Tag: great lakes

Finally, An Honest Conversation About Line 5’s Real Risks to Our Waters and Our Way of Life

Over three years ago, on July 15, 2015, the State of Michigan’s Petroleum Pipeline Task Force released its recommendations for the state to conduct an independent risk analysis and independent alternatives analysis on the Line 5 pipelines located in the open waters of the Great Lakes. The Governor’s Advisory Board, created by executive order, promised the public these two separate reports by the summer of 2017.

But just before the risk report’s release in June 2017, the state scrapped the report due to a conflict of interest involving Enbridge and the independent contractor who has simultaneously worked on Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline. Now, three years after the initial study recommendation, we finally have the risk report estimating Enbridge’s liability at $1.8 billion for a worst-case-scenario (WCS) oil pipeline spill in the heart of the Great Lakes.  

FLOW’s 2018 commissioned economic impact report (released in May 2018) — conducted by a nationally respected ecological economist and based on conservative assumptions — estimates $697.5 million in costs for natural resource damages and restoration and more than $5.6 billion in total economic impacts, including:

  • $4.8 billion in economic impacts to the tourism economy;
  • $61 million in economic impacts to commercial fishing;
  • $233 million in economic impacts to municipal water systems;
  • over $485 million in economic impacts to coastal property values.

Our FLOW team attended and testified at the state’s presentation this past Monday, on August 13, 2018, held at Boyne Highlands, and it was the first honest conversation between the state and citizens in a public forum about the real risk Line 5 poses to our waters and our way of life.

A team led by Dr. Guy Meadows of Michigan Technological University presented this independent risk analysis on its 58,000-barrel WCS disaster that would potentially affect 441 miles of Lakes Michigan and Huron shoreline in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. The Risk Analysis examined impacts to public health, drinking water, cultural resources, tourism, property values, natural resources, and economy. The report’s final section analyzed perceived risk and the social license to operate based on public opinion. To do this, the report reviewed the 45,000 comments submitted in December 2017 on Dynamic Risk’s Alternative Report, and found an overwhelming 80 percent of commentators opposed to Line 5. The reasons articulated by the opposition were grounded in sound science and law, according to Dr. Meadow’s team.

Although the dollar figures are different due to methodologies and assumptions, what the FLOW-commissioned MSU economic impact report and the state’s report demonstrate is this: Line 5 poses an unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes and the State of Michigan. Period.

The risk and potential harm unfairly burdens the citizens, businesses, and tribes of Michigan, and the freshwaters of the Great Lakes. A spill from Enbridge’s Line 5 could contaminate nearby municipal drinking water intakes, devastate some of the commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries of the Great Lakes, kill aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, impair critical ecosystem services, diminish coastal property values, and tarnish the image of the state of Michigan and perceptions of its high levels of ecological integrity. Even bigger impacts would damage Michigan’s critical tourism industry.

The state’s risk analysis is yet another compelling reason for the state to take swift action to shut down Line 5.


The Right of Passage

After more than 30 years of working on environmental policy, I moved to within a few hundred feet of one of the Great Lakes.  Given the opportunity to stroll along the shore as often as I wanted, I suddenly realized I didn’t know what I could legally do when the water’s edge traversed private property.  I only knew the courts had been taking up disputes regarding this issue.

One local I consulted said you could walk the first 10 feet of the beach.  Another said you had to keep one foot in the water at all times.  I knew I couldn’t assume anything.

Fortunately, Jim Olson was available.

FLOW’s founder and president is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the public trust doctrine, the tenet of common law that holds that our Great Lakes, their submerged lands and their shores are publicly owned — and that government has a responsibility to act as our trustee to protect them.

Jim has set forth the state of that doctrine as it applies to Michigan’s Great Lakes shores.  Simply put, the Michigan Supreme Court has upheld the right of the public to traverse the beach up to the ordinary high water mark.  No private property owner can exclude the public from that strip of public land.

Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor

With that access comes responsibility.  Not just the respect for our great waters and shores that should always apply, but also respect for shoreline private property owners.  Shoreline access is not a license to litter, make noise, or otherwise disrupt the private property owner’s enjoyment of his or her rights.

With that knowledge, I have trod the shores of the Great Lake I live near, savoring the sounds of swishing water and the panorama of sky and inland sea.  It’s a sacred gift.  And the public trust doctrine protects it.

Read our beach walker’s guide, and enjoy your Great Lakes shoreline.


Enjoying the Great Lakes This Summer


Summer in northern Michigan is one of our favorite things, and we are trying to enjoy it to the fullest while it is here. With all of the busyness this season, it does become a conscious effort. It’s not unusual to hear this around the FLOW office: “Wow, is it really already July?”

There are many important things to do. Submit your comments on the fate of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. Write your lawmakers about important Great Lakes concerns. Spread the word about Getting Off the Bottle. But after you do these things, make sure you are also enjoying those Great Lakes that you work hard to protect. That is just as important.

Our updated Beachcomber’s Guide to the Great Lakes has information that may be helpful to you the next time your feet are in the water along Michigan’s coast. The public trust doctrine holds that Michigan’s Great Lakes shoreline is open to public access. It is meant for public use and enjoyment, so what are you waiting for? Grab your guide, and head to your favorite Great Lake!


Attorney General Bill Schuette has Ample Legal Authority to Pursue a Shutdown of Line 5

Line 5 Pipeline

By: FLOW Chair, Skip Pruss

Taking Legal Action

Recently, John Sellek, Attorney General Bill Schuette’s campaign spokesperson, pushed back on the charge that the Attorney General could have taken legal action to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 petroleum pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, stating “If this claim about the easement [filing a lawsuit] was so simple, then I am sure you would agree that Attorney General Jennifer Granholm and Attorney General Frank Kelley would have done it long ago.”

The problem with Sellek’s statement is the threat posed by Line 5 didn’t hit the public’s radar until 2010, when concerns were triggered by the expansion of other pipelines and after Enbridge’s Kalamazoo River spill became the largest inland pipeline spill, measured by area affected, in U.S. history.

But Sellek’s comment obscures the more important issue:  Bill Schuette has always had ample legal authority to seek termination of the easement for Line 5.  What is more, there is legal precedent for such action.

The Precedent

In 1986, Frank Kelley, then Attorney General for the State of Michigan, filed legal actions against Consumers Power Company and The Detroit Edison Company for fish mortality associated with the operation of the Ludington Pumped Storage Facility (LPSF) which was, at the time, the largest pumped-storage facility in North America.  The LPSF, which continues to operate today, stores 27 billion gallons of Lake Michigan waters in a reservoir 5.5 miles in circumference to produce electricity during times of peak demand.

The problem was that the pumping cycles of the LPSF killed millions of sports fish as well as the forage fish they depended on.

Kelley filed two lawsuits; one for $300 million in monetary damages for the economic impact on Michigan’s sports fishery, and another seeking termination of the state lease for Lake Michigan bottomlands that are an integral part of the LPSF.

The lawsuits alleged violations of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the common law of nuisance, and violation of the Public Trust Doctrine.  These same laws remain operative today and provide a clear legal basis for Bill Schuette to file suit to revoke the easement for Line 5 on Lake Michigan bottomlands.

In particular, the Public Trust Doctrine is a powerful legal framework to address the catastrophic threat posed by Line 5.  The doctrine holds that the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes are held in a public trust for the benefit of the people.  And further, the State of Michigan, through its attorneys general, has what the Michigan Supreme Court has stated is a “high, solemn and perpetual duty” to protect public trust resources from impairment or destruction.

Bill Schuette has that duty, and he has acknowledged that Line 5 presents an unacceptable risk stating that “you wouldn’t site, and you wouldn’t build and construct pipelines underneath the Straits today.”  Schuette’s assessment implies that a state-of-the-art, 21st Century pipeline presents an unacceptable risk, yet he has not initiated any legal proceedings despite the growing evidence that the integrity of Line 5 may be dangerously compromised.

Line 5 is showing a number of red flags.  Facts compiled by For Love of Water demonstrating impacts to and degradation of Line 5 would support the attorney general’s legal claims: 

  • Continuing scouring of bottomland support beneath the pipelines contrary to and in violation of 1953 Easement and original “as built” design.
  • Abrasion and loss of coating from the movement of the supports that are fastened to the pipelines.
  • Documentation that corrosion has occurred on the pipelines in nine locations and evidence of deformities or bending in the pipelines.
  • Observations that there are 55 “circumferential” cracks and loss of wall thickness in the pipelines.
  • As a result of the failure of the original design due to scouring and strong currents, the continual addition from 2001 to 2018 of 150 saddles and support, which have completely altered the original design and suspend almost 2 miles of pipelines above bottomlands of the Straits without legal authorization.
  • Anchor strikes that have dented the pipeline in three locations.

These facts support a finding that Line 5 poses an imminent risk.  Under the law, the concept of “imminent risk” has two components – the likelihood of a failure and the potential magnitude of the harm.  A study by the University of Michigan Water Center and modelling work done by the National Wildlife Federation have amply demonstrated the magnitude of potential harm by showing how a Line 5 failure would disperse oil and natural gas liquids throughout northern Lakes Michigan and Huron.  And a recent Michigan State University study commissioned by FLOW shows potential economic damages that could exceed $6.3 billion.

Line 5, if it continues to operate, will fail eventually.  It is unscientific and reckless to suggest that it can function indefinitely.  While it is true a legal action to compel a shutdown could take considerable time, failure to take legal action is a breach of the attorney general’s legal obligation to the citizens of Michigan under the Public Trust Doctrine.

The Result

So, what was the result of Attorney General Kelley’s action in 1986?

The Michigan Court of Appeals held that “because the fish resources destroyed by the plant are held in trust by the state for the people, the state is empowered to bring a civil action to protect those resources” but denied the state’s request to void the lease for state bottomlands.  Both parties appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, but the case was settled before the Court rendered a decision.

Skip Pruss, FLOW Chair

The result:  A settlement valued at $177 million (1995 dollars), establishment of the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust, conveyance of over 24,000 acres of pristine lands to the State of Michigan (including 70 miles of undeveloped river frontage), 12 new public fishing sites on the Great Lakes, and prophylactic measures implemented to reduce fish mortality at the LPSF. 

As Attorney General, Frank Kelley obtained a major victory for the public interest in a situation involving an unacceptable use of publicly-owned Great Lakes bottomlands.  It is time for Schuette to act on Line 5, not make excuses.


Latest Enbridge Reports Underscore Line 5’s Vulnerability to 400 Michigan Waterways


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                           June 29, 2018
Contact:  Liz Kirkwood                                                                      Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
Executive Director                                                                                           Office: (231) 944-1568
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                                               Cell: (570) 872-4956


Latest Enbridge Reports Underscore Line 5’s Vulnerability to 400 Michigan Waterways and Ongoing Unacceptable Risk to the Straits


TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Enbridge today released three reports required as part of the November 2017 agreement with the Governor concerning Line 5. The reports examine possible methodologies to mitigate potential leaks from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and at nearly 400 water crossings throughout Michigan.

“These reports from Enbridge provide a stack of evidence supporting the public’s call for Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette to shut down Line 5 right now before there is a catastrophic oil spill in the Mackinac Straits,” said For Love of Water (FLOW) Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and a co-leader of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign. “Enbridge acknowledges that Line 5 lacks the latest safety technology, remains at risk of more anchor strikes, and threatens not only the Mackinac Straits but also many Great Lakes tributaries, wetlands, and other aquatic resources along its 554-mile-long route in Michigan.

“The governor and attorney general need to stop promoting their long-term dream of a Canadian oil pipeline tunnel under the Straits and across nearly 400 waterbodies in Michigan alone, and finally confront this danger to the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and our jobs tied to the Pure Michigan economy.”

Of particular concern, information in the three reports released Friday by Line 5-owner Enbridge reveals that:

  • Water Crossings Report: This report reveals that Line 5 crosses nearly 400 Michigan waterways, almost double the number of lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands Line 5 was thought to cross. This should shine a light on the fact that not only are the Straits of Mackinac at risk to a potential catastrophic oil spill, but so are 400 waterbodies in our state. According to NWF’s FOIA review, since 1968, Enbridge’s Line 5 has ruptured at least 29 times on land, rupturing over 1.1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s environment.
  • Technology Reports: (1) Underwater Leak Detection Report: This report examined three external leak detection technologies and concluded that not one of them could provide continuous real-time monitoring that was practical, cost-effective, or operationally proven. With costs ranging between $4 and $40 million, the report used a net present cost assuming a 20-year operating and maintenance period. Both of the optical camera options would require 1,800 cameras on the dual pipelines. (2) Coating Technologies Report: As a part of the leak detection report, the coating technology report ignored the fact that Enbridge’s screw-anchor engineering efforts caused coating pipeline loss in over 80 locations, and does not address how Enbridge will attempt to remedy this major design defect as they work this summer to install another 22 anchors and then possibly 48 more. These anchor permits are currently being challenged at the administrative level by a citizens’ group (Straits of Mackinac Alliance) and the tribes (Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and Odawa Indians).
  • Anchor Strike Mitigation Report: This report noted that the probability of a failure of an anchor strike to the existing dual pipeline is two to three times higher than the values provided in the November 2017 Dynamic Risk alternative analysis report. Enbridge’s report concludes that the most effective option to mitigate anchor strikes to the dual Line 5 pipelines in the Straits is to cover both lines with a protective barrier consisting of approximately 360,000 cubic yards of gravel and rock. However, this protective barrier would not allow for visual inspection of the pipeline and would impede any external maintenance to Line 5 within the Straits. The protective barrier option also poses environmental risks including disturbance to fish habitat, disturbance to lake vegetation, impacts to water clarity, and potential exposure to toxins during its estimated 2-3 year construction timeline. Notably, this report omitted any mention or analysis of the recent anchor strike that caused an estimated 600 gallons of dielectric fluid to enter the waters of Lake Michigan and dented Line 5 underwater pipelines in three locations.

Fundamentally, the question remains: Why didn’t the State of Michigan require a comprehensive engineering study evaluating the anchor hooking risks as well as the currents, gravitational and thermal stresses of the new elevated pipeline with its 128 screw anchors as compared to the original lakebed support design?

The three reports released today but dated June 30 can be found at: https://mipetroleumpipelines.com/document/enbridge-reports-november-2017-agreement

Public comments will be accepted before July 15 regarding the action the state should take to address the future of Line 5.

###

It’s Time for the State of Michigan to Put Protection of our Great Lakes and Citizens First


Almost three years ago, with the release of Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force’s report on July 14, 2015, Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that the days of Line 5 were numbered. The public also believed that the State of Michigan planned to seek two independent studies on Line 5 to evaluate risk and alternatives.

It’s been over 1,000 days and despite plenty of distracting PR, Attorney General Schuette, the Governor, and the State of Michigan have done virtually nothing to make Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac safer from a catastrophic oil spill.

Over these 1,000-plus days, while the debate has raged on with an incomplete alternatives study and a back door deal between the Governor and Enbridge, Line 5 has:

  • lost its protective pipeline coating in over 80 locations;
  • suffered more cracking and corrosion, and even dents from an anchor strike in three locations; and
  • continued to violate its legal occupancy agreement with the State of Michigan because it is shifting dangerously on the bottomlands. 

Designed to last for only 50 years, Line 5 is now 65 years old and continues to pump 23 million gallons of oil every day from Canada and back into Canada using the Great Lakes as a high-risk shortcut. And there is no end in sight.

On April 1 of this year, the unthinkable happened; a tugboat anchor struck and dented Line 5 in three locations. Miraculously, Line 5 did not rupture, but the emergency response to transmission cables ruptured by the anchor underscored how difficult if not impossible cleaning up toxic oils and fluids can be in the wild currents of the Straits.

Enbridge is delighted that the conversation has now shifted to the option of a tunnel to replace the failing pipeline. It is the perfect distraction. It drags public attention into the weeds of whether or not constructing a tunnel is feasible from a highly technical perspective. And it steers the public, Michigan lawmakers and leaders, and candidates away from asking the right questions:

  • What is the State of Michigan as a trustee of the public interest doing right now to protect and defend the Great Lakes against the most dangerous pipeline in American?
  • How does Line 5 actually benefit Michigan’s current and future energy needs?
  • What are the feasible and most prudent alternatives to transporting oil that do not threaten the Straits of Mackinac and the 245 other water crossings in Michigan also protected by the state’s public trust duty?
  • Why is Enbridge in charge of investigating the feasibility of a tunnel when the state demanded an independent review?

Make no mistake: a conversation about a tunnel is folly and it fails to meet our state government’s legal obligation to put the public interest ahead of Enbridge’s pure profit. Dutch water expert Henk Ovink observed “If we only respond to the past, we will only get answers that fit the past.” This is exactly where we are as Enbridge tries to hijack the Line 5 conversation and bring the tunnel option center stage.  

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

We must demand that our leaders ask the right questions and seek truthful answers. Right now, the State of Michigan can revoke the Line 5 public trust easement and ensure protection of our drinking water, economy, fishing, and way of life.

Line 5 is a Great Lakes issue, a Michigan issue that affects us all. This is not about which side of the aisle you stand on. Rather, Line 5 is about our future and our children’s future, and they will never forgive our elected leaders if Line 5 ruptures on our watch.

Water unites us. Let’s let the decommissioning of Line 5 do the same.


JoAnne Cook Brings New Perspective to FLOW


In May, Tribal law expert and educator JoAnne Cook joined FLOW’s Board of Directors.

JoAnne, who lives in Northport, is a former Council member, Vice Chair and Acting Chair of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. She also served as Chief Judge of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. She is well known in northwest Michigan for classes on tribal history and culture taught to non-tribal audiences.


What is your personal connection to water?

I grew up in Northern Michigan surrounded by water and have enjoyed the benefits of having the great lakes in our backyard. As an Anishinaabe kwe, I also have a spiritual connection to water as we understand water is a living being that provides life to all things. Our teachings describe and provide how we work with the water.  

 

What motivated you to serve on FLOW’s board?

I am in awe of the knowledge and effort of those involved with FLOW.  The public education regarding the Great Lakes is such an important piece as well as the effort being made to educate those involved in the decision making process such as Line 5 or the withdrawal of water from the natural springs. This philosophy fits well with the work of the Anishinaabe people of the Great Lakes.  

 

You have done a great job teaching the history of the Odawa Anishinabek people from the Grand Traverse Region to non-tribal communities.  What observations do you have about the level of awareness in those communities and their readiness to learn?

Most people that attend come in a level of awareness but it comes from a textbook or historical record and not from the native perspective. Each class learns something about our culture or way of life, which opens a new level of understanding. My goal is to share our true history and in a way that allows them to understand who we truly are and that our way of life was structured and adept. 

 

What do you see as the major water challenges of our region, and on a broader scale?

One major water challenge is Line 5 and the safety of the water in the Straits. We all know the catastrophic result to all aspects of the water including the plants, animals, humans, and the economic impact to the state. 

On a broader scale, water is not a commodity, it is a right. We all need water to live, to eat, and to sustain life as we know it. The question is, how do we come together to have clean water for all? 

 

Do you see reasons for hope that we will successfully address these challenges and if so, how?

Yes, there is hope. There are many people around the world who are sharing ideas, concepts, and coming together through symposiums, Facebook, etc. to discuss and share ideas about clean water and providing water to all. We have seen demonstrations, proposed legislation, and rallies regarding positive change toward water. If there is continued dialogue and the sharing of information, there is hope for change.


President Trump’s Executive Order to Industrialize Great Lakes Violates the Public Trust


On June 19, 2018, President Trump issued an Executive Order that declared “the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters of the United States are foundational to economy, security, global competitiveness, and well-being of the United States.” The purpose of this order is three-fold:

  1. Facilitate economic growth and industrial use of the Great Lakes, including increased off shore oil and gas exploitation from beneath the oceans and Great Lakes;
  2. Form partnerships between governments, scientists, and industries to better inform decisions and enhance development opportunities for industries in or along the oceans and Great Lakes;
  3. Revoke President Obama’s Executive Order 13547 (Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes) of July 19, 2010.

In other words, deep-six our nation’s water policies aimed at the continuing struggle to correct the ills of industrialization, oil and gas development, invasive species, waste discharges and abuses of our oceans and Great Lakes. Like a Chekhov short story after the Russian Revolution, our Nation’s ocean and Great Lakes policy has been stripped of any reference to the importance of “climate change,” “environment,” “sustainability,” “ecosystems”, “adaptability,” “resiliency,” and “stewardship” to our waters.

The Timeline

Reports, books, articles abound about the demise of the Great Lakes from industrial and wastewater abuse in the late 1800s until 1969– made infamous when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire, one of many such incidents causing millions of dollars in damages. Soon after, Lake Erie was declared dead from phosphorous loading. Congress responded by passing the Clean Water Act to implement a national policy, carried out by the States, to prevent degradation of our nation’s water quality. States like Michigan banned detergents and cleaning compounds containing high levels of phosphorous. The International Joint Commission (“IJC”), the binational governing board over pollution and diminishment of the waters of the Great Lakes spearheaded a landmark Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the U.S. and the eight states bordering these inland seas. Along with the Santa Barbara oil spill, these events helped usher in the environmental era, one that has become as much a part of life as water, food, livelihood, and the economy.

In 1978, stories of toxic chemicals in waters and soil in Niagara, New York hit the national news, and soon the tragedy of “Love Canal” fostered a massive effort by the nation and states to make “polluters pay.” How could a canal turned into a waste dump of toxic soup– the list of hazardous substances a mile long, at the time unknown, today on all of the toxic regulatory lists– then be used by a school, and later sold for a 36-block subdivision? In response, Congress and the states passed laws like the Federal Superfund or state superfund laws to make the “polluter pay,” and force the cleanup of the toxic legacy left by industry over the past 150 years.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the IJC, Environment Canada, US EPA, states, and untold numbers of scientists, policy-makers, citizens and nonprofit organizations pushed for identification and cleanup of toxic “hot spots” in the harbors and along coastlines of the Great Lakes, and adopted an ecosystem lake-wide approach to protecting and restoring the Great Lakes and their connecting or tributary waters. In recent years, efforts by members of Congress who are part of the Great Lakes delegation, leading conservation and environmental organizations like National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and so many others, pressed Congressional appropriations in the hundreds of millions to finally restore our Great Lakes and remove those toxic “hot spots” that continue to plague public health, fishing, recreation, tourism, jobs, economy and quality of life. 

In the past decade, the U.S. and Canada have amended the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to address not only toxic hot spots, but stop acidification, waves of invasive species like Asian Carp and quagga mussels, nutrient runoff and algal blooms that have turned the western one-third of Lake Erie into a “dead zone,” stem the tide of aquiculture, and prepare for the potential devastating impacts from extreme weather caused by climate change. The States and Congress also enacted the Great Lakes Compact that prevents diversions of water from the Great Lakes, with a few exceptions for bottled water and communities whose territory and water systems cross the basin divide. Most recently, the IJC, courts, and states have begun to implement the ancient legal principle that protects the Great Lakes, known as the “public trust doctrine.”

In 2010, President Obama picked up the momentum to protect our oceans and Great Lakes after the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the effects of which decimated 1,300 miles of coastal ecosystems, towns, quality of life and water-dependent economies. Executive Order 13547 declared, “America’s stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other changes, social justice, and security.” He recommended implementation – in cooperation with states, tribes, foreign governments, and citizens– of this goal for all agencies of the federal government whose decisions affected the oceans and Great Lakes. 

On June 19, 2018, in one short stroke of the pen, President Trump nullified decades of dedicated conservation efforts by the federal government, states, tribes, scientists, nonprofit organizations, and citizens to come to grips with the reality of what we and the world face in the 21st century. President Trump has returned the country’s national water policy back to the ecological barbarism of the late 1800s and the last century.  He has ordered federal agencies to abstain from stewardship and protection of the integrity and sustainability of our waters and start cooperating with the private sector to exploit them for industrial uses, oil and gas and energy development, and marine transport of oil and similar hazardous substances. Is it now open season for industry to plunder once more the Great Lakes? In the mind of President Trump and his private industry friends it is.  They will stop at nothing to push the Dow Jones to all-time highs, even if it costs us the Great Lakes, public health, and quality of life and our economy itself. Trump has called for increased offshore oil and gas leasing and development and energy maritime transport.

President Trump Ignores and Betrays the Public Trust in the Great Lakes

The real question now is whether President Trump’s Executive Order has any effect on the Great Lakes.  President Trump’s Executive Order spells doom for the oceans, but not the Great Lakes. While the order may force federal agencies to retract their powers when it comes to permitting industry and energy transport near or on the Great Lakes, the President and federal government have no say in the leasing, sale, and use of the waters and lakebeds of the Great Lakes and tributary lakes and streams.

Under the Federal Submerged Lands Act, the near-shore or coastal zone below the ordinary high-water mark is held by ocean coastal states in public trust. Beyond the near shore, the federal government controls the sovereignty of the water and bottomlands of the oceans, and can, subject to express authority and law, sell oil and gas or other mineral leases to develop the oceans.  Fortunately, that is not the law of the Great Lakes. President Trump’s Executive Order appears to be ignorant, at least oblivious, of the legal fact that all of the states of this country became vested with absolute title in the navigable waters and land below the ordinary high-water mark under the “equal footing” doctrine. All of the states bordering the Great Lakes took title to these waters and lakebeds when they joined the Union as sovereign for the benefit of citizens. All the federal government has is a reserved right of navigation for all citizens to travel and engage in commerce over the waters of the U.S.  The title and any decision concerning leasing, sale, or other use for oil and gas development, energy transport like Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, remains with the State, not the federal government, and not President Trump.

But there is even more to it than state sovereign ownership.  This state ownership and control of the Great Lakes is subject to the public trust doctrine. In 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court in a case called Illinois Central Railroad v Illinois ruled that the Great Lakes are held by the states in public trust to protect paramount public trust uses of citizens: navigation, fishing, swimming, bathing, boating, recreation, and drinking water or sustenance. States have an affirmative duty to protect the public trust and cannot alienate or lease it for private development or risk impairment of these public trust waters and uses. Virtually every state on the Great Lakes and beyond has adopted state sovereign ownership and public trust in water.  After talking with my colleague and friend Dave Dempsey about the topic of this article, Dave, reminding me once more of the importance of history, sent me a news clipping from 2002, reporting the passage by the Michigan legislature of a ban on oil and gas development of the Great Lakes under the public trust doctrine. Governor Engler, in prescient Trump-like fashion, opposed the bill and refused to sign it. The legislature overruled him.

But the legal truth is, the public trust doctrine imposes a limitation on exploiting or risking the Great Lakes by leasing for oil and gas or other private development, except within a very narrow exception: A project must improve or enhance a public trust interest, such as a marina that fosters riparian and public fishing and boating and cannot otherwise risk impairment of the public trust.

Jim Olson, FLOW Founder

Sorry, President Trump, you may have the authority to revoke President Obama’s stewardship toward the oceans and Great Lakes and reindustrialize the waters of the nation. But you cannot revoke state ownership of water, bottomlands, or the public trust doctrine. Governor Engler didn’t have the authority to do so. You don’t either. We who live in the Great Lakes Basin hereby serve notice that the Great Lakes are off limits. The Great Lakes belong to the states in trust for its citizens– the legal beneficiaries.


Progress on Plastics

Roughly 500 million straws are used and disposed of in the United States every day.[1] Even though you might want to think that the majority of those straws end up in recycling facilities, the reality is that they do not. These tiny unnecessary tubes end up in landfills, city streets, beaches, oceans, and even the Great Lakes. Plastic straws contribute to 22 million pounds of plastic discarded into the water of the Great Lakes each year, which continually degrades the ecosystem health and environmental quality of the Great Lakes and its shoreline.[2]

Recently, there has been a strong push to ban plastic straws and utensils across the globe. In fact, on July 1st, Seattle will become the first major U.S. city to ban food service businesses from using plastic food items such as to-go containers, cups, straws, and utensils.[3]Smaller cities such as Malibu, CA and Miami Beach, FL have also introduced similar bans on plastic straws; while the state of California and other major cities like Portland, OR and New York City are also working towards passing single use plastic bans. [4]

Not only are cities and citizen groups demanding alternatives to plastics, but the food industry is also beginning to facilitate this must needed change. Fast food giant, McDonald’s, is already testing plastic straw alternatives across the U.S. and has set a plan to phase out all plastic straws in the U.K. and Ireland.[5] Additionally, Chicago’s largest restaurant group has also recently stopped using plastic straws in over 100 restaurants. [6] These incremental changes will hopefully inspire more of the food industry to shift away from single use plastics and lower the industry wide impact to the environment.

This continued progress of banning single use plastics must be commended. However, these are just the beginning steps of a long journey ahead. We must continue to push for alternatives to single use plastics and pressure our own communities to follow Seattle’s bold commitment to the environment. In addition, we all must make the personal commitment to stop using single-use plastics. We must say that “this is the last straw,” and do our part in stopping the flow of plastic pollutants into our environment.


[1] https://www.nps.gov/articles/straw-free.htm

[2] https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-great-lakes-2157466316.html

[3]http://www.seattle.gov/util/forbusinesses/solidwaste/foodyardbusinesses/commercial/foodpackagingrequirements/

[4] https://www.fastcompany.com/40580132/here-are-the-u-s-cities-that-have-banned-plastic-straws-so-far

[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/15/mcdonalds-to-phase-out-plastic-straws-in-the-uk-and-ireland.html

[6] https://chicago.eater.com/2018/6/20/17485768/lettuce-entertain-you-restaurants-plastic-straw-ban-chicago

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.