Tag: Dave Dempsey

Drinking Water and a Forgotten Tragedy

Fort Gratiot County Park north of Port Huron bustles for a little more than three months of the year, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Large groups occupy the gazebos, families snatch up all the picnic tables, teens play Frisbee in the sand while kids rule a small playground, and the smell of cooking meat is inescapable.  These are all fairly typical of Great Lakes shoreline parks.

What distinguishes the park is a memorial.  It commemorates not a politician or general but 22 men who died for water, Lake Huron water specifically. While honoring the dead, it expresses ambivalence inherent in the fulfillment of an institutional dream that has unintended consequences.

The project that took the lives of the 22 men on December 11, 1971 had been a dream of the Detroit water department since the late 1800s.  The water supplied by the utility’s intake in the Detroit River was adequate to meet the city’s needs, but even then, there was thought of population growth to the north.  That would require more water.  By virtue of both proximity and quality, Lake Huron was the choice for the new water source. A point five miles offshore from what is now the county park was chosen for the intake.

The memorial consists of three features:  a plaza of bricks etched with the names of the loved ones who perished in the disaster and other individuals and groups who purchased and contributed them; the statue of a symbolic project worker; and a state historical marker.  The last is especially noteworthy.  It is literally two-faced. The two sides of the marker could not be more different in tone.

One side stresses the tragic human losses and the terrible power of the explosion: “… [A] shotgun-like blast claimed the lives of twenty-two men working on a water intake tunnel beneath the bed of Lake Huron. A pocket of methane trapped within a layer of ancient Antrim shale fueled the explosion.  An exhaustive inquiry determined that drilling for a vertical ventilation shaft from the lake’s surface had released the trapped gas…The blast created a shock wave with a speed of 4,000 miles an hour and a force of 15,000 pounds per square inch. Witnesses reported seeing debris fly 200 feet in the air from the tunnel’s entrance.”

The other side emphasizes the project itself as a triumph of humankind: “In 1968, to serve the water needs of a growing population, the Detroit Metro Water Department began work on the Lake Huron Water Supply Project. This massive feat involved erecting a submerged intake crib connected to a six-mile intake tunnel beneath Lake Huron. The mechanical mole that dug the 16-foot wide tunnel bored through the bedrock beneath the lake at a rate of 150 feet a day. The project excavated more than one billion pounds of rock. The water treatment plant pumped clean water into an 82-mile system of water mains supplying Detroit and Flint. When finished in 1973, the $123 million system boasted a capacity of 400 million gallons a day.”

One has to wonder whether this mentality was partially culpable.  Pride in a monumental public works project may have promoted hubris, or contributed to denial by the managers if someone pointed out the danger.  Carelessness or ignorance may also have been to blame.  Whatever the cause, 22 people tragically lost their lives in the public service of providing clean drinking water.

Natural forces always surprise us, be they large lakes or ancient methane.


State should end discussion, take action on Line 5


When the police pulls a resident over for going 100 mph in a 55-mph zone, they don't cluck their tongues -- they click their ticket books.

But when Michigan’s state government catches Enbridge Energy putting the Great Lakes at risk by failing again to disclose dangerous conditions on its Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, the response is paralysis. The state has again caught Enbridge ignoring its legal obligation to be a proper steward of the submerged land that the state allows the company to occupy with its pipeline.

But all we're hearing out of Lansing, and particularly Attorney General Bill Schuette is an expression of disappointment.

The difference between strict enforcement of laws against individuals and giving an oil transport giant chance after chance to meet its fundamental responsibility not to harm public waters is as stark as the difference between a single speeding motorist and a catastrophic oil spill fouling the drinking water source for millions.

The accumulation of studies, evidence of pipeline delamination and bends in June, and now exposed metal with likely corrosion, signals a dangerously flawed and ultimately incurable pair of sunken pipelines.

It’s time for our state government to stop treating the 1963 Constitution, statutes, and common law that protect our lakes as nice but meaningless environmental policy statements and start treating them as the duty the people through the Constitution and our courts have mandated. More than ever, it’s time to shut down Line 5.


FLOW's senior advisor, Dave Dempsey, has 35 years experience in environmental policy. He served as environmental advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and as policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission.  He has also provided policy support to the Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action.  He has authored several books on the Great Lakes and water protection.


We Unite Over Water

Great Lakes from Space

 

In our culture a river is typically a boundary, differentiating one domain from another. The Mississippi River, for example, is the border of 10 states. There’s another way to look at a river—as the center of a basin, accepting and uniting all of its tributary waters. And its tributary people.

I’ve lived in several communities whose rivers and streams, acting like the solvent that water is, blurred or erased differences of age, ethnicity, and class. At certain times—say, summer evenings—these waters lured a cross-section of locals to trek their river walks, fish from their banks, boat or kayak their surface, or simply sit and enjoy their serene passage. No political tests were administered.

 

Dave Dempsey, senior advisor at FLOW, recently authored this important piece about how water brings us together. 

To read the full story, click here.


 

Welcoming Dave Dempsey to FLOW

I share in the excitement with FLOW’s Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, the staff, Board of Directors, and supporters in welcoming Dave Dempsey’s arrival at FLOW.

When we began FLOW in its initial stages nine years ago, Dave Dempsey expressed his enthusiasm and support for our launch and the course ahead.  He knows first-hand how important strong policies and actions are to address the systemic threats we face in the 21st century.

Dave and I have shared a friendship, worked together, and exchanged ideas and our shared passion for the Great Lakes, its people, and beauty for over 30 years.  FLOW, but  more importantly, all of us in Michigan and in the Great Lakes region are fortunate Dave has decided to join us at this time.  His ideas, wisdom, talents, professionalism, and experience will help us find and implement commons, public trust principles and new frameworks to find solutions to the systemic threats that face the Great Lakes and our world.

As you might expect, since Dave arrived, we’ve already rolled up our sleeves higher and waded a little more deeply to strengthen our capacity and efforts in what all of us and our organizations can accomplish as we work together and with many others in the years to come.

 

Gratefully,

Jim Olson

 

To see the recent media release about Dave Dempsey’s arrival at FLOW, please click here.

 

 

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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