Tag: great lakes

Water for Flint, Not for Nestlé


Flint is still dealing with the lead poisoning of residents’ drinking water. Residents of Detroit are once again experiencing water shutoffs. Ontario has the highest number of Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations out of all the provinces in Canada. All the while Nestlé is allowed to pump millions of litres of water from Ontario and Michigan every day to bottle and sell for profit. 

I went to Detroit recently to meet with the Water Is Life coalition to talk about these and other water justice issues around the Great Lakes. Nearly 20 organizations gathered over two days to develop strategies to prevent the privatization and commodification of water, ensure affordable access to drinking water and sanitation, uphold Indigenous rights to water, protect the Great Lakes and implement the UN-recognized human rights to water and sanitation. 

The groups included the Council of Canadians including the Guelph chapter, Detroit People’s Water Board, Flint Democracy Defense League, Flint Rising, Chiefs of Ontario, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Story of Stuff, Wellington Water Watchers, Corporate Accountability International, Great Lakes Commons and more. The coalition has continued meeting since the Water Is Life: Strengthening a Great Lakes Commons summit in Flint last fall to coordinate work and develop collective strategies to advance the human right to water around the Great Lakes Basin. 

Nestlé’s bottled water operations in the Great Lakes Basin

In Ontario, Nestlé continues to pump up to 4.7 million litres (1.2 million gallons) of water every day on expired permits from its two wells in Wellington County, Ontario. Nestle has purchased a third well in Elora and could be given the green light to pump once Ontario’s moratorium on new and expanded bottled water permits ends in January 2019. The City of Guelph has raised concerns about the impacts of Nestlé’s water takings on the municipality’s future drinking water. 

Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford becoming Ontario’s new premier raises serious concerns about the protection of water from Nestlé and other bottled water companies.

Council of Canadians’ Political Director Brent Patterson has noted, “Ontario PC leader Doug Ford does not appear to have issued a policy statement on the issue of bottled-water takings, but the Toronto Star has previously reported that clients of the Ford family firm, Deco Labels & Tags, include Nestlé Canada Inc., Coca-Cola, Cara Operations and Porter Airlines.” 

Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians have been calling for a phase out of bottled water takings in Ontario. Recent surveys by both organizations have shown that the majority of people in Ontario want bottled water takings to be phased out and for water to be protected for communities. 

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) both recently filed legal challenges against the Michigan government for giving Nestlé the green light to increase its pumping from 250 gallons (946 litres) to 400 gallons (1514 litres) of water every minute. GTB have consistently raised concerns that Nestlé’s permit approvals fail to consider the GTB’s treaty rights.

Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations

Six Nations of the Grand River, downstream from Nestlé’s water takings in Ontario, and the Chiefs of Ontario have stated that First Nations have not given consent to Nestlé’s permits in Ontario.

CBC recently reported that only 9% of residents of Six Nations have clean water

In May, there were 174 Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations across Canada, with 91 DWAs in Ontario alone. Some of these First Nations have been under DWAs for 5, 10 and some even nearly 20 years and rely on bottled water as a Band-Aid solution. The Mohawks of Tyendinaga on Lake Ontario have had DWAs since 2003 and 2008. Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promises to end DWAs, the total number of DWAs has remained largely the same. 

Different levels of government are responsible for different areas of water management. The provincial government issues Permits to Take Water to companies like Nestle while the federal government is responsible for water on First Nations reserves. But both levels of government have continued to approve projects without free, prior and informed consent as required by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and governments must coordinate to respect treaty rights and implement the human right to water.

Detroit water shutoffs is a violation of the human right to water

In Detroit, the fifth round of water shutoffs began this spring. 17,000 homes were earmarked for their water to be shut off this year. Roughly 80% of Detroit residents are black. Poverty rates are also at roughly 35%. Water rates have risen in Detroit by 119 per cent in the last decade and many residents are unable to pay the high water bills. 

UN experts have made clear: “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

Council of Canadians Guelph chapter members Lin Grist and Ron East and I joined the Solidarity Saturday’s rally outside the Detroit Water Department to protest the water shutoffs. Participants at the rally connected the dots between water justice issues like Nestlé’s water takings, Flint’s water crisis, Indigenous water rights and the Detroit water shutoffs. Residents and supporters chanted, “Water for Flint, Not for Nestlé” and “Water is a human right!” 

The Detroit Water Department now shares an office with the Great Lakes Water Authority. Food and Water Watch and other groups raised concerns about the potential for privatization with the regional water authority early on.

Flint’s water crisis is not over

The poisoning of the water in Flint over the last four years has led to urgent water and public health crises. The lead has resulted in an increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages, development impacts on children and a host of serious medical conditions.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder ordered the last water pods to be closed in April stating that they have restored water quality and the need for bottled water has ended.

But Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, state representatives and thousands of residents have highlighted a lack of trust and a lack of proof that the water is now safe.

Water is a human right

The corporate takeover of water by big water corporations like Nestle around the Great Lakes and the violations of the human right to water and Indigenous rights shows that access to water often falls along racial, class and other lines.

Economic globalization and unregulated market capitalism have divided the world – and the Great Lakes Basin – into rich and poor as at no time in living history and endangered the ability of the planet to sustain life. Tragically, most governments support an economic system that puts unlimited growth above the vital needs of people and the planet. 

I am heartened and energized by groups and communities around the Great Lakes as we continue to build a world that protects the human right to water and protects water for people and the planet. 


Emma is a FLOW Board Member and currently the national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, Canada’s leading social action organization that mobilizes a network of 60 chapters across the country and advocates for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy. She has been with the Council since 2010 and has worked in the field of human rights and social justice for 15 years. She also holds an M.A. in Political Economy.

 

Michigan DEQ Ignores Law to OK Brine Disposal Wells


With neither review nor transparency, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on June 1, 2018, granted permits to Michigan Potash Operating for three deep-injection wells to dispose of brine waste in the heart of a wetland complex about five miles southwest of the city of Evart, in southern Osceola County.

The latest approval comes after the MDEQ last fall granted the Colorado-based company eight production well permits to extract nearly 2 million gallons of water per day as part of a proposed potash solution mining operation. Potash is a potassium-rich salt used to fertilize crops. The mine would use the fresh water to create a hot brine that dissolves potash underground. After it’s brought to the surface and separated, the waste brine would be injected deep underground.

As a water law and policy center dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes, FLOW (For Love of Water) remains deeply concerned about public trust and other legal concerns regarding the project’s intent and scope, which could involve use of 725 million gallons of water annually, more than triple the quantity that Nestlé is targeting just 8 miles way in the same watershed. FLOW has previously raised objections with the MDEQ over concerns that include potential harm to the water table and local wells, salt-water contamination of the aquifer from below, and reduced flows to streams, lakes, wetlands, the Muskegon River, and Lake Michigan. 

Notably missing from the MDEQ’s approval of Michigan Potash’s permit is any reference to the application’s regulatory compliance with the standards of Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) and public trust common law, as well as off-reservation treaty rights to fish, hunt, and gather. MEPA prohibits agency authorization of private conduct that may pollute, impair, or destroy the environment if there is a feasible and prudent alternative. MCL 324.1705(2). And proposed actions that affect off-reservation treaty rights require the State of Michigan to consult with the relevant sovereign tribes.

Bottom line, it is the cumulative impact to our fresh water resources that we must vigilantly protect. Contamination of surface and groundwater in Michigan is very real, particularly with the recent discoveries of PFAS contamination sites in Kent County (Wolverine World Wide) and Iosco County (Wursmith Air Force Base). No matter where you live in Michigan – in the most water-rich region in the U.S. and the world – we cannot afford to take our drinking water for granted.

Stay tuned to the FLOW website for period updates on this topic, as well as the website of our allies at the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.


The Joys of Kayaking Northern Michigan

If you can’t find me at my desk at FLOW headquarters, you will usually find me somewhere on the water. I am a fan of pretty much any water activity you can think of. However, kayaking has become one of my favorite ways to get out on the water.

I started seriously paddling a few years ago when I began working at Backcountry North, a local outfitter in downtown Traverse City. With the help of then-owner Sandy Graham, I learned the ins and outs of paddle strokes, boat position, and of course all the pre-trip planning that goes into having a great day on the water. With this knowledge, I have been able to participate in multi-day sea kayaking excursions on the Great Lakes, and have spent a considerable amount of time paddling the whitewater rapids scattered across Northern Michigan.

Kayaking is a great way to get out and enjoy the freshwater that makes Northern Michigan so special. Whether it be floating down the Boardman River, or paddling next to the 450-foot-tall Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan, the perspective from a kayak is truly one of a kind. This unique perspective shows how incredible the fresh water in Northern Michigan truly is and how fortunate we are to have it at our fingertips.

It always amazes me that when I am sitting in my kayak out in Grand Traverse Bay that I am sitting in the Great Lakes system, which makes up approximately one-fifth of the surface freshwater around the world. However, as insignificant as I might feel in that moment, I also try to remind myself that the Great Lakes are still dependent upon each and every one of us to make the right decisions for their future. Whether that’s by saying NO to Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac or making sure that we leave no trace when spending the day on the water, we all play a part in the future of the Great Lakes.

Julius Moss

This summer, I am thrilled not only to be back on the water, but also to be able to spread my knowledge and passion about kayaking and the freshwater resources here in Northern Michigan. Backcountry North is offering kayak demos throughout the summer, and I am fortunate to be working with them in helping others get out and experience the joys of kayaking. If you have any interest in participating in a kayak demo, please contact Backcountry North for further details at (231) 941-1100. I hope all of you get the chance to experience a day of paddling in Northern Michigan, and I look forward to seeing many of you out on the water this summer!


Why Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation’s Contested Case Against the Nestlé Water Permit Is Right and Necessary

plastic-water-bottles-privatization-commodidization

Permits that Harm Water and Natural Resources

Michigan officials have been busy this spring — busy handing out permits to take or destroy Michigan’s water and natural resources in violation of clear constitutional and legal mandates: A mandatory duty to protect the public’s paramount interest in our air, water, and natural resources; a duty to prevent impairment of our water, wetlands, natural resources; a public trust duty to protect our water from loss, diminishment or harm; and a duty to protect the paramount concern for public health.[1]

This is nothing new from our federal government these days, with President Trump and EPA head Scott Pruitt not only gifting permits, but outright attacking Clean Air Act rules that protect our health and seek to control greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, and repealing well-designed rules that protect the waters of the United States from pollution and loss. But are Michigan’s officials–its governor, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, its attorney general—doing something similar?

Our officials in Michigan may not be as brash and openly hostile towards health, water, air, and the environment as our federal officials, but their record of indifference is just as bad if not worse, and the recent permit to Nestlé to divert 400 gallons a minute or 576,000 gallons a day from the headwaters of two pristine creeks is “People’s Exhibit One.” This is why it was imperative that Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians filed contested-case petitions against the DEQ’s approval of the most recent Nestlé permit. Their petitions are spot on. Our leaders have gone from indifference to deliberate damage. Unlike federal leaders, Michigan officials don’t come right out and admit they’re anti-water or environment. They do their damage by bending and twisting the law to justify a permit, and telling the public through well-crafted media releases that they have studied the matter more extensively than ever and followed the rule of law. If citizens and organizations like MCWC and the Grand Traverse Band (or Save Mackinac Alliance, who recently filed a petition against more band-aid supports of a failed Line 5 design in the Straits) didn’t take on our officials, we’d never know what really happened, and everyone would blithely slide into summer as if everything was pure as ever. Well, it’s not.

In the last few months, Michigan officials have managed to do all of the following:

  • Issue a permit to Nestlé to divert 400 gallons a minute from the headwaters of Twin and Chippewa Creeks by interpreting or relaxing the law to help Nestlé get the permit;
  • Issue another permit to Enbridge for 22 more anchors to support a failing pipeline design in the Straits of Mackinac, now totaling 150 anchors and suspending a pipeline built to lay in the lakebed 2 to 4 feet in the water column, so the line is more vulnerable to powerful currents and ship anchors than ever;
  • Approve a permit to convert a small state fish hatchery into a large commercial fish farm that diverts and discharges untreated water from the fabled AuSable River;
  • Issue a permit for 11 groundwater wells to remove 1,350 gallons a minute or about 2 million gallons of water a day, and inject it more than a mile down in the earth to mine potash, and leave it there;
  • Issue a permit for a 700-foot deep, 83-acre open pit gold mine in wetlands along the Menominee River near Iron Mountain;
  • Sign or support an agreement with Enbridge to build a new heavy tar sands tunnel 5 years from now to replace Line 5 while ignoring the legal limitation that the Great Lakes are off limits for crude oil pipelines under the lakebed just like oil and gas development, and ignoring the fact that there are obvious alternatives like adjusting in a relatively short term the capacity in the overall crude oil system that runs into Michigan, Canada, and elsewhere.

Does the DEQ or State ever deny a permit anymore? Do they ever take legal action to protect rather than defend these permits? Almost never. It’s always up to citizens and organizations like MCWC, the tribes, and citizens. It shouldn’t be this way, but with the deliberate anti-water, environment and health track record of the State, it’s reality. MCWC’s case to contest the Nestlé 400 gallons per minute (“gpm”) permit is a good example.

Last week, Governor Snyder tried to brush off a television reporter’s question about the Nestlé permit, offhandedly saying he thought the state “followed the law,” and that any “other objections like hundreds of millions of dollars to Nestle without paying a dime for the water were policy matters.” When the DEQ issued the permit, Director Heidi Grether also stated that the DEQ “followed the law,” and that the department’s review was the “most extensive in history.” That’s how it works these days, permits are issued, our state leaders hide behind a façade called the “rule of law,” “comprehensive review,” or “the most extensive review in history.” Ironically, citizens and organizations have placed the law before the Governor, Attorney General Schuette, and Director Grether on Line 5 and Nestle so these permit applications were under the “rule of law,” and these officials have done everything they can do to obstruct the rule of law. Governor Snyder skirted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and other laws with his private deal with Enbridge to rebuild Line 5. Director Grether refused clear legal standards in approving the Nestle permit. And Attorney General Schuette’s office has been behind these maneuvers at every turn.

So, is this true, or are our leaders beguiling us into thinking they’re doing their job? MCWC’s petition for contested case appears to answer the question. Here’s what MCWC’s petition shows:

Strike One

The DEQ’s permit on its face postponed the very factual determination required by the Safe Drinking Act and the Water Withdrawal Act before a permit can be approved: Does the existing hydrological data, including actual calculated effects on flows and levels before and after pumping required before a permit can be issued, show adverse impacts or impairment to public or private common law principles? The DEQ issued the permit without the existing data and conditions, relying on Nestle’s self-serving computer model, and postponed the required evaluation and finding to an after-the fact- determination.

Strike Two 

Both the Safe Drinking Water Act and Water Withdrawal Act have special sections for bottled water withdrawals that require the applicant to submit and the DEQ to evaluate the existing hydrologic, hydrogeological (soils and water), and environmental conditions. Unfortunately, all Nestlé submitted was a computer model that calibrated its own parameters to reach the conclusion that the pumping would cause no adverse impacts, and several years of intermittent measurements of flows and levels without reference to actual drops in flows or levels of the creeks and wetlands before and during pumping. The required measurements and data required to evaluate existing conditions were established by penetrating and extensive analysis of flows and levels and the effects during pumping on creeks, wetlands, and nearby lakes in the MCWC v Nestlé case in Mecosta County over a DEQ permit to pump 400 gpm. The appellate courts found unreasonable harm when the actual existing data was used to calculate the effects and adverse impacts from pumping. When it did so, the courts determined that 400 gpm from headwaters of the creek and two lakes was unlawful, that it would cause substantial harm. Nestlé and DEQ know this, yet the agency issued the permit in this case without requiring the information on existing conditions required by the law.

Strike Three

The DEQ compounded the error by limiting its after-the fact evaluation to the additional 150 gallons per minute, not the whole 400 gpm. In effect, the DEQ implicitly authorized the first 250 gpm, rubber-stamping Nestle’s 2009 Safe Drinking Water approval for the first 150 gpm, and Nestle’s 2015 registration and Safe Drinking Water approval for an additional 100 gpm. Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act requires a specific permit and determinations for any withdrawal for bottled water that exceeds 200,000 gallons per day. While Nestlé had received a well permit to pump 150 gpm or 216,000 gallons a day in 2001, our officials turned their back on Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act when Nestlé asked for final approval in 2009. When the additional 100 gpm was registered in 2015, bringing the total 250 gpm or 276,000 gallons a day, our officials turned their back again. The DEQ’s recent 2018 permit for 400 gallons a minute allowed Nestlé to avoid obtaining the permits for the 2009 and 2015 expansions required by Section 17 of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

So there you have it: strike three, you’re out. Our state officials didn’t follow the law, and they didn’t study the legally required existing data and information– extensively studying the wrong data is meaningless. So, the answer is, our officials beguile their constituents and citizens into thinking they are “following the law” and “extensively evaluating” the information to fulfill their duty to protect the water, natural resources, public trust and health, when in fact they deliberately shaved and relaxed the legal standards in favor of Nestlé so the officials could approve the permit they were going to issue in the first place.

The die is cast. The permit is reviewed, the permit is issued, the news release sugar coats it, and the water, environment, and people’s quality of life or health are damaged or put at serious risk. In a way, this seems worse than the federal government’s blatant attack on water, environment, climate, or health. Why? Because it’s done behind closed doors with calculated manipulation of the law to achieve a deliberate result: Issue the permit even if it is likely to cause harm. At least President Trump and EPA head Pruitt acknowledge what our leaders are too afraid to admit: “We are anti-environment, anti-water, anti-health, and pro-corporation and exploitation no matter what the cost, and we intend to bend, dismantle, and repeal these laws if necessary to get our way.” Oh, really, that’s not happening here in Michigan, is it? Our leaders deliberately follow their own law, then issue the permit.

Jim Olson, President and Founder

Thank you MCWC, Grand Traverse Band, and all of those people and organizations in Michigan who take our leaders to task for violating their constitutional and public trust duties to protect the air, water, quality of life for all of us. They deserve our whole-hearted support. This is real citizenship and democracy in action. This is why contested cases and lawsuits are necessary and good for Michigan.

 


[1]These legal duties on our leaders are mandated in the order stated: Michigan Constitution, Art. 4, Sec. 52; Michigan Environmental Protection Act and Supreme Court decisions, notably Ray v Mason Co Drain Comm’r, 393 Mich 294; 224 NW2d 883 (1975) and State Hwy Comm’n v Vanderkloot, 392 Mich 159; 220 NW2d 416 (1974); the common law public trust doctrine; and Michigan Constitution, Art. 4, Sec. 51.


Saving the Straits of Mackinac

Saving the Straits of Mackinac

Yesterday, May 22, 2018, marks the day that our state’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.


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.


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.


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.


Growing the Plastics Conversation towards Meaningful Change

A growing movement is afoot here in the Great Lakes – a broadening recognition and fierce determination to tackle the ubiquity of single-use plastics in our waters. Just in our small neck of the woods in northern Michigan, a number of nonprofit groups, concerned citizens, and conservation districts are seizing the moment and starting conversations through film, public education and strong campaigns to change the way we accept single-use plastics in our everyday lives.

In just the last three weeks, Green Elk Rapids hosted A Plastic Ocean at the Elk Rapids Cinema; the Benzie Conservation District hosted the Smog of the Sea at the Garden Theater in Frankfort; and the local chapter of The Last Plastic Straw hosted a free film screening of Straws at Michael Moore’s State Theatre, followed by a Skype conversation with filmmaker Linda Booker. Groups like Inland Seas that embraced the issue early are no doubt pleased to see their educational efforts on microplastics gain traction among students, citizens, and leaders.

Film organizers from The Last Plastic Straw – Linda Frank, Kathy Daniels, Claudia DeMarco, and Kristine Drake – rightly predicted that plastic straws are an easy way to introduce a community conversation about the impact of single-use plastics on human health, animals, and the environment. Did you know that Americans throw away over 500 million plastic straws every day? It’s staggering facts like this, coupled with visual scenes of plastics pollution, that make for a great film and engage viewers to take meaningful action. The  goal for every committed citizen and organization and every filmmaker is to harness this engagement around plastic straws and shift the way individuals and businesses think about plastic pollution and our society’s disposable culture at a macro scale. 

At FLOW, we too are committed to this global public policy initiative to prioritize protecting the human and ecological health of the Great Lakes ecosystem and combatting climate change. We know that this transition will be hard, but Rachel Carson reminds us why we must act now:

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road-the one ‘less traveled by’-offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”  – Silent Spring, 1962.

Join FLOW’s Get Off the Bottle campaign. The response has been incredible. Students, citizens, and businesses are spreading the word with our informative blogs, stickers, yard signs, and pledge to get off bottled water and plastics.


FLOW Challenges Wisconsin’s Approval of Lake Michigan Water Diversion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE TO MEDIA: May 4, 2018

 

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor                                                               Phone: 231-944-1568
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                       Email: dave@flowforwater.org

Jim Olson, Founder & President                                                            Phone: 231-499-8831
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                             Email: olson@envlaw.com

 

FLOW Challenges Wisconsin’s Approval of Lake Michigan Water Diversion

 

A Lake Michigan water diversion approved by the State of Wisconsin is inconsistent with the Great Lakes Compact and threatens an open season on Great Lakes water, FLOW said today.

The Traverse City, Michigan-based science and law center asked Great Lakes governors and a Regional Body established by the Compact to review Wisconsin’s approval of a 7 million gallon per day diversion request by Racine, Wisconsin, a city entirely inside the basin, primarily for the Foxconn Corporation in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approval of the diversion is based on a faulty interpretation of the Compact and sets a dangerous precedent, FLOW said.

“We can’t go into this century’s water crisis with a loosely conceived decision that turns the ‘straddling community’ exception to the diversion ban on end,” said Jim Olson, founder and president of FLOW. “The Compact envisioned sending water to cities that straddle the basin with existing water infrastructure that already serves residents on both sides of the divide. Wisconsin has shoe-horned Racine’s request to extend its pipes outside the basin to serve a private customer, not a public water supply. Scores of other communities and private interests could start doing the same, and billions of gallons will ultimately end up outside the basin.”

“Wisconsin’s approval of this diversion doesn’t just bend the Compact, it threatens to break it,” said Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor to FLOW. “The Racine-to-Foxconn diversion must receive the highest degree of scrutiny, and if it is discovered that the application of this exception violates or is not consistent with the Compact, the Council, Regional Body, and parties or citizens must correct the error before it is too late.”

The approved diversion allows the City of Racine to extend its existing water supply system to an area of Mt. Pleasant not served by a public water supply and outside the Great Lakes watershed.

FLOW’s challenge has two parts:

  • The Foxconn diversion stretches the Compact’s exception to a ban on diversions for so-called straddling communities that is intended “solely for public water supply purposes,” primarily residential customers. The exception was intended to assist communities with public water supply systems that already extend across the divide and serve a straddling public water supply, with emphasis on residential users. The Racine-to-Foxconn diversion is simply a diversion of an in-basin city’s in-basin public water system to an area outside the basin for an industrial purpose, as acknowledged publicly by state and local officials. The City of Racine circumvented the requirement by using its gross water utility system-wide data to show that its in-basin system serves 30,425 residential customers, 848 multi-family residential customers, about 3,000 business, commercial, and 302 industrial users. But the water diverted or transferred here is the 7 million gallons covered by the Racine application. If the analysis is limited to that required by law, the primary purpose of the diversion is to serve customers outside the basin who are commercial and industrial—the Foxconn plant project, and not residential users.
  • The Foxconn diversion violates the exception for “straddling communities” because the exception is solely for public water supply “within” or “in” “the straddling community.” A customer area in an incorporated town like Mt. Pleasant is not a public water supply of Mt. Pleasant, and therefore Mt. Pleasant without its own public water supply system does not qualify as a “straddling community.” To interpret the exception otherwise, is to allow a city inside the basin to divert water to a new customer in an area outside the basin by merely assuming the identity of an existing community whose corporate limits straddle the basin divide. This is not what the exception was intended to allow; it does not serve the public water supply of Mt. Pleasant; and it serves the customer and newly diverted water on the part of Applicant City of Racine.

The Council and Regional Body have broad authority to bring actions, exercise rights as aggrieved parties, or exercise powers of review for consistency, compliance, uniformity based on a joint commitment to protect the integrity of the Great Lakes; this means upholding the diversion ban and interpreting and applying the exceptions to the ban as written. The Racine in-basin community proposed diversion for primarily industrial use by an industrial customer in Mt. Pleasant, but outside the basin, does not qualify for the straddling community exception.

The Council and Regional Body and affected or aggrieved parties should demand an investigation, review, and determination of whether or not the Racine proposal and final determination by the Wisconsin DNR fall within, meet and/or comply with the “straddling community” exception standard, FLOW said.

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