with them to see Frozen 2. In the movie, Princess Anna confronts a moment of frightening and overwhelming uncertainty and sings her resolve not to give up, but to, “Just do the next right thing.”
“Do the next right thing” keeps coming back to me as I reflect on FLOW’s work in 2019 and on the challenges of this New Year.
Our staff, board, supporters, and partners all know well that FLOW has done more things in the last 12 months than an organization our size should even be able to imagine, much less accomplish. But we are all intensely aware that the challenges we face and the threats to fresh water in the Great Lakes basin are persistent and daunting. Many, many things will need to be done next and done right if we are to be successful stewards and become good ancestors.
As an organization, FLOW is now the living result of the right thing that founder Jim Olson did eight years ago when he got environmental attorney Liz Kirkwood to bring her singular talents and passion to bear on the task of building FLOW’s capacity to influence water policy through application of the public trust doctrine.
As FLOW’s Executive Director, Liz demonstrates the rightness of Jim’s decision every day. She is a courageous advocate for public water and the public trust, a champion of water justice and water literacy, and a valued counselor to many other professionals and organizations. Liz has earned every accolade and deserves every expression of respect and admiration that comes her way.
Nowhere has Liz’s masterful leadership been more clearly demonstrated than in all the “right things” she has done to assemble and catalyze the talents and passions of an utterly extraordinary professional staff of five full-time and four part-time employees.
FLOW’s capacity, productivity, and influence are the result of many right things done every day by an organization of extraordinarily talented and passionate professionals who are also simply excellent human beings. Kelly Thayer, our Deputy Director, along with Jim Olson, Dave Dempsey, Diane Dupuis, Nayt Boyt, Lauren Hucek, Jacob Wheeler, and Janet Meissner Pritchard will not miss a beat during Liz’s sabbatical. We are profoundly grateful for FLOW’s amazing staff and for all of the dedicated supporters who make their work possible.
We enter this consequential year of 2020 with a deep appreciation for your support as we confront the significant challenges ahead and a profound sense of earned confidence in FLOW’s capacity to meet those challenges. My mantra for the 2020, no matter what it brings, is “just do the next right thing”… for the love of water.
Mike Vickery serves as chair of FLOW’s Board of Directors and as an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity-building. He is an emeritus Professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College, where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.
Powered by our supporters, FLOW had quite a year in 2019.
Our legal advocacy work to restore the rule of law made a big impact at the state level. Michigan’s new Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a public trust lawsuit on June 27 to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorizes Enbridge to operate its 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.
“This is a watershed moment in the battle to decommission Line 5, prevent a catastrophic oil spill, and protect the Great Lakes, an economic engine for our state and the source of drinking water for millions,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood about Nessel’s bold legal action.
On December 3, the Michigan Court of Appeals nullified a lower court order that would have allowed the bottled water giant Nestlé to build an industrial booster pump facility to remove millions of gallons of groundwater per year from Osceola Township. The court affirmed that bottled water is neither an “essential public service” nor a “public water supply”.
“Bottled water diversion and export operations can no longer be paraded as public,” said FLOW founder and president Jim Olson. “The purpose of the bottled water industry has only one purpose—maximum profit off the sale of packaged public water.”
FLOW launched several education campaigns in 2019 including a Groundwater Awareness Week, what it is and why it matters; the Michigan Septic Summit on Nov. 6 that convened parties from public health officials to realtors to watershed nonprofits to generate new partnerships and build political will to pass a statewide septic code; an environmental economics project and four policy briefs by former FLOW board chair Skip Pruss about the benefits of government regulation to protect the environment and public health; and a Public Trust month in July that included a “Great Lakes Passport” and a month-long series of videos that featured the public answering the question: “Who owns the Great Lakes?”.
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with people from all across the Great Lakes Basin to help improve protection of these public trust waters,” Kirkwood said. “Our challenge in this new century, then, is to break the constant cycle of ruin and recovery, and replace it with sustained protection and prosperity. This is critical in the context of the climate crisis where we are testing the capacity of our ecosystems to rebound.”
FLOW senior policy advisor Dave Dempsey was also invited to present at the Great Lakes Funders Conference in Cleveland in late October.
FLOW held several events in 2019 to recognize the importance of inspiring citizens viscerally and emotionally (as well as cerebrally) to protect the Great Lakes. We launched our “Art Meets Water” webpage to highlight examples of the heartfelt creativity that inspires us to fight for our public waters. “We all know that water is the source of the future,” says Leelanau County writer Anne-Marie Oomen. “But it’s also a part of our souls and our spirits.”
On June 28, cellist Crispin Campbell and “Mad Angler” poet Mike Delp performed at our “In Praise of Water” benefit for FLOW at the Cathedral Barn at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City. “The Mad Angler finds himself upset about the state of affairs that Michigan rivers find themselves in,” said Delp. “When you hear that deep sound coming out of the cello, that’s the heart of where this comes from… I’m right down inside that cello.”
On July 24, Oomen and the Beach Bards storytellers’ troupe presented, “Love Letters to the Lakes” (which she had solicited from writers across Michigan) in a live reading to the International Joint Commission, in hopes that deeply personal prose would impact public policy to protect the Great Lakes. And on October 11, Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City held “Artists for FLOW,” inviting local artists to share water-inspired works for a show that benefits our fight to protect that water.
“What I have learned, and what I believe in the most elemental way, is that our first and most basic relationship with water is anchored in love. In the absence of love, there is the great risk of indifference and failure to protect this resource that, under the Public Trust Doctrine, belongs to us all and is essential to life. If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved. So, while we marshal facts and organize and encourage activism, let us remember to acknowledge the power of our affections and make them a guiding principle in all that we do.”
Above photo: Jane Corwin, US Commissioner/Chair of the International Joint Commission, speaks at a public hearing in Traverse City on July 24, 2019. Photo by Rick Kane.
By Liz Kirkwood
Editor’s note: FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood was recently appointed to be a member of the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board.
Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director
My colleague and mentor, Dave Dempsey, knows almost everything there is to know about the Great Lakes. He’s encyclopedic, you could say. He’s authored over 10 books, including a classic one entitled Ruin and Recovery (University of Michigan Press, 2001).
It’s the cycle we here in the Great Lakes are all too familiar with.
The book tells a story of Michigan’s environmental ruin that began to worsen in the early 1900s, followed by the recovery that began in the 1970s as the public clamored for a clean environment.
It is amazing to imagine that over one hundred years ago, as lax water pollution standards led to the fouling of the Great Lakes, the US and Canadian governments had the vision and foresight to craft an international treaty to address boundary water management and disputes. Known as the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, this pact established the International Joint Commission (IJC) to serve as the advisor to both governments in preventing, arbitrating, and navigating water conflicts. Of the nine major water basins shared by the US and Canada, the Great Lakes is the largest and has global significance because it contains 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water.
In 1972, with increasing international water pollution, the US and Canada entered into the seminal Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). The Agreement called for binational action by the governments to reduce phosphorus pollution and meet water quality goals. It also set up the Great Lakes Water Quality Board (WQB) to assist the IJC in watchdogging Great Lakes cleanup.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the IJC was considered the moral authority on Great Lakes issues, candidly assessing progress and problems. Thanks in part to the Water Quality Board, the commission made a lasting contribution to Great Lakes cleanup by defining 43 “areas of concern” (AOCs)—bays, harbors, and rivers with severe legacy contamination—that needed sustained commitment to be cleaned up. Over 30 years later, work continues on the AOCs, along with congressional funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).
The work of the Water Quality Board continues, too. The 28-member board provides advice to the IJC for the benefit of the 40 million people who rely on the lakes for drinking water, sustenance, and way of life. The IJC recently appointed me to serve on the Board.
The Board represents the crossroads of the Great Lakes, bringing together diverse viewpoints from tribal leaders like Frank Ettawageshik and water affordability advocates like Monica Lewis-Patrick. It is a pleasure to serve with them and to problem solve how we can bring the Great Lakes community together to respond to old and new problems in the Basin. This work depends on developing key priorities and scientific goals to measure progress, coordinating strong and committed implementation among federal, state, and provincial environmental agencies, building stronger and new partnerships and alliances across these lakes, lifting up silenced voices to ensure water justice for all, and educating and empowering all peoples about the vital importance of protecting the health of our common waters.
It’s been almost 50 years since the two nations entered into the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and during this time, we have watched rust-belt contaminated urban cores rebound and polluted ecosystems revived. But we also have witnessed a rollback of major federal environmental regulations and laws, the Flint lead crisis, Detroit water shutoffs, lack of investment and crumbling regional water infrastructure, lack of safe, affordable drinking water, wetland destruction, water privatization, legacy and emerging pollutants like PFAS, and unprecedented climate change impacts.
Our challenge in this new century, then, is to break the constant cycle of ruin and recovery, and replace it with sustained protection and prosperity. This is critical in the context of the climate crisis where we are testing the capacity of our ecosystems to rebound. Instead, we must imagine the future we want, where natural and human ecosystems can thrive and prosper together.
To do this, we must challenge traditional assumptions and ways of thinking. We must draw not only on science but also on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is a relational process for indigenous peoples that is built through experience and relationships that are difficult to incorporate into non-indigenous information systems and decision frameworks. We must design and enact bold policies that acknowledge the interconnectedness of human health, economic prosperity, and ecosystems.
With public trust doctrine protection, we can steward our waters as a shared public resource from one generation to the next and ensure multigenerational equity. Healthy economies and communities depend on healthy ecosystems. It’s as simple as that. The future of the Great Lakes depends on a vision and plan based on a water-economy that embraces a new water ethic at its center.
I am honored to serve on the Water Quality Board for the IJC and it is my great hope that we can work together to develop recommendations thattranslate into meaningful bi-national actions designed to protect the long-term health of the Great Lakes.
Creative expression holds hands and swims with freshwater stewardship.
Breathtaking, life-sustaining water inspires art, and that art propels us to protect the Great Lakes.
The stillness, waves, clarity, and reflection of water give rise to poetry, music, paintings, dance, letters, and more. It’s a swirling, symbiotic, cyclical relationship that takes on many forms.
It’s poet, author, and avid standup paddleboarder Anne-Marie Oomen soliciting “Love Letters to the Lakes” from her community of writers across Michigan, and then presenting them in a live reading to the International Joint Commission, in hopes that heartfelt prose impacts public policy to protect the Great Lakes.
It’s “Mad Angler” poet Michael Delp and renowned cellist Crispin Campbell sitting together in an historic Michigan barn and performing an enchanting call and response about rivers flowing like veins through our bodies.
It’s artist Glenn Wolff painting a watershed, a town, a creek, and a bay, creating a tapestry to explain how groundwater beneath us is interconnected. It’s a dancer in a light blue chiffon dress delicately toeing the sand, always moving one step ahead of the lapping surf.
It’s Flint hip-hop artist and activist Amber Hasan rapping at Earthwork Harvest Gathering last month about the racism belying Flint’s lead water crisis. “Choppers keep flying ’round here / But people keep dyin’ I swear / I can’t drink the water, and I can’t afford the bills / If you’re sick of this s***, better pop another pill.” It’s music festival organizer and virtuoso Seth Bernard crooning a melodic ode to “Agua” in all its shapes, forms, and languages. “Clouds and rain and lakes it’s water / Mist and sleet and snow and vapor / Hail, hail it’s rising, falling / Flowing down down, ever lower / And up, up. Gathering together / Omnipresent life-maker / Two things bound together / Makes one life life force force giver”
It’s Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City inviting local artists to share water-inspired works for an “Artists for FLOW” showing that benefits our fight to protect that water. It’s an arts center in Glen Arbor inviting high school students next year to submit visual art that examines the question “who owns the water?”
“These waters are part of our DNA,” says FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “We in the Great Lakes Basin are water people. The lakes, the rivers, and the groundwater inspire artists of every background. The water is what enlivens us and unites us.”
That is why FLOW is launching our “Art Meets Water” campaign this week highlighting the heart-felt creativity that inspires us to fight for our public waters and harness that for good. Check out our new “Art Meets Water” webpage to see Wolff’s groundwater tapestry, to read Oomen’s “Love Letters to the Lakes”, to watch Delp and Campbell perform “In Praise of Water,” and to learn more about the “Artists for FLOW” fundraiser at Higher Art Gallery, which continues until Nov. 5, with 10 percent of sales from the exhibit benefiting FLOW.
Embrace the water. Let it fill your creative spirit and fuel our shared fight for freshwater protection.
On these long, lazy September weekends when the forest hints of autumn but Lake Michigan clings to August, you’re reminded how water—and the myriad forms she takes—define your life as you float from chapter to chapter. She’s been with you on all the great journeys: from the brackish fjords of the old country, to the West African river that carries yam boats, to a volcanic lake in the Mayan highlands, even to the orifice-burning salt of the Dead Sea. She’s most forgiving here in these glacial freshwaters, the home to which you always return. She’s healing, too. Earlier this summer your friend scattered his mother’s ashes among these blue waves. She brings both joy and melancholy. If it’s true the eskimos have a hundred words for snow, perhaps we in Leelanau ought to have a hundred words for this lake…
Some seasons you frolic with her in new ways. You dance with her alone on night swims. When the lightning flashes, you dive into her waters, and then look up to see the sky alight. On a windless Thursday evening last you paddled across her glassy bay and chased a sailboat full of poets. You caught them and pirated their ship; they welcomed you with open arms, and prose, and beer and finger food. You learned, with some unease, that the hurricane ravaging the Carolinas had pushed this delightfully good weather north, to your benefit. (In another life, the odds will turn and you’ll be the one living on the low coast, battling tides and tropical storms— and they’ll have the inland serenity of the Great Lakes. So just enjoy it NOW, you reassure yourself!)
On the way back toward the harbor, when you’ve had a few drinks and your blood runs hot, her defense becomes your rally cry, your war call. Fight for her. Build a political manifesto around her. Turn candidates for office into foot soldiers who fight for her defense. Swear you’ll die for her. But also, live for her. Make love inside her depths. Write poetry with a stick along her shores. Do handstands and fall with abandon into her surf. Together with your child, document, day-by-day, how she (soon will) metamorphose into ice and back to water again. Gather wood and plan to stoke your hide in a lakeside sauna and take those screeching plunges into her frigid womb. Live to tell about it. Perhaps write a midnight poem about it. Above all, thank her every day.