Tag: water law

PR: Great Lakes Policy Expert, Environmental Historian Joins FLOW

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                 April 3, 2017

Contact:  Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                                                          
Email:  liz@flowforwater.org
Office: (231) 944-1568; Cell: (570) 872-4956

Great Lakes Policy Expert, Environmental Historian Joins FLOW

TRAVERSE CITY – Great Lakes water law and environmental policy non-profit, For Love Of Water (FLOW), has hired Great Lakes policy expert and environmental historian, Dave Dempsey, as Senior Advisor.

For the past six years, Dempsey has served as Policy Advisor to the International Joint Commission (IJC).  The IJC was established in 1909 by the Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada and is charged with protecting the common waters and water interests of the United States and Canada. 

“We are thrilled and grateful that Dave has chosen to work with our team at FLOW to help protect and preserve the Great Lakes at this critical juncture,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

“Dave’s knowledge and experience will enrich and expand the scope of FLOW’s mission to empower citizens and elected officials with information-based risk analysis and with public trust solutions that will protect the health of the lakes, streams and drinking water in the Great Lakes basin for current and future generations,” Kirkwood said.

Dempsey’s 35-year career has included service as Environmental Policy Advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard, presidential appointee to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and Senior Policy Advisor for the non-profit Michigan Environmental Council. He has also authored or co-authored nine books including the award-winning William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate, 2006.

Dempsey said FLOW is unique in its approach to using the centuries-old public trust doctrine as a powerful tool to protect citizens’ legal rights to use the Great Lakes and to hold state governments accountable for ensuring these waters and public uses are protected in perpetuity.

His strong attraction to working with FLOW at this stage of his career, Dempsey said, is based on the opportunity to work with Kirkwood, the FLOW team, and with FLOW Founder Jim Olson, a nationally recognized environmental lawyer, to foster wide understanding and effective use of the public trust doctrine to protect the Great Lakes.  But, Dempsey said, his decision is also deeply personal.  

“In writing about Michigan’s conservation history, I learned about the men and women of the late 19th Century who laid the groundwork for today’s public forests, fish and game.  They were far ahead of their time. FLOW is comparable.  Its forward-looking efforts will prevent environmental and economic devastation by assuring public ownership and protection of our water,” he said. 

 

 Dave Dempsey,

Senior Advisor at FLOW

 

 

 

FLOW is a Great Lakes water law and policy 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin through public trust solutions.

 

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U.S.-Canadian Boundary Water Governing Board Recommends Game-Changing Public Trust Framework to Safeguard Great Lakes

IJC Report Released Today on Great Lakes Diversions, Consumptive Uses, and Climate Change Adopts Policy Prescription from FLOW, Great Lakes Water Law and Policy Center

TRAVERSE CITY, MI — The International Joint Commission issued a much anticipated report today on the success of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Sustainable Water Resources Agreementand Compact ban on diversions and excessive consumptive water practices. While the IJC gave the Compact and efforts by states and provinces a positive grade, it also noted there is more work to do to assure these efforts are not undermined by lack of vigilance or unanticipated effects such as impacts from climate change and regional and local competition for water, energy and water in the coming decades.

“This is for the most part a good news story,” the IJC report concludes. The report notes that particular advancements are needed to address pressures for diversions and exports from droughts, worldwide water scarcity, and algal blooms from agriculture and sewage treatment plants, exacerbated by climate change. The report recommends immediate support for more data and better assessment of cumulative impacts from smaller incremental diversions, consumptive uses, or other human-induced changes such as global warming. It also emphasizes that decision-making standard for exceptions like the proposed Waukesha diversion must be strictly applied to avoid undermining the Compact.

Michigan water and environmental lawyer Jim Olson, President of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water policy center, who submitted formal comments to the IJC on its initial draft of today’s report, said, “The IJC report and the in-depth consultants’ report not only document the success of the Agreement and Compact among the provinces and states to ban diversions and control consumptive uses to protect and conserve the waters and ecosystem in the Basin, it also spotlights the importance for governments to consider implementing a new game-changing, public trust principle as a ‘backdrop’ to safeguard the Great Lakes and citizens. It will prevent the Agreement and Compact from being undermined by possible political, economic, or uncertain or unexpected natural forces.”

At the outset of its report, the IJC observed that public comments from organizations and others “broadened considerations and strengthened the report,” including FLOW’s proposal to add “a new recommendation that states and provinces consider developing, harmonizing, and implementing a binational public trust framework as a backstop to the Agreement and Compact.”

“The recommendation of the public trust doctrine is leadership at its best,” Olson said. “This ancient principle holds that the waters of the Great Lakes are owned by the states and provinces in trust for the benefit of all citizens.  Governments have a solemn duty as trustees to sustain these waters unimpaired as much as possible from one generation to the next. Understanding and applying public trust principles as a beacon to do the right thing will not only strengthen the diversion ban and the regulation of water use under the Compact,” Olson said, “it also will empower and guide governments, communities – including our tribes and indigenous peoples, businesses, and citizens – to find solutions to the massive threats that we face in the 21st century.  What better way to harmonize our differences and focus our science and energies than bringing us back to the basic reality that we all live in a common home.  It’s a traditional body of law that sets constructive guideposts, which, if we follow, will keep our countries, states, provinces, and people on course in protecting these highly valued public waters.”

The IJC report finds that “the Agreement and Compact will not necessarily be sufficient to protect the long-term ecological integrity and the many public and private uses of the Great Lakes. Binational adoption of public trust principles could provide an effective backstop,” and “it will fill the gaps and deal with as-yet-undefined stresses likely to negatively impact the Great Lakes in the future.”   

Background to the IJC’s 2016 Report on Diversions and Consumptive Uses

An attempt by a corporation to divert water out of Lake Huron and ship it in tankers to China in 1999 sounded the alarm for Canada, the United States, all eight Great Lakes states, and two Great Lakes provinces to adopt an international agreement among all of these jurisdictions, and a separate Great Lakes Compact among the states. Prior to entering into any agreements, the IJC issued a scientific and policy report in 2000 on a protocol for protecting the Great Lakes from diversions and consumptive uses of water within and outside of the Basin. Negotiations between the jurisdictions and stakeholders from industry, communities, nonprofit organizations, tribes and public participation led to a draft agreement in 2004.

In response to more than 10,000 comments and letters, the draft was renegotiated around a call for the prohibition of any diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes Basin, with a handful of narrow exceptions, including one-time transfers for humanitarian purposes or to meet the needs of communities that straddle the Basin’s divide (such as the currently contested diversion of Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee to cities and towns in Waukesha County).  In 2005, the governors of the states signed a Compact, and the governors and premieres of Ontario and Quebec signed a parallel international Agreement.  The Compact was signed into law in 2008.

The 2016 IJC Report and the Future of the Great Lakes

In 2014, as part of its continuing responsibility to protect the flows, levels, and integrity of the Great Lakes and ecosystem, the IJC began an in-depth study to review its findings and conclusions in its 2000 report to account for significant changes or events each decade.  Expert consultants to the IJC, Ralph Pentland, a Canadian water policy expert, and Alex Mayer, a U.S. science and engineering professor at Michigan Technological University, released draft findings for public review and comment from spring to the end of June in 2015.

IJC’s consultants Pentland and Mayer wrote in their 83-page report, which forms the basis of the IJC 2016 report, that the public trust would help address future water issues and trends, including the “uncertainty of climate and lake levels” and “losses that could approach the magnitude of losses related to diversions and consumptive uses.” They also found that “increasing droughts, storm events and the ‘nexus’ of intense competition for water sources for food, energy and development could override commitment to protect the Lakes,” and cited the California drought as “a reminder of communities literally running out of water.” Their findings also noted the current and evolving state of science that may better measure effects from human and natural forces in the future, prompting the need for a harmonizing public trust framework.  An “uptick” in NAFTA or other international trade law claims against water restrictions and outside political pressures could shackle the Agreement and Compact in the future.

FLOW submitted comments on the draft IJC report last summer. Since 2011, FLOW has concentrated its work on the public trust doctrine as a potential framework for protecting and managing the Great Lakes, when it submitted, along with the Council of Canadians, a request to the IJC to review the public trust doctrine as a principle for its decisions under its 1909 treaty.  FLOW has continued to submit research comments and published papers demonstrating the practical application of public trust standards to water levels, algal blooms, adaptive management practices, the straddling diversion exception in Waukesha, Wisconsin, net pen aquaculture, oil and gas state land leases, and crude oil pipeline transport on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes.

FLOW’s June 2015 comments on the IJC draft report analyzed the potential importance of the public trust as a guiding background by applying to the issues facing the Great Lakes. There is a vast body of precedent that shows that governments have a perpetual and affirmative duty to take necessary actions to protect water, people, public health, and the integrity of watersheds and ecosystems.

FLOW board member Keith Schneider, the senior correspondent for Circle of Blue’s Water News, said, “Elevating the public trust doctrine to a modern governmental strategy to secure water resources is an idea of momentous import for our region and North America.”

“The Agreement and Compact recognize water is a ‘public treasure’ that is ‘held in trust’ to benefit our citizens and communities,” Olson added. “Why not use it given the threats we see from climate change, invasive species, water exports and diversions, and increased water scarcity and greater competition? Without developing a legal framework that transcends the multi jurisdictions in the Great Lakes, we’re seeing increasing public health and environmental crises like the Flint water crisis, poisoning residents with lead and other chemicals for 18 months, and algal blooms in Lake Erie shutting down Toledo’s municipal water supply. Why wouldn’t we want a time-tested body of public trust law that applies equally to all 40 million beneficiaries designed to safeguard the Great Lakes?”

 

For References, see:

IJC 2016 10-Year Review Report

FLOW’s Public Trust Report on the Great Lakes to IJC

Court Confirms 45 Miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline Owned by State Under Public Trust

Court Confirms Indiana’s 45-Mile Shoreline on Lake Michigan Owned and Held by State for Public Recreation Under Public Trust Doctrine

By Jim Olson[1]

 

Another state court confirms that the 3,200 miles of Great Lakes shoreline are owned by states in public trust for citizens to enjoy for walking, swimming, sunbathing and similar beach and water related activities on public trust lands below the Ordinary High Water Mark (“OHWM”).[2]

When Indiana was carved out of the Northwest Territories and joined the United States in 1816, the State took title in trust for all waters of Lake Michigan and all land below the OHWM along the state’s 45-mile shoreline.Map of Indiana Shoreline with Counties

In 2012, the lakefront owners on Lake Michigan  in Long Beach, Indiana, filed a lawsuit against the town of Long Beach, claiming they owned all of the land to the waters’ edge. Lakefront owners asked the trial court judge to prohibit any interference with their private property by town residents and the city who used the beach as public for walking, sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking  since the town was incorporated. A group of local residents and homeowners organized into the Long Beach Community Alliance (“LBCA”),  and intervened in the dispute to defend their public right of access for walking and recreation over the wide strip of white sugar sand between the shoreline and the retaining walls and yards of the lakefront owners. The Alliance for the Great Lakes (“AGA”) headquartered in nearby Chicago, and Save the Dunes (“STD”), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the dunes on Indiana’s shoreline, also intervened to protect the interests of their members who were citizens of Indiana and used and enjoyed the Lake Michigan shore.

In late December 2013, the trial judge ruled that the lakefront landowners could not interfere with the town or residents’ efforts to pass ordinances recognizing the land below the OHWM belonged to the state and was held in public trust for residents and citizens of Indiana.[3]

Not satisfied, the lakefront owners appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. In 2014, the appellate court recognized the trial judge’s ruling below, but remanded the matter back to the trial court for a more comprehensive decision on the State’s title and the public trust in the shoreline.[4] The court reasoned that the State of Indiana had not been made a party in the local suit, a prerequisite for a court ruling on a landownership and pubic trust shoreline dispute.

Another lakefront owner pressed forward with a related new lawsuit, again claiming ownership to the waters’ edge, based on their deeds that, they argued, gave them title to the waters’ edge, even if that meant their title cut off the rights of citizens of Indiana to the shoreline below the OHWM. This time the state was named a defendant, and the LBCA, AGA, and STD once more intervened.

It’s common knowledge that Lake Michigan water levels have fluctuated about 6 feet between highs and lows since the federal government started keeping records in 1860. In the late 1980s, the water levels and wave action threatened the lakefront owners’ retaining walls and homes. In 2013, the year the first court ruling came down, the water levels were so low, the distance from the waters’ edge to the lakefront owners’ retaining walls was wider than the length of a football field.

Longbeach, Ind Shoreline photo

While the knowledge may not be so common for many citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court and the courts of states abutting the Great Lakes have routinely ruled that each state took title to the waters and lands of the Great Lakes up to the OHWM. In 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all of the Great Lakes’ waters and bottomlands to this ordinary high water mark are owned by the states in trust for all citizens.[5]  The Illinois legislature deeded one square mile of Lake Michigan on Chicago’s waterfront to the Illinois Central Railroad company for an industrial complex. However, the Supreme Court voided the deed, and found that the public trust in these lands and waters is inviolate and could not be sold off, alienated, or even legislated away.

Despite this history, lakefront owners the Gundersons, pushed for exclusive ownership of the beach to exclude residents from the beach between their homes and the waters’ edge.  The State of Indiana Department of Natural Resources, LBCA, AGA, and STD defended public ownership and the residents and citizens’ right to use the public trust shoreline for walking, swimming, sunbathing, and similar water-related recreational activities.

On July 24,  2015, LaPorte County Judge Richard Stalbrink wrote a near text-book-perfect decision on the public trust doctrine and ruled against the lakefront owners in favor of the state, LBCA, AGA, and STD,  confirming that the beach below the ordinary high water mark to the waters’ edge belongs to the state and is subject to a paramount public trust that cannot be interfered with or impaired by lakefront owners.[6]

First, Judge Stalbrink followed the Supreme Court cases holding that the state obtained title to the waters and bottomlands to the OHWM when it joined the Union in 1816. Second, Stalbrink ruled that this beach land below the OHWM was held in trust for public walking, swimming, fishing access, and other public recreational uses. Third, the Court confirmed that Indiana’s definition of the OHWM was proper, given that the definition takes into account the physical characteristics that define a permanent shoreline as reasonable evidence of the public portion of the shoreline.  Finally, Judge Stalbrink recognized that because water levels of Lake Michigan fluctuate, the width of the beach is subject to change, but that there is always a paramount right of the public to access the beach for proper public trust recreational activities.

As Judge Stalbrink observed near the end of his decision, ”Private lot owners cannot impair the public’s right to use the beach below the OHWM for these protected purposes. To hold otherwise would invite the creation of a bach landscape dotted with small, private, fenced and fortified compounds designed to deny the public from enjoying Indiana’s limited access to one of the greatest natural resources in this State.”[7]

 

(Author’s End Note: See rulings by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2005. Glass v Goeckel, 473 Mich 667, 703 N.W. 2d. 58 (2005), Ohio Supreme Court in Merrill v Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 130 Ohio St. 3d 30, (2011) (on remand before Court of Common Pleas, Lake County, Ohio for factual determination of OHWM); the Gunderson decision upholding public trust in Long Beach should control the decision in the companion case, LBLHA, LLC v Town of Long Beach et al., supra note 2, on remand to the Laporte County trial court).

[1]President and Founder, Flow for Love of Water.

[2]See Melissa Scanlan, Blue Print for a Great Lakes Trail, Vermont Law School Research Paper No. 14-14 (2014).  (Professor Scanlan proposes walking trail within public trust lands and without interference with riparian use based on public trust doctrine in the Great Lakes); James Olson, All Aboard: Navigating the Course for Universal Adoption of the Public Trust Doctrine, 15 Vt. J. E. L. 135 (2014) (Author documents the application of the public trust doctrine in all eight Great Lakes states and two provinces of Canada).

[3]LBLHA, LLC  v Town of Long Beach et al., Cause No. 46C01-1212-PL-1941. (The author, Jim Olson, discloses that he was one of the attorneys, along with Kate Redman, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, P.C., Traverse City, Michigan, in this case for the Long Beach Community Alliance in favor of public trust in shoreline).

[4]LBLHA, LLC v Town of Long Beach et al., 28 N.E. 3d. 1077 (2014). The Indiana Court of Appeals remanded to the trial court to add the State of Indiana as a party; this case will not proceed in same fashion as the Gunderson case discussed in this paper, which was decided by the same LaPorte County trial court.

[5]Illinois v Illinois Central Railroad, 146 US 387 (1892).

[6]Gunderson v State et al., LaPorte Superior Court 2, Cause No. 46D02-1404-PL-606, Decision, July 24, 2015, 22 pps. (Judge Stalbrink, Richard, Jr.); Indiana Law Blog, Ind. Decisions, July 28, 2015 http://indianalawblog.com/archives/2015’07/ind_decisions_m_709.html.; see also U.S. v Carstens, 982 F Supp 874, 878 (N.D. Ind. 2013).

[7]Id., Indiana Law Blog, at p. 3.

As Long as Oil Flows through the Straits Pipelines, the Great Lakes Remain at Unacceptable Risk

The Great Lakes are no safer from an oil pipeline spill today despite yesterday’s release of the State of Michigan Pipeline Task Force’s 80-page report and recommendations.

The Task Force report included four recommendations directed at Enbridge’s twin 62-year-old petroleum pipelines located on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac: (1) Ban transportation of heavy crude oil through the Straits pipelines; (2) Require an independent risk analysis and full insurance coverage for the pipelines; (3) Require an independent analysis of alternatives to the existing pipelines; (4) Obtain more inspection data from Enbridge relating to the pipelines.

Yet, oil still flows through Line 5.  The Task Force rejected shutting down Line 5 while gathering additional information on the basis that they had “inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines.” (P. 57)

Impose Emergency Measures Immediately

At a minimum, however, the Task Force should impose immediate emergency measures on the pipeline given (1) potential violations of the 1953 Easement related to Enbridge’s inability to demonstrate that it has adequate liability coverage to cover all damages from an oil spill; (2) the Coast Guard’s admission that it is inadequately prepared to clean up an open water spill in freshwater let alone under frozen winter conditions; (3) Enbridge’s failure to disclose inspection, maintenance, and repair records to document internal and external corrosion rates under the Straits and inherent limitations related to inline inspection tools.

The question remains: how much more information do we need to unveil before our trustee – the State – takes swift protective action that prioritizes the paramount interests of citizens over private corporations?

The Task Force and the public have rejected the idea that the Straits Pipelines can last indefinitely.  In fact, the Attorney General Bill Schuette has declared that “the days of letting two controversial oil pipelines operate under the Straits of Mackinac are numbered.”  This is hopeful news, but every day counts, and until we have specific measures in place that prevent a catastrophic spill, the State of Michigan is placing the Great Lakes at risk.

The Province: B.C. should enshrine ‘public trust’ principle to protect its groundwater, says Michigan water lawyer

Read the full article in The Province here

Nestle - Laurence Gillieron, APAmid growing controversy around B.C.’s lax groundwater regulation, an American lawyer who waged a 10-year winning court battle against Nestlé is watching to see how the province modernizes its century-old Water Act.

The Province’s reports last week on Nestlé and other companies extracting B.C. groundwater without regulation caught the attention of Michigan environmental lawyer Jim Olson, who offered his views on the matter.

Olson is no stranger to these issues. In 2010, he was awarded the State Bar of Michigan’s Champion of Justice award for the decade-long court battle he waged on behalf of Michigan citizens against Nestlé.

The case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation vs. Nestlé began in 2000, when activists grew concerned the government was not adequately monitoring or controlling Nestlé’s water-taking practices in the region.

Representing the citizens, Olson won the case, resulting in Nestlé being ordered to reduce its water withdrawals during low-flow seasons.

Now, Olson says he’s watching B.C. But beyond the specific details of B.C.’s proposed water regulation — the price charged per million litres, the number of litres allowed, how much to allocate to different users, and so on — Olson says one vital piece of any new legislation is a broader legal concept: the public trust.

“This is true in both the United States and Canada, both states and provinces, no matter what water regime you choose … it’s going to be very important for each province to declare water a public trust,” Olson said from his law office in Michigan.

The public trust concept essentially means water is a public resource owned by the people of Canada, with the government acting as a trustee responsible for taking care of the resource.

“It’s a very important principle, even if it’s a one-paragraph declaration,” Olson said. “It would operate as a shield against unforeseen claims and unforeseen circumstances.”

Olson gives a hypothetical example: if, at some point in the future, B.C.’s water resources were depleted significantly, the government might ask a bottled water company to reduce their water takings accordingly. But without the public trust doctrine enshrined in legislation, it would be much more difficult to make that company reduce its consumption, not unlike Olson’s court case against Nestlé in Michigan.

The public trust doctrine is becoming increasingly common and established in modern water legislation, said Oliver Brandes, a water expert from the University of Victoria’s faculty of law. The legal concept is more evolved in several American states, and has been incorporated into environmental legislation in some parts of Canada, including Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Quebec.

The public trust concept acknowledges that water is different from other resources, said Brandes.

“There are certain resources that are just so special, because life depends on it,” Brandes said. “Something like oil and gas, it isn’t crucial to life. But water, you have to protect it for everybody, because if you take it away, there is no substitute.”

Allegan County News: Fracking – Gun Plain continues process

Read the full article in the Allegan County News here

By Kayla Deneau, Staff Writer

The Gun Plain Township board and the planning commission had a joint informational meeting Wednesday, July 17, to discuss horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, with residents.

For the Love Of Water representatives were at the meeting to give a presentation and answer the public’s questions on the issue.

FLOW and the Department of Environmental Quality have both previously met with the board and the planning commission to educate them about fracking.

Fracking is a relatively new technology. It uses a mixture of fresh water, sand and chemicals and injects the mixture in wells at a high pressure to fracture rock and release oil and natural gas.

The method has been used in Michigan since 2010. It can reach depths up to two miles deep and can use up to 21 million gallons of water per well.

According to FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood, Michigan is ranked 12th in the nation for the production of natural gas and as of May has 52 current fracking wells, 17 pending wells and it is expected to have 200 new wells by the end of this year.

May estimates showed approximately 752,260 acres of land are leased for the purpose of fracking in Michigan with about 25,000 acres leased in Allegan County.

Township supervisor Mike VanDenBerg said none of the 17 pending wells are in the county.

Kirkwood said there are many local risks associated with this unconventional method.

The first is the massive amount of water that is permanently lost. The water used in each well is removed from lakes, stream and groundwater sources.

Another risk, Kirkwood said, is the wastewater that returns to the surface and its disposal. The water can be 10 times saltier than seawater and can also be mixed with other contaminants such as various chemicals or radioactive matter.

In Michigan, the wastewater is disposed of in Class II deep injection wells, of which there are approximately 1,500 throughout the state. This increases the risk of earthquakes in the state, she said.

There is limited disclosure of chemicals used in the water mixture. Over 750 chemicals are used in the process, Kirkwood said, including at least 29 that are known as possible carcinogens. Local authorities are not privy to what chemicals are being used until well after fracking is completed.

Water and air pollution can also occur and a result of fracking, Kirkwood said. Faulty wells can create ways for fracking fluid to contaminate groundwater and aquifers. Excess natural gas from the wells as well as methane, ozone smog and soot from diesel engines, compressor stations and hauling trucks pollute the air.

She said heavy truck traffic not only increases pollution and surface spill risk, but also puts a burden on local road infrastructure and can require new road construction in rural areas. The land being used also has to house all the equipment necessary to complete the fracking process.

In 2010, 21 percent of all natural gas was obtained through fracking; in 2011 30 percent was obtained this way, according to Kirkwood.

“This is a real issue we need to think about because we are investing very heavily in this course,” she said. “I raise this question to all of us, is this the bridge to clean energy and renewable resources that we think that we need to get in order to reduce climate change impacts.”

She said the natural gas and oil industry is currently exempt from key federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, RCRA and Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Some communities have chosen to ban fracking. Some of the advantages are that if it is a real threat to your community it will stop it immediately,” Kirkwood said. “In Michigan bans are tough. Unless the legislature is going to enact a ban it is difficult for townships to do it.”

She said FLOW is committed to working with residents of Gun Plain Township to achieve the outcome that best meets their needs.

For more information, visit flowforwater.org or call (231) 944-1568.

Toledo Blade: Great Lakes ‘ground zero’ for water needs

Read the article on the Toledo Blade here

By Tom Henry, Blade Staff Writer

Climate change and population growth are making the Great Lakes region’s role as a global food producer more important as water shortages become more severe in other parts of the world.

But even though some agribusinesses within this water-blessed region have growing concerns about future water availability, that message may be hard for area residents to fathom in the short-term because of an unusually long bout of thunderstorms this summer.

“The coming water crisis will affect everyone and everywhere, including everyone and every community in the Great Lakes region and basin,”said Jim Olson, a Traverse City water-rights lawyer.

The Great Lakes are positioned to become “ground zero” as water vanishes elsewhere. The region has long been viewed as one of the world’s most abundant collections of fresh water and would be in a crucial position to adapt to a global water crisis.

The Great Lakes are North America’s largest lakes by volume, holding 20 percent of all fresh surface water on Earth. Their 6 quadrillion gallons are enough to submerge the entire continental United States in five feet of water. They are the source of drinking water for 30 million Americans and 10 million Canadians.

They do not hold as much fresh water as the world’s largest lake, Russia’s Lake Baikal, nor do they come close to holding most of the fresh water on Earth. But unlike Lake Baikal, which is in Siberia, the Great Lakes lie in a moderate climate and are accessible to people daily for shipping, recreation, tourism, drinking water, agriculture, energy production, and manufacturing.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) is one of several public officials who have described the Great Lakes region as “the Saudi Arabia of water” in recent years, to underscore the point that water is becoming more valuable than oil in some parts of the world. She and others have noted that humans can live without oil, but not water.

Changing times
The lakes’ usage has drawn more attention in recent years from politicians and legal scholars, such as those who attend the University of Toledo college of law’s renowned Great Lakes water-law conference each fall. They have stated on numerous occasions that Great Lakes water-management laws pale in comparison to those of the American Southwest, where political battles over water rights have been fought for decades.

Scholars believe this region’s legal framework is evolving into a stronger one as water controversies and more political battles heat up, as evidenced by intense negotiations that resulted in the Great Lakes region’s first binding water-management compact.

The Great Lakes region has traditionally been less irrigated than others. But that too is changing.

Michigan and Ohio have had an uptick in irrigation permits the past two years, largely a result of the 2012 drought and concerns over weather becoming more unpredictable because of climate change.

“Farmers are just hedging against bad weather,” Jim Hoorman, Ohio State University’s cooperative extension agent in Putnam County, said of the greater interest in Great Lakes-area irrigation. Mr. Hoorman also is an OSU assistant professor of agriculture and natural resources.

The long-term outlook has the potential to affect anything from shipping to recreation to water quality, potentially worsening western Lake Erie’s algae as changing food markets worldwide prompt area land to be farmed more intensely.

“We are blessed in Ohio with water, but there is a need for a long-term strategy on [better] managing the resource,” said Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of policy development and environmental policy.

‘Peak water’
The issue gained more traction recently following the publication of a major essay by Lester R. Brown, president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute and author of a book on the global politics of food scarcity.

In his paper, Mr. Brown notes half of the world’s population is in 18 countries that are water-stressed: They are pumping out aquifers faster than rain is replenishing them. That group includes the politically unstable Middle East but also China, India, and the United States — the world’s top three food producers.

Mr. Brown theorizes that if the world has now reached what is known as “peak water” — that point at which water will forever be used faster than it is replaced — then the business of growing food will change because it will be more difficult to produce it in water-stressed areas.

“The world has quietly transitioned into a situation where water, not land, has emerged as the principal constraint on expanding food supplies,” Mr. Brown wrote.

Great Plains
One of the most water-stressed parts of the United States is the Great Plains region, where water is being depleted fast from the massive Ogallala aquifer by Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska.

The Ogallala is one of the nation’s most important aquifers but does not recharge with rainfall like a typical aquifer. It is one of two so-called “fossil aquifers” in the world that get special attention from hydrologists because of their proximity to large populations. Another one is in China.

A magnet effect
As Great Plains wells dry up, farms in the Great Lakes region and other parts of the Midwest will be under greater pressure to produce, officials said.

“We are going to see and are already seeing water-intensive industries move back to the Midwest,” said Jim Byrum, Michigan Agri-Business Association president.

One such industry is dairy farming.

Some California dairy farmers, frustrated by California’s tighter water restrictions, have relocated to northwest Ohio and parts of Michigan.

Mr. Byrum also said some northern Michigan farmland taken out of production years ago is being used for agriculture again — another sign of how demand for food is growing and how the Great Lakes region is evolving into a landing spot for those who encounter water shortages and other food-production issues elsewhere.

The Great Lakes region has gained about 10 growing days a year because of climate change. But that increase is offset by concerns about water, Mr. Antosch said.

Or, rather, water falling from the sky at the right time.

Extreme weather
Extreme weather events cause a mirage of water abundance. When there aren’t extended droughts, like the one in 2012, there can be long bouts of thunderstorms, as there have been this summer.

Rain from quick, passing thunderstorms rolls fast off soil and into rivers and streams. Farmers need soft, all-day soakers that better penetrate soil, Mr. Antosch said.

Linda Weavers, professor and chairman of Ohio State University’s civil, environmental, and geodetic engineering department, said farming more intensely could result in more nutrients and pesticides being used. That would “put a lot more stress on Lake Erie,” said Ms. Weavers, co-director of OSU’s Ohio Water Resources Center.

Scientists are promoting research into cover crops as a way of trapping more water and keeping more nutrients on farms, Mr. Hoorman said.

“In order to grow crops, you need water. But you need the right amount,” he said.

Chris Coulon, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service spokesman for Ohio, said that agency has a “healthy soils” campaign that promotes the water-holding capacity of dirt.

Great Lakes states have had less frost and ice because of climate change.

Less frost allows more pests to survive. That can lead to a greater use of pesticides and poorer water quality if chemicals get washed off land by rain, Mr. Antosch said.

Less ice means year-round evaporation of the lakes, which leads to lower lake levels. That leads to higher shipping costs.

Managing water
Water management is the focus of a regional water compact the eight Great Lakes states settled on after years of negotiations, following a Canadian firm’s 1998 attempt to ship Lake Superior water to Asia in tankers. Representatives of the agricultural community said they plan to keep a close eye on it to see if it is effective enough at protecting water resources for food production.

“The compact is the right context to frame this in,” said Howard Reeves, a scientist in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Michigan Water Science Center.

Brent Lofgren, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, said many of the global impacts raised by Mr. Brown’s paper are more closely associated with symptoms of human-induced stress than climate change.

Earth’s current population of 7.2 billion people is twice what it was in the mid-1960s. It is expected to exceed 10 billion people later this century.

China and India are using more water because they have become more modernized societies, with more energy production and automotive use.

“Higher standards of living require more land and more resources. That is very real pressure,” said John Bartholic, director of the Michigan State University Institute of Water Research. “What Les Brown talks about is real. We’re [using] too much water. We’ve all got to work together on this.”

The United States and Canada have worked together on mutual Great Lakes issues the past 114 years, since they signed the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The theme of it was advanced in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that former President Richard Nixon and former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signed in 1972. That agreement was updated in 2012 to reflect more modern issues such as climate change.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079

MLive: Cannon Township group gathers to discuss anti-fracking ordinance

Read the article on MLive here.

May 22, 2013 at 12:45 PM, updated May 22, 2013 at 1:06 PM

ROCKFORD, MI – A group of 15 citizens and township leaders gathered at the Cannon Township Hall on Wednesday, May 22, to create regulations that may limit hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” if an oil or gas well is ever drilled in the township.

Jim Olson, a Traverse City lawyer and founder of FLOW (For Love of Water) of Michigan said the session is the first of three he will lead with the goal of developing a zoning ordinance that would limit hydraulic fracturing in the township, located east of Rockford in northeastern Kent County.

Jim Olson, founder of FLOW (For Love Of Water) of Michigan, leads a meeting with citizens at at meeting in Cannon Township on Wednesday, May 22

Jim Olson, founder of FLOW (For Love Of Water) of Michigan, leads a meeting with citizens at at meeting in Cannon Township on Wednesday, May 22. (c) Jim Harger | MLive

“We will develop a package that is ready to turn over to your planner and your attorney,” Olson told the group at the outset of the two-hour meeting.

Earlier this month, the township’s board adopted a six-month moratorium on any “fracking” related activities while the board studies possible restrictions on “ancillary” activities.

Currently, there are no applications to drill oil and gas wells in the township or Kent County, according to the DEQ. Some private and public lands have been leased by oil and gas exploration companies.

“Fracking” pumps high volumes of water, sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells in an attempt to improve their flow.

Though “fracking” has been used on Michigan oil and gas wells for 60 years, environmentalists are concerned because “fracking” on modern horizontally drilled oil wells use millions of gallons of groundwater.

Olson told the group federal and state environmental laws exempt “fracking” activities while local governments are restricted from regulating the practice.

“We don’t take a position on whether fracking is good or bad,” he said. Banning the practice is not legal but local governments can take action to protect their water and air quality.

Banning the practice, Olson said, “is a difficult path to go down.” In fact, the state law says local groups are barred from regulating oil and gas drilling, he said.

But townships can govern “ancillary activities” such as water wells, trucking access roads, “sweetening facilities” that process the oil or gas, chemical and mixing stations and transfer stations, Olson said.

Olson said a special use permit could be developed “to at least let your citizens know what’s coming.”

Cannon Township resident Mary Reusch said she attended the meeting because she and her husband are worried about the possibility of losing the trees in the Cannonsburg State Game Area, which lies next to their home.

“It would break my heart to see those trees come down,” said Reusch, who said her husband walks through the forested area almost daily.

Reusch said she also is worried about the impact “fracking” could have on Meandering Creek, which runs through the 10-acre parcel on which they have lived for the past 13 years.

Cannon Township resident Shirley Kallio said she attended the meeting because a parcel of farmland near her home has been leased for oil and gas exploration.

FLOW leaders also are meeting with citizens in Muskegon County’s Montague Township and Kalkaska this week to discuss similar actions.
Olson, who plans to meet with the group again on June 19, gave the group “homework,” asking them to develop a rational for protecting their resources.

In the greater Grand Rapids area, the only oil and gas well that has permission to “frack” is located in Ionia County’s Ionia Township.

The well, which was drilled last fall on a farm north of I-96 by Texas-based Rosetta Resources, has not yet been “fracked” or completed, according to Bill Mitchell, a geologist with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Video: Jim Olson, Maude Barlow on Public Trust and the Commons at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club 15th Annual Forum

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FLOW President and Chair Jim Olson joins international water advocate Maude Barlow at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club’s 15th Annual Environmental Forum on March 25, 2013. To watch the video in full, click here.

Radio: Thirsty Natural Gas Wells Proposed — Jim Olson on IPR

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Jim Olson speaks with Peter Payette on on Interlochen Public Radio program Points North

“Attorney Jim Olson says Michigan is playing a guessing game when it comes to water use and the development of deep shale gas. He says the safeguards in place are inadequate when it comes to protecting rivers and streams. State regulators say they can and do deny water withdrawal permits when oil and gas companies want to take too much water from the ground to drill a natural gas well.”

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