Tag: diversions

Nestlé Permit Application Public Comment Period Extended – Comments due April 21; Public hearing April 12

Breaking news:

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has set a public hearing for April 12, 2017, and extended the public comment period until April 21, 2017, on multinational behemoth Nestlé’s bid to more than DOUBLE its groundwater pumping 210 MILLION gallons per year from a well near the headwaters of two coldwater trout streams northwest of Evart in northern Michigan’s Osceola County. 

FLOW’s seasoned team of scientists and water-law attorneys, which includes successful fighters of prior Nestlé water wars, is committed to defending our public waters, wetlands, and aquatic life, and shutting down Nestlé’s private water grab. Please learn more and join us in this fight for Michigan’s freshwater and our future:

 

Latest news:

Nestlé water public hearing will be April 12 | MLive.com http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/03/nestle_michigan_public_hearing.html

 

MDEQ info: Details on how to comment, attend public hearing, and access public information on Nestlé’s application and the state’s review.

MDEQ Press Release – March 2, 2017 – Nestlé Permit Application Public Comment Period Extended – Comments due April 21; Public hearing April 12 http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135–406127–,00.html

MDEQ – Nestlé Waters North America’s Submittal of a Permit Application Information Package, under Section 17 of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, 1976 PA 399, as amended http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313-399187–,00.html

 

Learn more:

Visit the FLOW website to learn what you can do stop Nestlé’s thirst for Michigan’s groundwater!

 

Help FLOW Fight Nestlé’s Water Grab in Michigan:

FLOW FOR WATER’s Fundraiser https://www.crowdrise.com/help-flow-fight-nestls-water-grab/fundraiser/flowforwater

Nestlé resistance in the Detroit Metro Times

Nestlé has been aiming to pump more water out of Michigan.  Near Evart, the company is attempting to expand and greatly increase the withdrawal amount to 400 gallons per minute, which equates to 576,000 gallons per day.Michael Jackman, from the Detroit Metro Times, writes that there may be “rough water ahead” for Nestlé. Many people are unhappy with their actions. Read more here.

 

FLOW Letter to Michigan DEQ regarding Nestlé

On December 16, 2016, FLOW (For Love of Water) wrote a letter and formally requested that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) cancel its approval of Nestlé’s application to more than double its groundwater pumping for commercial water bottling from a well northwest of Evart, in Osceola County.

After conducting an independent assessment, FLOW’s environmental attorneys determined that the MDEQ made a serious legal error in January 2016, when it approved the Swiss food and beverage giant Nestlé’s site-review request for increased pumping under the state Safe Drinking Water Act, but failed to require a parallel application and review under the Water Withdrawal Law.

Here is the letter that was submitted:

 

Not So Fast Nestlé: A Citizen’s Guide to Oppose Nestlé Water Grab

Bottled water

Nestlé has revived plans to more than double its pumping in Osceola County.

Help FLOW fight Nestlé’s Water Grab: Visit our Crowdrise here to Donate and Share with your network!

 

What’s At Stake

There’s a big fight brewing over water worldwide. From drought-stricken California, to Canada, to Germany and beyond, the Nestlé corporation is one of the key players in a worldwide effort to privatize our finite water resources and then sell it back to us in plastic bottles in and outside the Great Lakes Basin.

In 2009, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) ended a 10-year battle with Nestlé/Ice Mountain and won by reducing the amount of water being pumped so that nearby wetlands and streams would not be harmed in Mecosta County. The facts in the MCWC litigation demonstrate how Nestlé underestimated the harm aquifer over-pumping causes to adjacent surface waters, wetlands, fish, and aquatic life. FLOW’s founder and president, Jim Olson, represented MCWC as the lead litigator in this critical battle to safeguard our waters from privatization.

Since 2001, Swiss-owned Nestlé has removed more than 4 billion gallons of groundwater from its three Michigan wells in the Muskegon River watershed for a paltry $200 annual fee per well, according to MDEQ statistics.

Nestlé has now revived plans to more than double its pumping from 150 gallons per minute (gpm) to 400 gpm or 576,000 gallons per day (gpd) in Osceola County just north of Evart, Michigan.  Production Well PWB101, White Pine Springs Site, as it is known, is located between two cold water Muskegon River tributary creeks, Twin and Chippewa Creeks. Last winter, when Nestlé applied for this pumping increase using the state’s computer water withdrawal assessment tool, it failed. Nestle then requested and obtained a site specific review by DEQ staff that showed that only minimal declines in water levels in the summer of 2016.

If approved without full disclosure and public review, Nestlé would only create 20 new jobs, but would legally be entitled to bottle and sell nearly 500 million gallons per year of Michigan water at the Ice Mountain bottling facility in Stanwood, Michigan.

What You Can Do To Help

Please write an email letter to the DEQ at deq-eh@michigan.gov prior to March 3, 2017, and demand the following:

  • Urge the DEQ to oppose Nestlé/Ice Mountain’s current permit application to increase its allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons per minute (gpm) from White Pine Springs Well (PW-101), Osceola County, Michigan.
  • Demand the DEQ to set aside its January 2016 site-specific review for lack of public notice and comment;
  • Demand the DEQ complete an entirely new site specific review;
  • Demand the DEQ conduct site specific review on all permits issued to date to avoid incremental steps and registrations by Nestlé (this is in addition to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA);
  • Demand full disclosure and transparency to the public for informed decision-making.
  • Demand sufficient time for independent analysis and public involvement in Nestlé’s recent request.
  • Demand the State to apply the legal standards and requirements set forth in the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, riparian reasonable use law, public trust law, Great Lakes Compact, and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Request multiple public hearings in the following locations: Evart, Detroit, Flint, Muskegon, and Traverse City.

For your reference, we have included a template letter for you to use and craft your own letter.

If you live outside Michigan, we all know that what one state does in the Great Lakes Basin, affects all. As residents in the region, we cannot afford to allow significant increases in water withdrawals without sufficient time for independent analysis and public involvement.

If you live in one of the eight Great Lakes states or the provinces of Quebec and Montreal, we urge you to write your governor/premier prior to the upcoming Compact Council meeting to be held in Columbus, OH on December 8th. Ask that diversions of Great Lakes water in containers less than 5.7 gallons be added to the 2008 Great Lakes Compact.

Please think twice about drinking bottled water. Instead, insist all elected officials make clean, safe drinking water a priority. We can live without a lot of things but water is not one of them.

Template Letter

Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Attorney General Bill Schuette
G. Mennen Williams Building, 7th Floor
525 West Ottawa Street
P.O. Box 30212
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Director Heidi Grether
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)
Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance
P.O. Box 30241
Lansing, MI   48909-7741

deq-eh@michigan.gov
miag@michigan.gov  
contactmichigan@state.mi.us
migov@exec.state.mi.us

 

Dear Governor, Attorney General and Director Grether:

I am writing to urge the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)  to reject Nestlé/Ice Mountain’s current permit application to more than double its allowed groundwater pumping from 150 to 400 gallons per minute (gpm) from White Pine Springs Well (PW-101) in Osceola County, Michigan.    

The Nestlé application must be denied for the following reasons:

  1. Nestlé has not submitted sufficient critical information on which a determination can be in accordance with the standards set forth in the applicable water laws of Michigan;

  1. the application is administratively and substantively deficient;

  1. the MDEQ and the State do not have sufficient information and have not posted sufficient information from Nestlé for property owners, communities, organizations, and citizens to provide meaningful comment as required by applicable laws and regulations;

  1. Nestlé has not filed its pumping records, and its pumping to date has violated Michigan law because it has pumped and transported water without authorizations required by Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the applicable Section 32723 of the state’s water law;

  1. Four hundred (400) gpm will diminish the twin creeks and wetlands, which in turn will impair and harm the water, aquatic resources, and public trust in those natural resources, contrary to Michigan law.

With less than two weeks before the end of the public comment period, the MDEQ sent a letter dated February 14, 2017 to Nestlé that underscores the significant and considerable deficiencies in the record. Missing from the record is information related to the groundwater modeling, streamflow data, fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic habitat data, as well as the company’s compliance with Michigan’s reasonable use doctrine and related water laws.

Accordingly, the application as it stands now must be denied for failure to show that its proposed pumping will not harm the creeks, wetlands, streams, species and ecosystem. In addition, Nestlé’s deficient record raises questions as to whether the company received proper authorization in 2015 to increase its pumping from 150 to 250 gpm.

Nestlé’s current expansion request continues to put our public waters at risk because the public does not have adequate information to evaluate the potential harm to our waters. Therefore, at a minimum, the MDEQ should extend the public comment period from March 3 to at least another 60 days (depending on Nestle’s submission of additional information), because of the incomplete administrative and substantive record. This extended timeframe will afford the public adequate time to evaluate and comment on a complete application per the department’s letter. Public comment must include not only written comment, but also statewide public hearings in Evart, Detroit, Flint, Muskegon, and Traverse City.

Nestle’s request is not just a mere isolated groundwater pumping application. Rather, it represents, and must be understood as, part of a much larger water decision for our Great Lake state of Michigan to address. The reality is that 400 gpm (210 million gallons a year) is gone forever from the headwaters of two streams for the marketing convenience of Nestle to put “spring water” on its labels.

This is an ecological disaster that should not be allowed. Remember that Michigan’s 12,000 year old glacial sand, gravel and clay and ancient groundwater is recharged by only 8 or 9 inches a year of precipitation – about 30 percent of an average of 32 inches a year in the form of snowfall and rain during the rainy season. The rest of the year is dry with frequent drought in the summer months such that these headwater streams and creeks simply cannot survive; pumping at Nestlé’s proposed rate is simply not sustainable, and the MDEQ should either deny this outright or put a cap on it of 150 gpm to end the matter.

Water is public. Water is also our most precious finite resource that is the lifeblood of our economy, our health, and our way of life here in the Great Lakes Basin. Privatizing our waters for profit and export outside our watersheds is a legally-defined harm. The State of Michigan as trustee is legally bound, on behalf of current citizens and future generations, to protect this resource from impairment, harm, or privatization for solely private purposes. This is the law.

The question we must ask is: How do the people of Michigan benefit when nearly 500 million gallons per year of our water—one of the planet’s scarcest and finite resources—is given essentially free to a foreign-owned company, sold for a profit, and transported out of the state?

Save for a handful of jobs (20 to be exact) this use of our public waters is not only contrary to law- it simply doesn’t make sense. It is time to put an end to allowing large corporate captures and takings of our interconnected groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes, and Great Lakes, especially when Nestle gets it for free, and sends the profits back to Switzerland.

The nonprofit, FLOW (For Love of Water), intends to submit additional substantive technical and legal comments to the MDEQ related to this permit application.

Thank you for fulfilling your public trust obligations to safeguard our most precious resource – water.

Sincerely,

 

Further Reading

“DEQ sets table for strict review of Nestle water bid” (MLive, Feb. 7, 2017)

“Where will the water go? A snapshot of recent changes in Michigan water law” (Michigan Real Property Review, Winter 2006)

“How Michigan water becomes a product inside Nestle’s Ice Mountain plant” (MLive, Dec. 8, 2016)

“Why Nestle really wants more Michigan groundwater” (MLive, Dec. 6, 2016)

“Public wasn’t adequately notified of Nestle water request, says DEQ director” (MLive, Dec. 5, 2016)

“Flint hits chemical company with $2.6M in fines over industrial waste” (MLive, Dec. 5, 2016)

“DEQ overruled computer model that flunked Nestle groundwater bid” (MLive, Nov. 22, 2016)

“DEQ pushes Nestle groundwater bid public review into next year” (MLive, Nov. 22, 2016)

Press Statement: Today’s Approval of the Waukesha Diversion Application

On behalf of FLOW (For Love of Water), Jim Olson released the following statement regarding today’s decision on the Waukesha Diversion Application.

“For better or worse, the Compact governors’ decision approving Waukesha’s diversion is done. There were a number of loose provisions that pointed to a bad precedent where a community’s water system doesn’t even straddle the Basin divide. It will all depend on the details, the amendments and conditions made part of the decision.  This remains a serious matter and as we have done so far, FLOW will dig in and evaluate these conditions and make sure they are strictly interpreted and enforced.  When it comes to the Great Lakes and the duties of government to protect their integrity, there is no room for mistakes or relaxation.  It would have been better for the public to be able to see and comment on these amendments and conditions.  For the moment, all we can do is review them after the fact. The key to this and future decisions is to make sure they meet the standards for exceptions like Waukesha’s request as a community in a straddling county.  These standards are the beacons by which the Great Lakes will be protected from diversions and exports. They must burn bright and respected.  The public trust duty of the governors to protect the integrity of these waters from one generation to the next is first and foremost.”

Waukesha’s Proposed Exemption to the Great Lakes Compact Diversion Ban

Ask any ship captain or sailor along the shores of the Great Lakes, and they will tell you how important it is to follow the rules of navigation, including honoring those lighthouse beacons and green and red channel buoys. In short, boat captains must exercise utmost caution at all times. The same is true for the eight governors of the Great Lakes States under the Great Lakes Compact, which has a narrow exemption to the supposedly iron-clad ban on diversions out of the Basin. The Compact’s provision at issue exempts communities located in Counties that straddle the basin divide. It should also be remembered that the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are held in trust under both the Compact and the common law; what this means is that  the governments as trustees have a high, solemn duty to protect the integrity of these waters, ecosystems, and public uses dependent on them.

The City of Waukesha and its water service area sits entirely outside of the Basin; its proposal to divert water is allowed only because of the Compact’s exemption to the diversion ban, and a set of strict principles that like navigational beacons or buoys are intended to keep the Compact from collapsing on a reef of potentially bad and rocky precedents. When the final decision is made on June 21 or later on Waukesha’s proposed average of 8.1 million gallons a day (mgd), the Council and Regional Body must first and foremost concentrate on the paramount responsibility toward the waters of the Great Lakes Basin, the strength of the Compact, and the interests of citizens as beneficiaries of this public trust.  Like ship captains, the Council and Regional Body must exercise utmost caution, and steer the Compact away from any reefs, even if it means further tightening the parameters of  a proposed exemption like Waukesha.

On June, 21, 2016, the Great Lakes Compact Council and Regional Body are faced with an important decision on whether Waukesha, Wisconsin – a city located entirely outside of the basin near Milwaukee—can legally divert 8.1 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. Given the Compact’s diversion ban and limited exemption for straddling communities, this decision is not just about the needs of Waukesha, but the precedential effect it will set for future demands for Great Lakes water in light of climate change impacts, increased competition, and greater worldwide water scarcity. By navigating within the strict standards of the Compact, the Council and Reginal Body can reach the right decision. To do this, the following standards and further modifications of Waukesha’s proposal  must be kept in mind:

 

  1. Straddling Community or County

 To qualify for an exemption to the Compact’s diversion ban, a community’s water system has to straddle the Basin surface drainage boundary or sit in a county that straddles the basin.  If it does not, it cannot divert water from the Great Lakes.  A community in a straddling county can request an exemption but only if they demonstrate a clear public need, no alternative, no significant cumulative environmental impacts, and provide at its cost fully transparent monitoring, inspection, enforcement, and strong conservation measures.

 

  1. Public Need

On June 11, 2016, the Council proposed reducing Waukesha’s original proposal from 10.1 mgd to an average of 8.1 mgd, or about 19 percent less, because approximately 2 mgd of the water would have served the future growth needs to the year 2050 in communities outside Waukesha’s territory and existing public water system that currently draws groundwater from the Mississippi Basin. However, the future growth and build-out 2050 goal of Waukesha raises a basic question of whether Waukesha’s proposal serves current public needs or its goals several decades in the future. This problem is compounded by the fact that the 8.1 mgd is an average; it can go much higher during at any given time. Can the straddling community exemption turn on such a loose application of public need? The Council and Regional Body should (1) cap the diversion at the 8.1 mgd, averaged over a 30-day period, in order to avoid large swings in diversions and discharge of return treated waste water into the waters of the basin, and (2) impose a condition that requires reevaluation of the public need and other factors every five (5) years to ensure that Waukesha does not look to the Great Lakes as its only source of water before and after 2050. The exemption for straddling communities was not intended to “subsidize” the growth and development of communities and water use outside the Basin.

 

  1. Showing of No Alternatives

 Generally an alternative exists if it is feasible and reasonably prudent. The burden rests with the straddling community. In this present case, Waukesha currently meets its daily needs of 6 mgd from groundwater within the Mississippi Basin.  A court ordered the city to treat its groundwater or find another water source because of unacceptable levels of radium contamination.  In the last 15 years, groundwater tables in the region outside the basin have been steadily rising.  Given this dynamic situation and the fact that Waukesha can either treat its water or divert its water from Lake Michigan, Waukesha has alternatives that do not require 8.1 mgd or more at times from Lake Michigan. Just because one alternative is more expensive than another is not enough to reject an alternative; the cost must be prohibitive or logistics seriously difficult.  If the alternative standard is not strictly applied, others in the future will justify requests for water under the same circumstances.  Waukesha’s court-ordered water supply fix possibly provides a distinction; however, is it enough where the problem could be addressed by various alternatives that while perhaps not the preferred alternative, are feasible and not extremely difficult? The upcoming June 21 record must show that Waukesha’s alternatives to use or treat groundwater within the Mississippi Basin or to supplement water from Lake Michigan are both cost prohibitive and severely difficult. Any weaker standards will signal others outside the Great Lakes Basin that the door is ajar and available for their water needs and demands.

 

  1. Monitoring Conservation, Diversion, and Return Flows

 Waukesha’s recent modification does not sufficiently describe critical details on how Waukesha’s proposal, if properly approved, would be monitored, transparent, and enforced.  And these are essential to the Council and Regional Body’s review on June 21. For example, the parameters for monitoring inflows from Lake Michigan, water use, return wastewater discharge, flows and levels of the Root River, and other key hydrological elements and effects are not specified.  It is also not clear who can and will enforce or who will pay for it. Waukesha’s proposal should not be approved without adding clear, transparent, and enforceable measures and conditions to assure that the standards and limits of the diversion are not violated. Without clear guidance, the diversion could become slippery slope that overtime could become a basis for other communities to argue a lack of overall concern in protecting the Compact’s ban on diversions.

 

  1. Waste Water Return Flow to Root River and Lake Michigan

 The Compact mandates a determination that there will be no significant impacts from an exemption for a straddling community diversion to the environment, including cumulative impacts. The record of the proposal to date emphasizes consideration of the impacts of the proposed diversion, but does little to support a finding that there will be no significant effects or impacts from the average of 8.1 mgd discharge of treated wastewater to the Root River that flows to Racine, Wisconsin and into Lake Michigan. Currently, wastewater from Waukesha’s sewage waste water is returned to water courses within the Mississippi Basin, with no effects on the waters of the Great Lakes.  The return flow requirement, which is a necessary condition to any diversion of Great Lakes water to a straddling community, could significantly increase flows and levels of the Root River and downstream communities like Racine.

Racine and the river and ecosystem are part of the waters of the Basin protected by the Compact as the Great Lakes themselves. A straddling community proposal like Waukesha’s must determine that there will be no significant direct and cumulative environmental impacts from return flows into waters of the Basin. The Compact covers all “waters of the Basin.” A smaller river or community, or land and adjacent ecosystems cannot be ignored or sacrificed any more than the Great Lakes. Waukesha’s proposal therefore should not be approved until it has been shown that the return treated waste water will not adversely and significantly affect and impact the river, its ecosystem, and downstream communities like Racine.  The Council and Regional Body should set a high bar for what must be shown to satisfy the impact standard; as described above, this should also include stringent baseline study, monitoring, accountability, and enforcement.

The Great Lakes Compact Council and Regional Body must exercise utmost caution in interpreting and applying the standards for any community to obtain approval of a diversion within the narrow straddling community exemption to the diversion ban.  Based on the Compact and common law principles, the Great Lakes and Basin waters are held by the states in trust.  As trustees, the states have a solemn duty to protect these waters and their private and public use and enjoyment.  This means that each standard in the Compact must be cautiously applied so that there is no room for misinterpretation or unintended bad precedent in the future that would weaken the Compact.  Just like ship captains, when it comes to the Great Lakes, there is no room for error.

FLOW Submits Comments on the Waukesha Diversion Application

 

FLOW Calls on Regional Body and Michigan Uphold Diversion Ban, to Reject Application

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Failing to meet strict standards or demonstrate a public need, a Wisconsin city’s precedent-setting request to divert as much as 16 million gallons a day of Lake Michigan water outside the basin that drains back into the Great Lakes should be rejected by the Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the governors of all eight Great Lakes states, according to comments filed today by FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

Permitting the city of Waukesha to remove Lake Michigan water could jeopardize the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement signed by all eight states and enacted into state and federal law in 2008 that bans nearly all diversions to safeguard and protect the integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin, FLOW said in comments submitted on the final day of Michigan’s public comment period on the diversion application.

“There is no surplus of water in the Great Lakes Basin to divert, and climate change and other factors have already pushed water levels and algal blooms to the limits,” said Jim Olson, President of FLOW and a renowned water rights attorney. “Based on our review and analysis, one problem with the request is that several communities outside the Basin in Waukesha County already have adequate water and don’t need it. The other problem is that the amount of water that would be diverted is based on indefinite and uncertain assumptions that at the end of the day are to support a build-out of sprawl and development in 2050.”

“The law is also clear, given the recognized public trust limitations on diversions and sale of water from the Great Lakes, that there must be a public purpose and need that enhances or is related to the protection of the public trust waters and uses in the Basin,” said Olson. “Waukesha’s application fails to satisfy the law.”

According to the Compact, this first-ever application for an exception to the diversion ban can proceed only with approval by all eight Great Lakes states, with input from the two neighboring Canadian provinces. Any state may veto the request. The governors have until March 14 to review the city of Waukesha’s application and will vote on May 23 in Chicago whether to approve or deny it at a meeting of the Great Lakes—St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council.

Waukesha is under a State of Wisconsin court order to address unacceptable levels of radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element and carcinogen, in its current groundwater supply of drinking water. Because Waukesha is located in a county that straddles the Great Lakes Basin, it may apply for an exception to divert water under the Great Lakes Compact.

According to FLOW’s comments, the city of Waukesha’s application submitted January 7, 2016, to divert 10 to 16 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan near Milwaukee to several Waukesha County communities that are located outside the Great Lake Basin, is deficient because it:

  1. Fails to meet the Great Lakes Compact’s “straddling counties” standard that allows a community outside the Great Lakes Basin to apply for a diversion if located in a county straddling the Basin. The proposed diversion to Waukesha is not just for the city or its current water supply, which is the “community within the straddling county.” Rather it is for a proposed public water supply based on the 2002 planning document for a sewage district service area. The city of Waukesha makes up only about one-half of the “service area,” which includes almost all of southeast Waukesha County, one third of the lower northeast, and parts of the northwest and southwest areas of the county. Any location within this service area may request water from Waukesha. The towns and rural areas are included because of Wisconsin law, and do not comply with the narrower language of the exception in the Compact. For example, the “public water supply service area” or “public sewer plan service area” managing or ownership entities are not a “community” such as a municipality or its “equivalent,” and, therefore, the water will not be used solely by the “community” within a straddling county, as the Compact requires.
  2. Fails to demonstrate a present public need, while wrongly taking into account future growth. There is no current plan for a public water supply system or demonstrated present need or showing of inadequate potable water in several towns and rural areas that have been added to the proposal. The service area submitted for the proposed exception in this case is based on a 14-year-old plan for a sewage waste system, and an 8-year-old water quality management plan for the sewage waste system. The sewage plan is based on Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission documents, which in turn are premised on future development or build-out by 2050. If Lake Michigan waters are diverted out of the Basin to spur future growth and development, other communities or others outside the Basin will demand equal treatment, imperiling the Great Lakes ecosystem. Moreover, as described above, the service area is based on an old sewage system service area plan, not water; and the sewage plan is speculative because it has not been funded or implemented.

“Under the Compact, there can be no exception to the diversion ban unless the communities truly straddle the boundary, lack adequate water, and demonstrate a clear current need,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney. “There is nothing current about plans to build and grow communities 30 years from now.”

  1. Fails to show that there are no reasonable alternatives to diverting Great Lakes water. The Compact requires the city of Waukesha as the applicant to show that “there is no reasonable water supply alternative” to the diversion from Lake Michigan. Reasonable water supply alternatives, however, do exist for Waukesha’s proposed service area, even with the assumed full build-out. Generally all of the alternatives would provide treated potable water within an acceptable range of costs, safety and health regulations and impacts, especially taking into account local adjustments to minimize hydrological effects on wetlands and streams – without a loss or diversion of waters out of the Great Lakes Basin or negative precedence for future requests for diversions or challenges to the diversion ban itself.
  2. Fails to satisfy substantial limitations imposed by public trust and riparian law, which have significant implications for future transfers, diversions or the sale of water in the Great Lakes Basin.

FLOW’s comments submitted to MDEQ and the Regional Body on the application by the city of Waukesha to divert Great Lakes water are available for download here.

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

FLOW Submits Comments on Waukesha Diversion Application

FLOW filed formal comments with the  Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this week on the importance of strict review of a number of Wisconsin towns outside the Great Lakes basin that want permission to divert water from Lake Michigan to replace contaminated water supplies for one town, but foster growth and development for the others.  “The Great Lakes Compact diversion ban and exception for diversion of water to towns straddling the basin divide was not intended to grow towns and sprawl entirely outside the basin,” Jim Olson, President of FLOW, said.  Everyone must insist on a very strict, narrow application of the exception for diverting water to straddling communities.”

 

The report and comments filed by FLOW demonstrate that there must be a real public need, no other alternatives, and no violation of the public trust in the Great Lakes that protects the water and public protected uses like boating and fishing in the Basin.  The public trust in the Great Lakes limits diversion and use of water outside the basin for primarily non public trust and Great Lakes purposes.  Growth and development outside the basin is not a protected public trust use.  If these criteria are not carefully applied, the region could be in trouble because of a slippery slope that would open the door for diversions anywhere by undermining the hard-won justification for the diversion ban in the Compact.

 

“It’s a strong, defensible agreement, but we can’t interpret it carelessly,”  Olson said.

 

View the full comments here.