Author: Guest Blogger Emma Lui

Bayfield: A community full of inspiring stewards of the Great Lakes

By Guest Blogger and FLOW Board Member, Emma Lui, Council of Canadians Water Campaigner.
Read the original post here.

Maude Barlow and I arrived in Bayfield, Ontario, the 15th stop of the Great Lakes Need Great Friends tour, on Friday evening. It is a beautiful village and Main Street is full of quaint, cozy and independent restaurants, inns, café’s, art galleries and stores.

Maude speaking in Bayfield ON Sept 2013Maude was invited by the Bayfield River Valley Trail Association, a group of dedicated volunteers that establish and maintain trails in the area.

A reception was held Friday evening with fellow water activists, conservationists, environmentalists and people who simply love the Great Lakes. On Saturday, Roger and Pat Lewington of the Trail Association invited Maude, Environmental Defence’s Nancy Goucher and Alanna Scott and I for a boat ride on the beautiful waters of Lake Huron. In the afternoon, we joined others for an Urban Pole Walk on the Saw Mill Trail to raise funds for the Alexandra Marine and General Hospital Foundation. There was also an art show and silent auction showcasing the talent of local artists.

madue with lower water levels in Bayfield ON Sept 2013 It didn’t take long to see the strong sense of community that Bayfield has. Roger explained how the community members are always helping each other out. And volunteers of the Trail Association understand the connection between protecting the trails and local waters and Great Lakes issues.

Bayfield is smack in the middle of Chemical Valley in Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Sarnia and the proposed nuclear waste dumps in Saugeen Shores and Kincardine. Bayfield is also faced with agricultural run-off, E. coli and drastically low water levels that plague much of Lake Huron’s communities. See Maude in the picture to the right where the wall behind her marks the receding lake levels in Bayfield.

The Saturday evening event was sold out and the Town Hall where the event was held was jam packed. The Town Hall is a beautiful old building that was saved by locals years back from being destroyed.

Maude gave an inspiring speech to a fully engaged crowd. She warned the audience that “we are a world running out of water” and talked about the “vicious new threats” to the Great Lakes are fracking and pipelines carrying tar sands and fracked oil and gas. Maude stressed the need for a new water ethic where water is at the centre of all policy including trade, economics, the environment and health, which she outlines in her new book Blue Future released Saturday night.

Bayfield ON Audience for maude sept 2013
Some ways of protecting the Great Lakes include helping to stop Line 67 that would carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Lake Superior, urging Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to stop a pipeline project that would bring fracked gas from the Marcellus shale to Toronto, calling for a moratorium on fracking in Ontario and the Great Lakes and making Great Lakes communities Blue Communities.

 
Bayfield’s beaches and marina have their Blue Flag label. The Trail Association volunteers and others have been asking Mayor Bill Dowson for many years to ban bottled water as well as recognize the human right to water and promote public water services in order to become a Blue Community. After attending Maude’s talk on Saturday, we hope Mayor Dowson will consider making the town of Bluewater, which the village of Bayfield belongs to, a Blue Community.

Congratulations to Ray and Paula Letheren, Roger and Pat Lewington and the other volunteers of the Trail Association for organizing such an amazing event and for all the fantastic work they do to protect the Great Lakes. They are an inspiring example of what it means to be stewards of the Great Lakes.

Kalkaska County: The centre of fracking in the Great Lakes Basin

Guest Blogger and FLOW Board Member Emma Lui is the Water Campaign Director for the Council of Canadians. She shared her recent blog post with us about her recent trip to Kalkaska, MI. Read the original post on canadians.org

Driving into Kalkaska County, the welcome sign displays a picture of an oil well which is indicative of the history of oil and gas drilling in the county.

Welcome sign to Kalkaska, MIFLOW’s Communications Director Eric Olson and I drove 30 minutes outside of Traverse City Monday afternoon to the neighbouring county of Kalkaska. Kalkaska is an economically depressed community and many closed stores on Kalkaska’s downtown are a stark indication of that.

We met with Paul Brady, a ‘fracking watchdog’ according to media reports, who took us to see some of Encana’s well sites. The first well site we visited was the Excelsior 1-13 well in Excelsior Township, one of Kalkaska’s twelve townships. The site stores equipment and produces gas but minimal compared to some of Encana’s other well sites. But Encana has plans to expand the number of horizontal wells at this site. The development of the original site destroyed wetlands and some residents are concerned that Encana’s expansion will further destroy wetlands in the area.

Excelsior Well operated by EncanaKalkaska has become the centre of fracking in Michigan with more fracking permits and active applications than any other county in the state. What’s more, not only is Canadian company Encana planning to frack 500 new deep shale wells in the area but they are also breaking records with the amount of water they are using to frack Kalkaska’s wells. According to the National Wildlife Federation’s report Hydraulic Fracturing in the Great Lakes Basin: The State of Play in Michigan in Ohio, most fracked wells in the Utica shale use between 7.5 and 22.7 million litres of water but Encana has reported that it used 45 million litres of groundwater per well to frack the Excelsior 2-25and Garfield 1-25 wells and 80 million litres of groundwater to frack its Excelsior 3-25 well. Recent news reports revealed that Ecana wants to withdraw 15 billion litres of water for the 500 new wells they plan to frack.

Michigan may soon be the state with the most fracking within the Great Lakes Basin, making Kalkaska County the centre of fracking in the Great Lakes Basin. Ohio and Pennsylvania are Great Lakes states with a significant amount of fracking but most of the fracking within these states occurs outside of the Basin.

Encana brine tanks fracking Kalkaska

 

Next we drove down a dirt road called Sunset Trail and arrived at what Paul calls “Michigan’s first superpad,” known as the Oliver pad. The pad currently has three wells, which were completed in November of 2011 and are now producing wells. There are five more to come, for a total of eight wells. Standing on a small hill just outside the Oliver pad, we saw Encana’s holding tanks of condensate and brine. The site is clean, neat and almost sparse, with no traces of the toxic mixture that Encana used to frack the three wells on site – a very different picture from when the wells were being fracked. But the real threat is what can’t be seen above ground. Encana will draw groundwater in Kalkaska resulting in the loss of approximately 1.1 billion litres from the North Branch of the Manistee River. The North Branch of the Manistee River, a coldwater trout stream, is roughly 1400 feet from where we stood looking at the fracked wells of the Oliver pad.

Emma Lui fracking kalkaskaAs we walked on Sunset Trail which is in the Pere Marquette State Forest, Paul tells us the story of how back in May 2012, Team Services, a company contracted out by Encana, sprayed over 150,000 litres of fracking flowback on the very road we were walking on.

We drove down a few roads and arrived at the North Branch of the Manistee River. It looks small and unassuming but is a tributary to the Manistee River, which itself is a winding river of over 300 kilometres that eventually snakes its way to Lake Michigan. As mentioned, Encana’s fracking projects will result in the loss of approximately 1.1 billion litres from the North Branch.

Kalkaska wastewater

Encana has other well sites in the county including the Garfield well in Garfield Township which used 45 million litres of water in December 2012 as well as the Westerman well site in Rapid River Township where residents have raised concerns about water well failures after fracking began.

Encana’s proposed fracking plans are a threat to the county’s water sources, Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin. The shorelines of Lake Michigan are already under stress, with Lakes Michigan, Ontario and Erie having the highest levels of cumulative stress. Several municipalities in Michigan have already placed a moratorium on fracking.

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan has begun a statewide ballot initiative to “prohibit the new type of horizontal fracking and frack wastes in Michigan.” 258, 088 signatures are required in order for Michigan to hold a referendum on the issue in 2014. Click here to endorse this initiative.

As Maude Barlow points out in her report Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever, while there are many political jurisdictions governing the Great Lakes Basin, it is, in fact, one integrated watershed and needs to be seen and governed as such. We need to work towards banning fracking around the lakes in order to protect the entire Great Lakes Basin.

To read background information about fracking in Michigan, click here.
To view more pictures from this trip, click here.

Emma Lui’s blog

Rochester groups are Protecting the Great Lakes Forever

Guest Blogger and FLOW Board Member Emma Lui is the Water Campaign Director for the Council of Canadians. She shared her recent blog post with us about Maude Barlow’s speaking engagement in Rochester, NY.

I just got home from an incredible event in Rochester, New York, the fourth Great Lakes tour stop. Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians, has been touring around the Great Lakes speaking out about threats to the Great Lakes and what we need to do to stop them once and for all. We began the Great Lakes tour last year where we visited eight cities and continued the tour this year with events already in Duluth, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids.

Wayne Howard, Linda Isaacson Fedele, Kate Kremer and Peter Debes of Rochester Sierra Club, Eric and Jim Olson from FLOW for water along with the support of Cool Rochester, Monroe Community College and Rochester Institute of Technology, did an incredible job organizing an thought-provoking and inspiring event.

On Thursday night Maude gave a riveting talk to a captivated audience of 300 about the serious threats plaguing the Great Lakes including fracking, pollution, low water levels and inequitable extraction. Recognizing the amazing work that groups have been doing to protect the lakes for decades, she outlined a needed shift in decision and policy making around the Great Lakes and outlined a framework on how to effectively address the threats to Great Lakes, so we’re not simply fighting one fight after another.

maude barlow photo from Rochester, NY

Barlow addresses the audience in Rochester, NY

Maude put forward a vision of the Great Lakes that protects a community’s right to say ‘no’ to projects harmful to water sources, incorporates community input into decision making and prioritize communities’ rights to water over private interests. These ideas form the basis of the notion that the Great Lakes are a commons and public trust. The notion of the commons, a very old concept, states that certain resources – such and air and water – are shared resources which people within a community have the collective obligation to protect. The public trust doctrine outlines governments’ obligations to protect these shared resources for community use from private exploitation.

After Maude’s talk, she was joined by Jim Olson from FLOW, Roger Downs from Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and David Klein from the Nature Conservancy for an engaging panel discussion and to answer the audience’s questions. Jim Olson, an expert in the public trust doctrine, stressed that private rights cannot subordinate public rights.

Rochester was an important community to host a tour stop because of the water issues they’re facing. There are plans to ship fresh water by train from the region for fracking projects in Pennsylvania. Mountain Glacier, a subsidary of Nestle, is bottling water from Lake Hemlock as well as the municipality’s water. Similar to what happened in Niagara Falls, there is talk about the possibility of Monroe County, which Rochester is a part of, treating fracking wastewater.

Activists share knowledge and ideas

New York anti-fracking activists share knowledge and ideas at the NY forum

Communities in New York state are incredibly active in the fight to protect water sources, public health and the environment against fracking. With approximately 200 municipal resolutions, New York state has by far the most resolutions on fracking in the US. Community groups and fracking coalitions have been successful in keeping a moratorium on fracking in New York state where delays in a health study are stalling Governor Cuomo’s already delayed decision on whether to lift or continue the moratorium. There have been recent calls for the environmental impact assessment to be scrapped because of Ecology and Environment and other consultations links to the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.

Yesterday morning Maude and Jim outlined the principles of the commons and public trust respectively and set the context for the day-long workshop where 50 engaged participants applied them to local issues. I gave short presentation of examples of our work on the commons and public trust. An ongoing case with Nestle, of which we’re parties to, is an exciting opportunity for the public trust doctrine to be recognized by the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal. I also talked about two municipal resolutions in Burnaby and Niagara-on-the-Lake that respectively recognize water as a commons and the Great Lakes are a shared commons and public trust.

I am heartened and inspired by the enthusiasm and openness of the people we met in Rochester to embrace the needed shift in the framework governing the Great Lakes, one that will rightfully prioritize the protection of the lakes above all else. With many governments failing to protect community watersheds, the commons and public trust principles are crucial to changing people’s relationships to water to one of responsibility and stewardship and holding our governments to account so they protect water sources for today’s and future generations. People within communities like Rochester are the catalysts for this change and it is them that I place my faith and hope that we will save the Great Lakes.