Tag: FLOW

The Buck Stops With Them

Photo: Nancy May – work available at numerous shops on Mackinac Island


FLOW reminds state leaders they have the power to defend the Great Lakes from Enbridge.

Governor Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have the legal authority to protect the Great Lakes from the major risk posed by the antiquated and poorly maintained Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, FLOW reminded them in a letter Thursday.

Responding to the latest comment by a state government official questioning the state’s authority to shut down the pipelines, FLOW wrote that the public trust doctrine and state statutes make that authority clear. And the same state officials have acknowledged that authority in the past.

“In the 1953 Easement authorizing the pipelines, Enbridge (then the Lakehead Pipe Line Company) and the State of Michigan acknowledged the state’s jurisdiction and property power and police power control over the Straits of Mackinac, because of the Great Lakes,” FLOW wrote. “It is undisputed that there can be no pipelines in the Straits or elsewhere in or under the Great Lakes or its connecting waters without a lease, occupancy agreement, or other written consent and a permit under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act from the State of Michigan.”

Despite such legal footing, DEQ Director Heidi Grether told reporters earlier this month, “People keep saying shut them down, shut them down; part of the question is, under what authority?”

But the state has already recognized its authority by requiring Enbridge at least since 2001 to obtain state permits for modifications of pipeline supports and a task force appointed by the governor concluded the state has jurisdiction. The state therefore has legal control of the use of the lakebed for a pipeline crossing, FLOW said.

“Years into state task force and advisory board review, state officials are trying to fall back on their alleged powerlessness to protect the Straits,” said Liz Kirkwood, FLOW’s executive director. “It’s merely an attempt to pass the buck. By entering into an agreement with Enbridge negotiated behind closed doors last November, the Governor was acknowledging that the state has a regulatory role in pipeline location.”

“The state’s authority is obvious and so is the correct course of action. The state must move to revoke the easement and shut the pipelines down before they rupture and do immense damage to the Great Lakes and Michigan’s economy.”

Click here to read the letter.


Morning on the Manistee

5:32 AM
Fishing!

Bleary eyed, I rolled out of bed and slowly pulled on a tshirt, long-sleeved shirt, flannel, sweatshirt, and jacket. Tossing a bigger jacket, raincoat, and extra socks into my bag, I dragged myself to the kitchen and immediately flipped the switch on the instant kettle. Give me coffee.

“Ready Kate?” My dad was excitedly bouncing back and forth between the door and the kitchen. Outfitted and ready to go he’d been up since 3:00. “Gimme a minute,” I mumbled as my brain struggled to register his words.

We got to the Manistee just as it was getting light, though the sun wouldn’t crest the hills for a few hours. We floated down the river, anchoring just above a hole. My dad was nearly vibrating with excitement. I was shivering.


I am still learning how to fish. I am a confident caster but my hookset is subpar to say the least, the only fish I catch are the ones that literally hook themselves. The chatting and laughing in the boat is often interspersed with a loud, “Set the hook!” “That’s a fish!!” “Kate!” “What are you doing?? Stop looking at the birds!”

To be fair, we saw an incredible number of birds that day, including an osprey, a pair of great blue herons, and even some fishing Arctic terns on their way back north. But, as I was repeatedly reminded, we were out there to fish not to bird.

The team effort.

“The next one is yours.” My dad said after landing the biggest fish I had ever seen in real life. I nodded a little apprehensively, “Okay, let’s do it.” I had already caught a couple trout that I was excited about but we were steelhead fishing which meant I was graduating from trout to wilder fish.

“Kate! Get over here!” The rod was bent, line taut, with the fish way down the river. Hang on to the rod, do not lose the rod, hang on to the rod was the running commentary in my head.

I grabbed the rod, determined not to lose another fish. “Reel, let go, lower, reel, reel, let go, pull up, up, are you kidding what is that!” I leaned back and pulled as high as I could, barely lifting the line enough to net the fish.


Since moving to Michigan I have struggled to find activities to replace my previously adrenaline-fueled mountain lifestyle. Fishing with my dad has become a grounding way for me to connect with this place. Watching the mist rise off the river in the morning, celebrating when the sun finally reaches the water, and studying the fishing habits of the birds sharing space with us have allowed me to truly experience and value our public waters.

But my favorite part of fishing is the minute after releasing the fish back into the water. The huge grins and wildly waving hands that go along with the immediate retelling of how we landed the fish, how quickly it broke off, or how badly I misjudged whether I had hooked a log or a monster.

I love how the stories inevitably get exaggerated, repeated around dinner tables and over beers at the beach. The retellings allow me to go back to that exact moment we were laughing after landing one, soaked and freezing in the sleet, or getting distracted by eagles together on the river.


Saving the Straits of Mackinac

Saving the Straits of Mackinac

Yesterday, May 22, 2018, marks the day our stat’s citizens threatened with the terrible harm of an oil spill from a failed Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac took matters into their own hands. The Straits of Mackinac Alliance (SMA) filed a contested-case petition with the Administrative Law Tribunal of Michigan. The tribunal hears cases, like a trial court, when citizens oppose state permits that violate the law. The SMA has filed a petition that would require the Department of Environmental Quality and Attorney General Bill Schuette to start applying state law that is supposed to protect the Great Lakes, and stop the flow of oil through Enbridge Line 5 in the Straits. The filing of this contested case is a major shift in this prolonged affair, a shift that will finally bring state officials and Enbridge under the rule of law. This essay explains why. But first, a brief history of what has happened to force citizens to take charge because leaders have failed to act is in order.

A Brief History

In September 2015, Michigan Attorney General Schuette staged a flurry of media events to proclaim that days of crude oil transport in the twin pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac “were numbered.” His exclamation came on the heels of the release of the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force’s report that concluded a spill in the Straits was unacceptable to anyone, that the State had jurisdiction over the siting and existence of the pipeline under a 1953 easement and the public trust in the Great Lakes that is embodied in a state law known as the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act–the GLSLA. Enbridge was forewarned. The State was going to take charge, right?

Wrong. Within a few days, the media messaging from the Governor’s office was (to paraphrase): “Sure it’s days are numbered, but that number could be a long time.” Shortly after that, the Governor appointed the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Advisory Board– a well-intended study commission with absolutely no power to do anything that would bind Enbridge or the State. The Advisory Board has met for almost three years now. Before the Board could agree on any suggested course of action for the State to address Line 5, in late 2017 Governor Snyder bypassed his own advisory board and unilaterally signed an agreement with Enbridge that establishes a framework for the long-term flow of crude oil across the Straits of Mackinac. The agreement gave Enbridge permission to replace the segment of Line 5 under the St. Clair River and to replace Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits with a tunnel or trenched pipeline to escape the strike of ship anchors. If not contested under rule of law that protects the public trust in the lakebeds and waters of the Great Lakes, the investment in replacement could all but seal the replacement of the 645-mile long Line 5. The agreement rubber-stamps Enbridge’s efforts to spend billions to entrench its own massive Keystone XL pipeline right here in the Great Lakes. Michigan has become the host state for the transport of Canadian tar sands oil to Canada and foreign ports, including that charming land of royal weddings– Great Britain. Why does the governor and not the law of the Great Lakes and the citizens of Michigan through our elected officials or under rule of law decide the fate of crude oil in and out of the Great Lakes basin?

But this is only half of the story. While the advisory board continued to hold meeting after meeting for the public to vent its frustration, the DEQ and Attorney General unwittingly if not unlawfully cooperated with Enbridge to keep the oil flowing through pipelines in the Straits, pipelines whose design is failing. Enbridge submitted information that showed loss of protective cover. Then the company disclosed the Kiefner Report, a 2016 survey of the twin pipelines that referred to a 2003 report that warned of scouring under the lines, leaving spans as long as 282 feet suspended in the water column above the lakebed and exposing the lines to powerful currents that could whip them back and forth like a coat hanger. The Kiefner report also disclosed a series of emergency measures to address the failure of the original design that was supposed to lay, tucked into the bottomlands under the Straits. In 2001, the company tried to stabilize the twin lines with grout bags. When these failed, the for the company fastened 16 saddles to the pipelines, supporting the saddles and lines by leg supports crewed into the lakebed. This was just the beginning. Scouring has plagued the integrity of these pipelines so much, that from 2001 to 2018, Enbridge has installed 150 supports– almost two miles of pipelines are suspended in the water like a bridge over the lakebed.

A New or Changed in Design

The installation of these anchor supports has completely changed the design of the pipelines in the Straits. And this has been done with the knowledge and help of the DEQ and Attorney General Schuette. Here’s how. Since 2014, Enbridge has filed several applications for permits under the GLSLA to install these anchor supports as “repairs” or “maintenance” measures.  Enbridge received its most recent “repair” permit on March 25, 2018 for the 22 supports mentioned above. In April Enbridge filed yet another application for 48 more supports to the pipelines— if approved, nearly 3 miles of pipeline originally designed in 1953 to lay on the lakebed will be suspended in the water!

How did Enbridge change miles of its original design as “repairs” or “maintenance?” The DEQ and Attorney General have dropped the ball. It’s called complicity. In 2017, citizens in the Straits, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa tribe, and For Love of Water (FLOW) filed extensive reports that demonstrated this substantial change in design carried serious and imminent risks. Evidence showed that currents or other natural forces pulled the anchors out of the lakebed, scraped off pipeline coating to bare metal, exposing the lines to corrosion. Equally disturbing, these reports demonstrated that the massive change in design of the pipelines has never been approved or authorized by the DEQ as required by law. Despite these proofs and clear legal requirements, the DEQ and Attorney General staff stonewalled the tribe’s and citizens groups’ patently obvious charge that miles of suspended pipelines were a new or substantial change in design, not “repair” or “maintenance,” subject to required comprehensive review under the GLSLA and public trust in the lakebed and waters of the Straits.

This spring, an anchor from a vessel struck a pipeline enclosing an electric line across the Straits that released contaminants. It turns out inspections have shown that the anchor struck the Enbridge pipelines, denting them by a half-inch. In addition to strong currents, the greatest risk identified by experts to the pipelines in the Straits is an anchor strike. Fortunately, the anchor struck near but not along segments of pipelines suspended above the lakebed.  If it had, the result could have been catastrophic. There’s nothing like a “repair” that changes the design of these pipelines in a way that will snag anchors dragging over them from a passing ship.

So what does the GLSLA say about these permits for “repair” or “maintenance?”  Nothing. The GLSLA law and regulations do not provide for these kind of under-the-radar permits. The DEQ and Attorney General have interpreted the law to favor Enbridge. In legal fact, the GLSLA requires that a new, altered or changed structure or improvement like the addition of miles of suspended pipeline in the waters of the Great Lakes must obtain a new agreement for occupancy and permit for the new pipeline design and structures. The GLSLA requires Enbridge to file a comprehensive study of all potential adverse impacts that could arise from such a change in design of the pipelines. The law and regulations also require Enbridge to prove there are no other feasible and prudent alternatives to Line 5 in the Straits– including the obvious adjustments to the capacity in Line 6b (now 78) across southern Michigan to Sarnia. The design capacity of Line 6b was doubled after the Kalamazoo River spill, and can handle crude oil flowing through Line 5 in the Straits.

Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

In short, DEQ and Attorney General have sided with Enbridge in allowing the continued flow of oil in pipelines that have been substantially redesigned without authorization or approval under the GLSLA. Officials claim the supports are better than doing nothing, that some of them are required by a consent decree, that it’s a matter of safety for the pipelines. This misses the point. If there is no authorization under GLSLA for the new or modified design, and if it hasn’t been evaluated or permitted as required by the law, then why does it matter that oil should continue to flow through Enbridge’s pipelines? It doesn’t. If there is no authority, the new design has not been evaluated, the new design and existing line are failing, and risks are imminent, it is unlawful. For three years, government officials could have taken charge.

But they haven’t. All our leaders have to do is invoke the GLSLA law and rules, demand Enbridge obtain authorization and permits for the new design as a whole, and demonstrate no potential adverse effects, and no alternative. Until Enbridge does this, the GLSLA authorizes emergency measures or conditions– at this point quite obvious– to suspend the flow of oil in these dangerous lines until the company has the authority required by law. If the company cannot establish this according to the rule of law under the GLSLA, then the authorization and permits for this new or substantially changed design should be denied. Enbridge can use its thousands of miles connecting to other pipelines in North America. But there is no alternative if there is a spill or release in the Straits of Mackinac.

Jim Olson, President and Founder

I applaud the Straits of Mackinac Alliance and citizens and the Grand Traverse Band for filing a contested case. In my view, they are on solid ground. Finally, someone has decided to do the job that our government leaders should have done. I applaud my own organization for charting a course that brings Enbridge Line 5 under the rule of law, not a bureaucratic invention. I urge our Governor, Director of DEQ, and Attorney General to join the side of citizens and tribes and invoke the available rule of law under the GLSLA to protect the Great Lakes.


Appreciating Our Submerged Lands: Michigan

byzantine-empire-public-land.-trusts
Submerged Michigan
 
38,000 square miles.  That’s a lot of real estate.  In fact, it’s bigger than the square mileage of 12 states — including Indiana, West Virginia and Massachusetts.
 
It’s part of Michigan.  It’s a part you and all other citizens of Michigan own.
 
And it’s all underwater, under Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie.
 
These Great Lakes submerged lands are protected by the public trust doctrine.  
 
Under the public trust, the waters of the Great Lakes Basin and the lands beneath them can never be controlled by or transferred to private interests for private purposes or gain. 
 
Our rights to use the water of the Great Lakes Basin cannot be alienated or subordinated by our governments to special private interests; this means that all reasonable private use and public uses may be accommodated so long as the public trust waters and ecosystem are not harmed and the paramount public right to public uses is not subordinated or impaired. Because many citizens are not aware that the public trust doctrine is part of their bundle of rights in our democracy, many of our leaders and big business are ignoring and violating these principles. 
Add these 38,000-plus square miles underwater to the 58,000 or so square miles of Michigan of land and water that makes up the Upper and Lower Peninsula, and you have a total state area of approximately 96,700 square miles of Michigan.  That makes Michigan the 11th largest state in area.

 

Trivia question:  how many states does Michigan border?  The answer is not 3 — Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.  Michigan does border these states, but there are two more, Minnesota and Illinois, making a total of 5.  Michigan’s waters and submerged lands meet Minnesota’s in Lake Superior and Illinois in Lake Michigan.

DEQ Decision Endangers Au Sable River, Violates Public Trust

Great Lakes advocates say that commercial net-pen fish farming, pictured above, does not belong in Michigan’s public waters.

By Tom Baird, FLOW Board Member


Once again, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has sacrificed our precious water resources for the profits of a privately owned business and the promise of a couple of low wage jobs. As a result, the waters of the Au Sable River will be seriously polluted, and the risk of harm will be borne by the taxpayers of the state.

On May 1, DEQ Director Heidi Grether issued a final decision upholding a pollution discharge permit for the Grayling Fish Farm on the East Branch of the Au Sable River. In doing so, she has endangered one of the premier fresh water resources in Michigan and violated the state’s duty to hold that resource in the public trust. The Anglers of the Au Sable, which had contested the permit, filed an appeal of Grether’s decision on May 9 in Crawford County Circuit Court.

The Au Sable River is Michigan’s finest blue ribbon trout stream. It is the number one fly fishing destination east of the Mississippi. As such, it is a huge contributor to the region’s tourist economy and to property values in the river valley.

The fish farm, owned by Harrietta Hills of Harrietta, Michigan, is operated in an old fish hatchery built at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and abandoned by the state decades ago. Its last use was as a tourist attraction. It was not designed to be a fish farm, and has no wastewater treatment facility. It is a “flow through” system, meaning that water is diverted from the river, flows through the fish (picking up phosphorus, fish waste and uneaten fish food), and then flows back into the river just upstream from the famed Holy Waters of Au Sable. Essentially, the river is used as a sewer for the fish farm. Portions of the river are fenced off, preventing floating or fishing on that stretch.

The effluent allowed by the permit will cause excessive algae growth, reductions in aquatic invertebrates (the “fish flies” on which the trout depend), reductions in dissolved oxygen, and an increased risk of dreaded Whirling Disease, which is lethal to young trout. The minor modifications of the permit required by Grether will do almost nothing to ameliorate the damages. She did not provide additional limits on discharges; the DEQ will not provide ongoing monitoring; and Harrietta Hills will not be required to post a performance bond.

The pollution will accumulate over time to the serious detriment of the river and the fishery. The fishing will decline. Anglers have choices. Poor fishing means less fishing trips to the area. A resource economist from Michigan State estimates that economic losses to the regional economy due to reduced fishing will be $1.77 to $4.6 million per year. Additional losses will flow from other reductions in recreational uses, and due to reduced property values. In the event of a catastrophe, the taxpayer will likely foot the bill.

The DEQ was created to be “business friendly,” and it has not disappointed: water withdrawals for fracking which dried up the North Branch of the Manistee River, algae blooms in Lake Erie, the Nestles bottled water fiasco, Flint – the list goes on and on.

There will always be those who see ways to make a buck off resources owned by the people. And reasonable use of our resources is fine. But the DEQ has totally abdicated its role as the protector of the public trust in our waters. So it is left to small nonprofit organizations and citizens groups to do what is needed. Consider that at election time, and when you think about which groups to support. It really is up to us.


Giving Back Can Come in Many Forms

Giving Back Can Come in Many Forms

A Sunday afternoon spent walking through downtown Traverse City, taking in some much needed and long overdue sunshine and fresh air, strolling along the Boardman River and picking up trash – a perfect day, right? Perhaps that last part sounds less than appealing, but I promise you, it was the highlight of my day. A couple weeks ago, I participated in a river clean-up organized by a few eco-minded local businesses. For the chance to be outside and help out for a good cause, I was happy to spend a few hours picking up litter.

Dozens of other area residents must have felt the same way. Everyone from young kids to retirees came prepared with trash bags and gloves, ready to roll up their sleeves and put in some elbow grease to make our town, and waterways, a little cleaner. As I picked up cigarette butts, bottle caps, and plastic bags off the river bank, I was met with the smiling faces of other volunteers and gratitude from passersby, taking the time to stop and say “thank you.” Maybe it was sunshine-induced happiness after months of drab, cold northern Michigan winter, but the air seemed to be saturated with positive energy. I’m often asked how I make time to volunteer while balancing work, school, and coaching, and volunteer events like this remind me why I choose to make it a priority. I might not be able to volunteer consistently or lend my skills to every organization I support. The most important part is to give back when I can.

Giving can come in many forms, but we all have the capacity for it.  

It doesn’t have to feel like a time-consuming commitment, or financially burdensome. Donations are often siloed into two categories: time or money. If you want to affect change, but are feeling short on both, I offer you a third option. The act of giving can also include the gift of change: a willingness to stop buying bottled water, using a reusable mug or thermos for your to-go coffee, or saying no to single-use straws. These are just a few of the small but simple actions that can protect our environment, and make our world a better place for everyone. And isn’t that what giving is all about?

Thank you to all the local businesses for organizing for the Boardman River Clean Up:

  • Brick Wheels
  • Grand Traverse Guide
  • Keen Technical Solutions
  • Scuba North
  • The Northern Angler
  • Way of Knife

With the collective power of 75 participants, we collected more than 600 pounds of trash!


BAYKEEPER® Heather Smith is Protector and Educator Too

Grand Traverse Bay is one of the Great Lakes watershed’s special places.  Protecting, restoring and preserving it is the job of many, but a special role goes to Heather Smith, the Grand Traverse BAYKEEPER® at the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay since August 2016.  FLOW was curious about Heather’s work, and she graciously agreed to answer our questions.

Heather grew up in Leelanau County and attended schools in Suttons Bay.  She earned her undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Science from Michigan State University and a graduate degree in Water Resources Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


First, what are some of the most interesting facts about the bay and why we should be proud of it? For example, I did a calculation and found it has 8 times the volume of Lake St. Clair, which seems pretty impressive.

The bay is an impressive water body! It’s a very unique embayment of Lake Michigan, and the bathymetry is wild – all resulting from glaciers that retreated about 11,000 years ago. At the deepest point, the bay is around 600 feet deep. The east arm of Grand Traverse Bay is significantly deeper than the west arm, and it gets relatively shallow near the outlet to Lake Michigan. We have some unique underwater features as well – underwater bluffs and riverbeds – that we are learning more about as Northwestern Michigan College’s Marine Technology Program further explores the lakebed.  

Besides the geeky bathymetric and geologic stuff, the Grand Traverse Bay watershed is home to hundreds of native plants and animals, some only found in this region. Thousands of people depend on Grand Traverse Bay for their drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on lakes, streams, and wetlands within the Grand Traverse Bay watershed for recreation, transportation, fishing, and their way of life. These waters are worth protecting. They are the lifeblood of our community.

Are there characteristics or features of bays that are unique or not like lakes?

Yes, Grand Traverse Bay is a bit different than a lake. We are directly connected to the larger Lake Michigan system. About 261 billion gallons of water flows into Lake Michigan from the bay each year.

When people come up to you and ask you what the BAYKEEPER® does, what is your quick reply?

I am the eyes, ears, and voice for Grand Traverse Bay and its watershed. I advocate for swimmable, fishable, and drinkable water in our region.

What do you think is your most important BAYKEEPER® task?

I am a consistent and persistent advocate for decisions and policies that preserve and protect YOUR water.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as BAYKEEPER®?

Local decision-making plays a big role in the protection of our environment as local decisions directly affect water quality in Grand Traverse Bay and its watershed. There are a number of zoning tools and land use policies that local governments can employ to help protect our water.  

If we, as the people that work, play, and live here, value our water, we need to speak up to ensure it’s protected. Local governments can represent community values and respond to community concerns in a way that state and federal governments can’t always do. We need to ensure there is not a disconnect between the community value of our water and local decision-making. Ensuring that citizens are actively engaged in local decisions can and will largely impact the future of the community we live in.

What is the biggest problem facing the Bay?

The Great Lakes are faced with challenges that we created. As the Grand Traverse BAYKEEPER®, I spend the majority of my time focusing on hyper-local issues. Stormwater runoff and intense development that threatens to fill our valuable wetlands and alter our natural shorelines are our biggest threats to the Grand Traverse Bay watershed. Sediments, nutrients, bacteria, and other pollutants enter our surface waters through stormwater that washes from roads, parking lots, and driveways. Wetlands and naturally vegetated shorelines play a critical role in filtering and purifying runoff before it enters our waterbodies.

It’s worth noting that I am not here to halt development in our beautiful corner of Michigan, but rather to advocate for sustainable development practices that treat and infiltrate stormwater onsite using natural processes and preserve wetlands and natural shorelines. There are engineering solutions and design principles that work in harmony with nature. I’ll argue that nowhere else in the state is it as important to utilize these eco-conscious design elements as the Grand Traverse Bay watershed. Our livelihood depends on the health of our water.

What shaped your appreciation for water and made you interested in a career in environmental issues?

Growing up on the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay – swimming, sailing, fishing, kayaking – significantly shaped my life and inspired my career path. My days spent on and in the bay cultivated my interest in and passion for freshwater ecology. There are few days a year, weather permitting, that I am not outside enjoying our vast network of water resources. And watching my daughter enjoy this same body of water motivates me to continue fighting to protect our water.   

Can you suggest one or two things anyone can do for the Bay?

Take action, and speak up about projects and policy decisions that affect your water. To learn more about receiving updates on public meeting and comment periods where you can voice your concern or support for water related projects and policies, contact me at hsmith@gtbay.org or 231.935.1514 x3.


Public Trust Perspectives

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FLOW’s organizing principle is the public trust doctrine.  This centuries-old principle of common law holds that there are some resources, like water and submerged lands, that by their nature cannot be privately owned.  Rather, these commons – including the Great Lakes — belongs to the public.  And governments, like the State of Michigan, have a responsibility to protect public uses of these resources.  We explicitly address public trust concerns on Public Trust Tuesday. 

This week, we are welcoming five graduate students from the University of Michigan who will be assisting FLOW in our new Blue Communities project.  The purpose of the initiative, which begins in the Grand Traverse Bay watershed, is to empower communities to instill the values of water stewardship in their policies and practices.  This grassroots, place-based program is based on the knowledge that water is precious to all, and its stewardship has the potential to unite communities in achieving environmental goals.

As they arrive on scene this week to get a lay of the land, we asked them for their perspective on the public trust.



Public trust is the principle that certain spaces and resources such as air and water are preserved for public use. In addition, governments have the obligation to prohibit any use that could harm these resources in order to protect the rights and benefits of current and future generations. This concept is becoming more important when it comes to water crisis and over-extraction of ecosystems. As an existing source of legal authority, public trust should be taken hold to prevent impairment of natural resources and related habitats as well as improve public awareness and water stewardship.

-Lingzi Liu: Landscape Architecture

What having the public trust doctrine in place means to me is that there is an established set of rules/guidelines that determine if something can be owned by one person or if it belongs to everyone (aka a common good). It is through this doctrine that the Great Lakes have been made accessible to all. It is through this doctrine that the government is given the responsibility of maintaining and preserving these common goods. It is also through this doctrine that we as citizens and people of the commons have the ability and duty to make sure the government is upholding their responsibility. It is through this public trust doctrine that a tragedy of the commons can be avoided.

-Kaitlin Vapenik: Environmental Informatics with Data Science Certificate

“By the law of nature these things are common to all mankind—the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.” Public spaces and resources are owned and shared by the public. The concept is to protect public resources for the public (owner). Public trust is the principle that could be used to govern all decisions, rights and duties of the use of common resources, like waters and shorelines. Public trust waters should be used for public purposes (like drinking water, navigation, recreational uses, etc.), instead of being controlled or transferred to private interests for private purposes. And the proposed uses cannot harm waters, influence the quality and quantity of public trust waters, or protected public uses as well.

-Kangu Yu: Landscape Architecture

The public trust doctrine states that the public has the right to use certain resources, such as water. Water belongs to everyone, and the government has been given the responsibility to protect this resource for the people. Therefore, the government must ensure that current and proposed uses do not violate the principles of the public trust, and that no one individual or group is disproportionately causing harm to or interfering with other’s rights to use water resources. The multitude of stressors threatening water resources today suggests that there is a need to protect this resource that belongs to all of us.

-Nancy Ye: Environmental Toxicology with an emphasis on Aquatic Toxicology

To me, the public trust doctrine is the idea that creation ought to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their place in life. The beauty of creation often takes my breath away, and many of my fondest memories involve utilizing natural resources like lakes, rivers and beaches. The natural world is here for everyone’s reasonable use and enjoyment and should not be the pleasure of a few. While privatization is often good in many sectors and encourages healthy competition, the destruction, alienation or diversion of natural resources through private ownership often produces detrimental effects for the environment at-large, oftentimes destroying that which was exclusively sought after in the first place. The public trust doctrine allows the citizens of our country to protect precious, natural resources from degradation so that these resources can be enjoyed by anyone, including future generations. In a world of instant gratification and abundant, self-centered pleasures, the public trust doctrine calls on us to resist our own selfish desires and to put the good of the community first.

-Adam Arend:  Environmental Policy and Planning

 


FLOW Demands State Reject Latest Enbridge Ploy


In comments submitted to state officials Friday, FLOW is urging state regulators to deny a bid by Enbridge Energy to install 48 new anchor supports on dangerous Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac while evading scrutiny of alternatives that would protect the environment.

Enbridge’s latest request, if approved, would bring the number of anchor brackets to 198 that the governments have allowed the company to install since the early 2000s — completely changing the pipelines’ design. 

Structurally, this means that approximately 3 miles of pipeline are elevated in public trust waters above the bottomlands. But the design approved by the state in the 1950s had the pipeline resting in a trench on the lake bottom. 

“The fact that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to approve Enbridge’s anchor supports on the lakebed of the Lake Michigan as ‘repair’ and ‘maintenance’ is simply untenable,” FLOW says in its comments. “The highly increased risks of and alternatives to a completely modified design under both state and federal permitting laws requires a new agreement of occupancy and permits” under several laws.

“And given the recent anchor dents in the twin lines and rupture of the electrical line and release of toxic fluids, the risks to the Great Lakes are totally unacceptable,” FLOW said.

FLOW called on the state and federal governments to require that Enbridge:

  1. file a full and comprehensive application including a study of potential effects and feasible and prudent alternatives to Line 5 in the Straits in its entirety;
  2. suspend the flow of oil in Line 5 unless and until Enbridge files such application and evidence and obtains proper occupancy agreements, permits, or other approvals for this new or completely modified pipeline design; and
  3. consolidate into one application and examine the risks, impacts, and alternative analyses of the entire 645 miles of Line 5.

Read the full comments here.


Water and Nevada

When you think of Nevada (and that’s ne-va-da, not ne-vah-duh), I bet a clear picture forms in your mind: Las Vegas and its neon lights, slot machines, Elvis, quick divorces and UFO sightings (among other things). Those are all part of it, yes. But did you know Nevada is an outdoor-lover’s paradise? My husband and I moved there in 2014, for this reason. We get about 350 days of sunshine a year. There are mountains, valleys, canyons, hot springs and old-growth forests to hike, bike, camp and explore, year-round, and much of it is pristine due to federal land management, which prevents development. In the summer, it’s warm during the day but cools down at night. Winters are full of skiing and snowboarding. The sunsets are always out of this world.

Notice how I didn’t mention anything that had to do with water? Water is not the same here. Nevada is an alpine desert, and we get the good and bad that comes with it. Water is scarce, both on the ground and coming from the skies. In Reno, where I live, I can count on two hands how many days it rained last year. Summer is hot and dry. I’ve adjusted to this climate without even realizing it; I always carry lotion and chapstick for dry skin, my yard only has native, low water plants and I stick to my designated water use days religiously.

And it’s not like we don’t have water at all – there’s the Truckee River to fish, kayak and float, and Lake Tahoe is only 40 minutes south. Tahoe is a saving grace for sure; a true oasis in the desert and it’s been a vacation spot of Californians for generations. But over the years the lake has become increasingly inaccessible (and less fun) due to overcrowding and overdevelopment. Tahoe’s water is also pure snowmelt, and combined with the depth means the lake never warms over 50 degrees, making it un-swimable for babies like myself.

Skiing in Nevada (after a particularly good storm) with Lake Tahoe in the background.

Northern Nevada, like much of California, is dependent on snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for our water. Nevada has been experiencing different stages of drought for a while now, thanks to climate change. Some parts of the state are worse than others, and it always seems like some not-too-far-away city is under the threat of actually running out of water if there’s no rainfall. The storm predictions always start in the fall, and we all hope for storms with lots of snow for a good ski and snowboard season, but also to create a good snowpack that will melt and fill our reservoirs. The drought the past few years has been rough. But even our recent “Miracle March” wasn’t enough to erase the snow drought from last season, which hadn’t erased it from the year before… and so on.  This seems to be the new normal. Storms bring precipitation, but we’re always playing catch-up from the last storm or two that didn’t bring enough. At least Reno is more fortunate than most of Nevada; we have more water resources to pull from and our proximity to the mountains and higher elevation give us a rain and snowfall advantage when compared with a city like Las Vegas. Our reservoirs are currently full and the outlook for this drought year is optimistic.

That’s why Michigan is so unique. Water is everywhere. It’s part of the culture, and people are connected to it. We all have a water here, whether it’s the Traverse Bay, the Boardman River, Lake Michigan, or for me, Birch Lake- we feel a connection to some body of water for one reason or another. It took moving away and living in a dry climate for me to truly appreciate how lucky this region is to have such an abundant resource, and how intertwined it is with our lives. And don’t get me wrong; I love living in Nevada. There are too many beautiful, serene places to count, and I love the culture. But no matter where I live, I will always miss the waterways of Michigan. A day on Lake Tahoe is never wasted, but a part of me will always wish that when I reach my hand over the side of the boat into the cool depths, I were instead feeling the warm waters of Michigan.


Kirsten Nolet is assisting FLOW this summer as part of a Patagonia-sponsored environmental internship.  She was born in the area and lived here until 2004, and tries to get back as often as she can.  She is currently employed by Patagonia as a stockroom manager and lives in Reno, Nevada.