Tag: policy

Welcoming Dave Dempsey to FLOW

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

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

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

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

 

Gratefully,

Jim Olson

 

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

 

 

PR: Great Lakes Policy Expert, Environmental Historian Joins FLOW

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                 April 3, 2017

Contact:  Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                                                          
Email:  liz@flowforwater.org
Office: (231) 944-1568; Cell: (570) 872-4956

Great Lakes Policy Expert, Environmental Historian Joins FLOW

TRAVERSE CITY – Great Lakes water law and environmental policy non-profit, For Love Of Water (FLOW), has hired Great Lakes policy expert and environmental historian, Dave Dempsey, as Senior Advisor.

For the past six years, Dempsey has served as Policy Advisor to the International Joint Commission (IJC).  The IJC was established in 1909 by the Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada and is charged with protecting the common waters and water interests of the United States and Canada. 

“We are thrilled and grateful that Dave has chosen to work with our team at FLOW to help protect and preserve the Great Lakes at this critical juncture,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

“Dave’s knowledge and experience will enrich and expand the scope of FLOW’s mission to empower citizens and elected officials with information-based risk analysis and with public trust solutions that will protect the health of the lakes, streams and drinking water in the Great Lakes basin for current and future generations,” Kirkwood said.

Dempsey’s 35-year career has included service as Environmental Policy Advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard, presidential appointee to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and Senior Policy Advisor for the non-profit Michigan Environmental Council. He has also authored or co-authored nine books including the award-winning William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate, 2006.

Dempsey said FLOW is unique in its approach to using the centuries-old public trust doctrine as a powerful tool to protect citizens’ legal rights to use the Great Lakes and to hold state governments accountable for ensuring these waters and public uses are protected in perpetuity.

His strong attraction to working with FLOW at this stage of his career, Dempsey said, is based on the opportunity to work with Kirkwood, the FLOW team, and with FLOW Founder Jim Olson, a nationally recognized environmental lawyer, to foster wide understanding and effective use of the public trust doctrine to protect the Great Lakes.  But, Dempsey said, his decision is also deeply personal.  

“In writing about Michigan’s conservation history, I learned about the men and women of the late 19th Century who laid the groundwork for today’s public forests, fish and game.  They were far ahead of their time. FLOW is comparable.  Its forward-looking efforts will prevent environmental and economic devastation by assuring public ownership and protection of our water,” he said. 

 

 Dave Dempsey,

Senior Advisor at FLOW

 

 

 

FLOW is a Great Lakes water law and policy 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin through public trust solutions.

 

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U.S.-Canadian Boundary Water Governing Board Recommends Game-Changing Public Trust Framework to Safeguard Great Lakes

IJC Report Released Today on Great Lakes Diversions, Consumptive Uses, and Climate Change Adopts Policy Prescription from FLOW, Great Lakes Water Law and Policy Center

TRAVERSE CITY, MI — The International Joint Commission issued a much anticipated report today on the success of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Sustainable Water Resources Agreementand Compact ban on diversions and excessive consumptive water practices. While the IJC gave the Compact and efforts by states and provinces a positive grade, it also noted there is more work to do to assure these efforts are not undermined by lack of vigilance or unanticipated effects such as impacts from climate change and regional and local competition for water, energy and water in the coming decades.

“This is for the most part a good news story,” the IJC report concludes. The report notes that particular advancements are needed to address pressures for diversions and exports from droughts, worldwide water scarcity, and algal blooms from agriculture and sewage treatment plants, exacerbated by climate change. The report recommends immediate support for more data and better assessment of cumulative impacts from smaller incremental diversions, consumptive uses, or other human-induced changes such as global warming. It also emphasizes that decision-making standard for exceptions like the proposed Waukesha diversion must be strictly applied to avoid undermining the Compact.

Michigan water and environmental lawyer Jim Olson, President of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water policy center, who submitted formal comments to the IJC on its initial draft of today’s report, said, “The IJC report and the in-depth consultants’ report not only document the success of the Agreement and Compact among the provinces and states to ban diversions and control consumptive uses to protect and conserve the waters and ecosystem in the Basin, it also spotlights the importance for governments to consider implementing a new game-changing, public trust principle as a ‘backdrop’ to safeguard the Great Lakes and citizens. It will prevent the Agreement and Compact from being undermined by possible political, economic, or uncertain or unexpected natural forces.”

At the outset of its report, the IJC observed that public comments from organizations and others “broadened considerations and strengthened the report,” including FLOW’s proposal to add “a new recommendation that states and provinces consider developing, harmonizing, and implementing a binational public trust framework as a backstop to the Agreement and Compact.”

“The recommendation of the public trust doctrine is leadership at its best,” Olson said. “This ancient principle holds that the waters of the Great Lakes are owned by the states and provinces in trust for the benefit of all citizens.  Governments have a solemn duty as trustees to sustain these waters unimpaired as much as possible from one generation to the next. Understanding and applying public trust principles as a beacon to do the right thing will not only strengthen the diversion ban and the regulation of water use under the Compact,” Olson said, “it also will empower and guide governments, communities – including our tribes and indigenous peoples, businesses, and citizens – to find solutions to the massive threats that we face in the 21st century.  What better way to harmonize our differences and focus our science and energies than bringing us back to the basic reality that we all live in a common home.  It’s a traditional body of law that sets constructive guideposts, which, if we follow, will keep our countries, states, provinces, and people on course in protecting these highly valued public waters.”

The IJC report finds that “the Agreement and Compact will not necessarily be sufficient to protect the long-term ecological integrity and the many public and private uses of the Great Lakes. Binational adoption of public trust principles could provide an effective backstop,” and “it will fill the gaps and deal with as-yet-undefined stresses likely to negatively impact the Great Lakes in the future.”   

Background to the IJC’s 2016 Report on Diversions and Consumptive Uses

An attempt by a corporation to divert water out of Lake Huron and ship it in tankers to China in 1999 sounded the alarm for Canada, the United States, all eight Great Lakes states, and two Great Lakes provinces to adopt an international agreement among all of these jurisdictions, and a separate Great Lakes Compact among the states. Prior to entering into any agreements, the IJC issued a scientific and policy report in 2000 on a protocol for protecting the Great Lakes from diversions and consumptive uses of water within and outside of the Basin. Negotiations between the jurisdictions and stakeholders from industry, communities, nonprofit organizations, tribes and public participation led to a draft agreement in 2004.

In response to more than 10,000 comments and letters, the draft was renegotiated around a call for the prohibition of any diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes Basin, with a handful of narrow exceptions, including one-time transfers for humanitarian purposes or to meet the needs of communities that straddle the Basin’s divide (such as the currently contested diversion of Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee to cities and towns in Waukesha County).  In 2005, the governors of the states signed a Compact, and the governors and premieres of Ontario and Quebec signed a parallel international Agreement.  The Compact was signed into law in 2008.

The 2016 IJC Report and the Future of the Great Lakes

In 2014, as part of its continuing responsibility to protect the flows, levels, and integrity of the Great Lakes and ecosystem, the IJC began an in-depth study to review its findings and conclusions in its 2000 report to account for significant changes or events each decade.  Expert consultants to the IJC, Ralph Pentland, a Canadian water policy expert, and Alex Mayer, a U.S. science and engineering professor at Michigan Technological University, released draft findings for public review and comment from spring to the end of June in 2015.

IJC’s consultants Pentland and Mayer wrote in their 83-page report, which forms the basis of the IJC 2016 report, that the public trust would help address future water issues and trends, including the “uncertainty of climate and lake levels” and “losses that could approach the magnitude of losses related to diversions and consumptive uses.” They also found that “increasing droughts, storm events and the ‘nexus’ of intense competition for water sources for food, energy and development could override commitment to protect the Lakes,” and cited the California drought as “a reminder of communities literally running out of water.” Their findings also noted the current and evolving state of science that may better measure effects from human and natural forces in the future, prompting the need for a harmonizing public trust framework.  An “uptick” in NAFTA or other international trade law claims against water restrictions and outside political pressures could shackle the Agreement and Compact in the future.

FLOW submitted comments on the draft IJC report last summer. Since 2011, FLOW has concentrated its work on the public trust doctrine as a potential framework for protecting and managing the Great Lakes, when it submitted, along with the Council of Canadians, a request to the IJC to review the public trust doctrine as a principle for its decisions under its 1909 treaty.  FLOW has continued to submit research comments and published papers demonstrating the practical application of public trust standards to water levels, algal blooms, adaptive management practices, the straddling diversion exception in Waukesha, Wisconsin, net pen aquaculture, oil and gas state land leases, and crude oil pipeline transport on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes.

FLOW’s June 2015 comments on the IJC draft report analyzed the potential importance of the public trust as a guiding background by applying to the issues facing the Great Lakes. There is a vast body of precedent that shows that governments have a perpetual and affirmative duty to take necessary actions to protect water, people, public health, and the integrity of watersheds and ecosystems.

FLOW board member Keith Schneider, the senior correspondent for Circle of Blue’s Water News, said, “Elevating the public trust doctrine to a modern governmental strategy to secure water resources is an idea of momentous import for our region and North America.”

“The Agreement and Compact recognize water is a ‘public treasure’ that is ‘held in trust’ to benefit our citizens and communities,” Olson added. “Why not use it given the threats we see from climate change, invasive species, water exports and diversions, and increased water scarcity and greater competition? Without developing a legal framework that transcends the multi jurisdictions in the Great Lakes, we’re seeing increasing public health and environmental crises like the Flint water crisis, poisoning residents with lead and other chemicals for 18 months, and algal blooms in Lake Erie shutting down Toledo’s municipal water supply. Why wouldn’t we want a time-tested body of public trust law that applies equally to all 40 million beneficiaries designed to safeguard the Great Lakes?”

 

For References, see:

IJC 2016 10-Year Review Report

FLOW’s Public Trust Report on the Great Lakes to IJC

Court Confirms 45 Miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline Owned by State Under Public Trust

Court Confirms Indiana’s 45-Mile Shoreline on Lake Michigan Owned and Held by State for Public Recreation Under Public Trust Doctrine

By Jim Olson[1]

 

Another state court confirms that the 3,200 miles of Great Lakes shoreline are owned by states in public trust for citizens to enjoy for walking, swimming, sunbathing and similar beach and water related activities on public trust lands below the Ordinary High Water Mark (“OHWM”).[2]

When Indiana was carved out of the Northwest Territories and joined the United States in 1816, the State took title in trust for all waters of Lake Michigan and all land below the OHWM along the state’s 45-mile shoreline.Map of Indiana Shoreline with Counties

In 2012, the lakefront owners on Lake Michigan  in Long Beach, Indiana, filed a lawsuit against the town of Long Beach, claiming they owned all of the land to the waters’ edge. Lakefront owners asked the trial court judge to prohibit any interference with their private property by town residents and the city who used the beach as public for walking, sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking  since the town was incorporated. A group of local residents and homeowners organized into the Long Beach Community Alliance (“LBCA”),  and intervened in the dispute to defend their public right of access for walking and recreation over the wide strip of white sugar sand between the shoreline and the retaining walls and yards of the lakefront owners. The Alliance for the Great Lakes (“AGA”) headquartered in nearby Chicago, and Save the Dunes (“STD”), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the dunes on Indiana’s shoreline, also intervened to protect the interests of their members who were citizens of Indiana and used and enjoyed the Lake Michigan shore.

In late December 2013, the trial judge ruled that the lakefront landowners could not interfere with the town or residents’ efforts to pass ordinances recognizing the land below the OHWM belonged to the state and was held in public trust for residents and citizens of Indiana.[3]

Not satisfied, the lakefront owners appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. In 2014, the appellate court recognized the trial judge’s ruling below, but remanded the matter back to the trial court for a more comprehensive decision on the State’s title and the public trust in the shoreline.[4] The court reasoned that the State of Indiana had not been made a party in the local suit, a prerequisite for a court ruling on a landownership and pubic trust shoreline dispute.

Another lakefront owner pressed forward with a related new lawsuit, again claiming ownership to the waters’ edge, based on their deeds that, they argued, gave them title to the waters’ edge, even if that meant their title cut off the rights of citizens of Indiana to the shoreline below the OHWM. This time the state was named a defendant, and the LBCA, AGA, and STD once more intervened.

It’s common knowledge that Lake Michigan water levels have fluctuated about 6 feet between highs and lows since the federal government started keeping records in 1860. In the late 1980s, the water levels and wave action threatened the lakefront owners’ retaining walls and homes. In 2013, the year the first court ruling came down, the water levels were so low, the distance from the waters’ edge to the lakefront owners’ retaining walls was wider than the length of a football field.

Longbeach, Ind Shoreline photo

While the knowledge may not be so common for many citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court and the courts of states abutting the Great Lakes have routinely ruled that each state took title to the waters and lands of the Great Lakes up to the OHWM. In 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all of the Great Lakes’ waters and bottomlands to this ordinary high water mark are owned by the states in trust for all citizens.[5]  The Illinois legislature deeded one square mile of Lake Michigan on Chicago’s waterfront to the Illinois Central Railroad company for an industrial complex. However, the Supreme Court voided the deed, and found that the public trust in these lands and waters is inviolate and could not be sold off, alienated, or even legislated away.

Despite this history, lakefront owners the Gundersons, pushed for exclusive ownership of the beach to exclude residents from the beach between their homes and the waters’ edge.  The State of Indiana Department of Natural Resources, LBCA, AGA, and STD defended public ownership and the residents and citizens’ right to use the public trust shoreline for walking, swimming, sunbathing, and similar water-related recreational activities.

On July 24,  2015, LaPorte County Judge Richard Stalbrink wrote a near text-book-perfect decision on the public trust doctrine and ruled against the lakefront owners in favor of the state, LBCA, AGA, and STD,  confirming that the beach below the ordinary high water mark to the waters’ edge belongs to the state and is subject to a paramount public trust that cannot be interfered with or impaired by lakefront owners.[6]

First, Judge Stalbrink followed the Supreme Court cases holding that the state obtained title to the waters and bottomlands to the OHWM when it joined the Union in 1816. Second, Stalbrink ruled that this beach land below the OHWM was held in trust for public walking, swimming, fishing access, and other public recreational uses. Third, the Court confirmed that Indiana’s definition of the OHWM was proper, given that the definition takes into account the physical characteristics that define a permanent shoreline as reasonable evidence of the public portion of the shoreline.  Finally, Judge Stalbrink recognized that because water levels of Lake Michigan fluctuate, the width of the beach is subject to change, but that there is always a paramount right of the public to access the beach for proper public trust recreational activities.

As Judge Stalbrink observed near the end of his decision, ”Private lot owners cannot impair the public’s right to use the beach below the OHWM for these protected purposes. To hold otherwise would invite the creation of a bach landscape dotted with small, private, fenced and fortified compounds designed to deny the public from enjoying Indiana’s limited access to one of the greatest natural resources in this State.”[7]

 

(Author’s End Note: See rulings by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2005. Glass v Goeckel, 473 Mich 667, 703 N.W. 2d. 58 (2005), Ohio Supreme Court in Merrill v Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 130 Ohio St. 3d 30, (2011) (on remand before Court of Common Pleas, Lake County, Ohio for factual determination of OHWM); the Gunderson decision upholding public trust in Long Beach should control the decision in the companion case, LBLHA, LLC v Town of Long Beach et al., supra note 2, on remand to the Laporte County trial court).

[1]President and Founder, Flow for Love of Water.

[2]See Melissa Scanlan, Blue Print for a Great Lakes Trail, Vermont Law School Research Paper No. 14-14 (2014).  (Professor Scanlan proposes walking trail within public trust lands and without interference with riparian use based on public trust doctrine in the Great Lakes); James Olson, All Aboard: Navigating the Course for Universal Adoption of the Public Trust Doctrine, 15 Vt. J. E. L. 135 (2014) (Author documents the application of the public trust doctrine in all eight Great Lakes states and two provinces of Canada).

[3]LBLHA, LLC  v Town of Long Beach et al., Cause No. 46C01-1212-PL-1941. (The author, Jim Olson, discloses that he was one of the attorneys, along with Kate Redman, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, P.C., Traverse City, Michigan, in this case for the Long Beach Community Alliance in favor of public trust in shoreline).

[4]LBLHA, LLC v Town of Long Beach et al., 28 N.E. 3d. 1077 (2014). The Indiana Court of Appeals remanded to the trial court to add the State of Indiana as a party; this case will not proceed in same fashion as the Gunderson case discussed in this paper, which was decided by the same LaPorte County trial court.

[5]Illinois v Illinois Central Railroad, 146 US 387 (1892).

[6]Gunderson v State et al., LaPorte Superior Court 2, Cause No. 46D02-1404-PL-606, Decision, July 24, 2015, 22 pps. (Judge Stalbrink, Richard, Jr.); Indiana Law Blog, Ind. Decisions, July 28, 2015 http://indianalawblog.com/archives/2015’07/ind_decisions_m_709.html.; see also U.S. v Carstens, 982 F Supp 874, 878 (N.D. Ind. 2013).

[7]Id., Indiana Law Blog, at p. 3.

As Long as Oil Flows through the Straits Pipelines, the Great Lakes Remain at Unacceptable Risk

The Great Lakes are no safer from an oil pipeline spill today despite yesterday’s release of the State of Michigan Pipeline Task Force’s 80-page report and recommendations.

The Task Force report included four recommendations directed at Enbridge’s twin 62-year-old petroleum pipelines located on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac: (1) Ban transportation of heavy crude oil through the Straits pipelines; (2) Require an independent risk analysis and full insurance coverage for the pipelines; (3) Require an independent analysis of alternatives to the existing pipelines; (4) Obtain more inspection data from Enbridge relating to the pipelines.

Yet, oil still flows through Line 5.  The Task Force rejected shutting down Line 5 while gathering additional information on the basis that they had “inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines.” (P. 57)

Impose Emergency Measures Immediately

At a minimum, however, the Task Force should impose immediate emergency measures on the pipeline given (1) potential violations of the 1953 Easement related to Enbridge’s inability to demonstrate that it has adequate liability coverage to cover all damages from an oil spill; (2) the Coast Guard’s admission that it is inadequately prepared to clean up an open water spill in freshwater let alone under frozen winter conditions; (3) Enbridge’s failure to disclose inspection, maintenance, and repair records to document internal and external corrosion rates under the Straits and inherent limitations related to inline inspection tools.

The question remains: how much more information do we need to unveil before our trustee – the State – takes swift protective action that prioritizes the paramount interests of citizens over private corporations?

The Task Force and the public have rejected the idea that the Straits Pipelines can last indefinitely.  In fact, the Attorney General Bill Schuette has declared that “the days of letting two controversial oil pipelines operate under the Straits of Mackinac are numbered.”  This is hopeful news, but every day counts, and until we have specific measures in place that prevent a catastrophic spill, the State of Michigan is placing the Great Lakes at risk.

Morning Sun: FLOW forum educates on Great Lakes advocacy

Click here to read the article in the Morning Sun.

By Malachi Barrett

May 24, 2014

Pure Michigan may not be as untainted as one would think.

Environmental advocacy policy organization For Love of Water spoke in front of an assembly of students and faculty members at Alma College recently on the dangers facing the Great Lakes and Michigan watershed.

Climate change, invasive species, polluting contaminants and nutrient runoff are just a few of the issues afflicting one of the most valuable natural resources in America.

The forum discussion was sponsored by students in an Alma College environmental communication course.

Students sponsored the event to facilitate the discussion of projects and issues that they studied over the spring term.

“It is a real pleasure to work with this generation to figure out what motivates people to be passionate about the most important issue, and that is water.” said Liz Kirkwood, FLOW executive director.

The main goal of FLOW is to build public awareness and educate decision makers to provide a framework for governance over the Great Lakes Basin so they are protected for future generations.

“We have a number of issues that are systematic and not easy fixes, one of the most important things that we do is education,” said Allison Voglesong, FLOW Communications Designer.

Kirkwood said FLOW’s understanding of Michigan’s relationship with water is defined by the public trust, an idea that the government is responsible to act as a trustee of water, much like a bank trust protects money, with citizens being the beneficiaries.

Because water is cyclical in nature, protection of surface water connects people to every part of hydrological cycle. The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.

“What happens here affects the Great Lakes, we supply the contaminants that go down and get into the Great Lakes,” said Alma Environmental Studies Professor Murray Borrello.

He cited fish in Lake Huron containing a fire retardant chemical only manufactured in St. Louis, Michigan. He also warned the audience of the dangers of overdrawing water from wells and agricultural waste produced that enters the Great Lakes Basin.

Most dangerous of all to the watershed is hydraulic fracking, a process that maximizes the output of natural gas and oil wells by pumping water and chemicals into formations deep into the ground. Building pressure fractures rock layers that release oil reserves to the surface, at the cost of irrecobly contaminating large amounts of water.

“The greatest danger to Michigan right now is fracking,” said writer Michael Delp. “It takes 22 millon gallons of water to frack a well in Michigan, and the water that they take back out of the ground is full of toxins.”

It is tough for the average person to judge what 22 million gallons of water looks like, so Delp made a conservative comparison to the amount of water dumped by Tahquamenon falls in ten minues. Fracking fluid is composed of 90 percent water by volume, but not even the most advanced filtration systems can remove the .5 percent of chemicals in the composition.

Delp is writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction who focuses on nature, especially rivers and lakes. He opened the forum with three poems in his character of the “Mad Angler” a persona used to take on a vengeful, uncomprimising stance against the destruction of natural habitats.

FLOW Founder Jim Olson steered the conversation towards legal action. He has been practicing environmental and water law for forty years and has been involved in a variety of state and federal court decisions protecting the public commons.

Olson spoke at length about the need to protect the public trust and keep waters out of the hands of individuals or corporations. He said America has strong public trust laws that have been used by the Supreme Court in the past, but they are often overlooked.

“The free markets wil not exist if theyr are owned by a few at the cost of the commons,” Olson said. “What we’re talking about is saving the markets through decentralization so that young people can be the entrepreneurs of renweable energy, new water techology, conservation, health; the things, ideas and connections we can make to do something about this.”

By Malachi Barrett, mbarrett@michigannewspapers.com @PolarBarrett

OP-ED – Great Lakes Echo: Public trust demands Great Lakes phosphorus cuts

Click here to read the article in the Great Lakes Echo

Commentary

  • Editor’s note, Jim Olson is president of FLOW, a Traverse City-based non-profit legal policy and action organization whose mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

By Jim Olson

The health and public use and enjoyment of the Great Lakes is under siege from systemic threats like climate change, extreme water levels, Asian Carp and other invasive species, and nutrient pollution.

One of the most pernicious dangers is the resurgent excessive phosphorous and other nutrient runoff from farming practices and lack of proper sewage treatment. Moreover, the situation is worsening because of climate change. This nutrient loading has resulted in devastating, harmful algal blooms like the “dead zone” that extended over western Lake Erie in the summer of 2011, covering an area the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut. These algal blooms turn the surface and shores of the Great Lakes into a toxic soup, closing beaches and drinking water plants, killing fish and fishing, marring private property and public beaches, and discouraging tourism.

Lake Erie harmful algal bloom dead zone fish killThese impacts strike at the heart of the Great Lakes and the uses enjoyed and valued by the 40 million residents who live in the Basin. In 2013, Toledo had to spend $1 million to treat its drinking water from toxic globs of algae. Unchecked, this chronic, worsening problem will strike a blow to the economy and quality of life in the Great Lakes region.

Binational report urges action

Fortunately – with a sense of urgency – the International Joint Commission (“IJC”), the bi-national United States and Canadian governing board charged with protecting the Great Lakes, issued its Report of the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority(February 2014) – A Balanced Diet for Lake Erie: Reducing Phosphorus Loadings and Harmful Algal Blooms.The report calls on Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania, and the province of Ontario to take immediate steps to stop this devastating toxic nuisance before conditions worsen, not only in Lake Erie but also in Lake Huron and on the shores of Lake Michigan as far north as the pristine Door Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Unfortunately, efforts to date have not reduced phosphorus or curtailed this massive problem, which is too large, too harmful, and too costly to the lakes, their ecosystem, and the 40 million people who live in the Great Lakes region to let this languish a year longer.

While the challenge is daunting, the IJC has taken the helm and focused its scientific studies and strong policies on the responsibility of the states, province, and others whose practices are causing the harm to Lake Erie and parts of the other Great Lakes. The IJC has recommended at a minimum a cut in phosphorus loading from farming and sewage overflows and other runoff by nearly 50 percent. Possible actions include the setting of a total phosphorus limit in Lake Erie and adoption of best practices for the management and use of fertilizers on farms and lawns.

Not only has the IJC set the target at nearly 50 percent and fingered the actions that need to be taken through voluntary cooperation, it has established a fresh legal and policy framework – or blueprint – for sharing responsibility, taking action, and, if necessary, implementing enforcement. The IJC has invoked a fundamental principle embedded in custom and law of the states and province on the Great Lakes – the duties imposed under “public trust” law in navigable waters and their tributary watersheds. In its report, the IJC recognized and urged states and Ontario to apply public trust principles as an overarching measure to address and solve the systemic threat of phosphorus and algal blooms in Lake Erie.

A framework for the public trust

The governments of Canada, the United States, Ontario and the states that share a common boundary on Lake Erie could apply a public trust framework, a set of important common law principles shared by the states, provinces, and both countries. Under these principles the governments should hold Lake Erie as a public trust for their citizens. The public trust framework would provide the governments with an affirmative obligation to assure that the rights of the public with respect to navigation, fishing, swimming, and the water and ecosystem on which these uses depend are protected and not significantly impaired.

In 1892, the United States Supreme Court established a principle that the Great Lakes and their protected public trust uses for boating, swimming, fishing, and other recreation can never be interfered with or significantly impaired now or in the future. A framework with a benchmark is necessary for the immediate reduction of phosphorus in Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. The framework for cooperation and enforcement to achieve this benchmark is the public trust – a refreshing, straightforward contrast to the layers of rules and regulations that have been unable to stop the spread of devastating toxic algal blooms.

Lake Erie Nutrient Pollution Harmful Algal Bloom Dead Zone public trustAlgal blooms and toxic algae “dead zones” can be prevented and Lake Erie restored by reducing phosphorous loading from farming, sewage overflows, and fugitive residential and commercial fertilizing. If we continue to engage in dialogue but chose not to implement measures or options that will reduce phosphorous and restore Lake Erie, more beaches will close, commercial fishing will dry up, and tourism, riparian property values, public use of the lakes for recreation and enjoyment will continue to sink. The public trust provides a fresh approach based on traditional, time-tested principles that will provide the framework from which the states, stakeholders, and all citizens, who are the legal beneficiaries of this trust, can work together with shared responsibility to save this magnificent shared commons.

The IJC should be commended for this bold and positive step and for its leadership in urging the states and Ontario to implement the public trust principles that apply to all of the states and Ontario and their citizens. These principles move this bi-national issue to a higher level centered on our core values – water protection and restoration, quality of life, and a sustainable economy – that honor the public trust that, in the long run, will protect the waters and uses on which we, our children, and grandchildren depend.

As a citizen beneficiary of the public trust in our Great Lakes, read the report, send the IJC a letter or email thanking the commissioners for taking the action they did in issuing it. Send an email, a letter, and make a phone call to the leader of your state or province, urging application of this public trust framework and these principles. If we follow the benchmark through public trust principles, we will establish a framework for these common waters and interdependent economy and quality of life for this and future centuries.

All hands on deck – for implementing the public trust for water!

  • Reach Jim Olson at FLOW, 153 ½ E. Front Street, Traverse City, MI 49684. Phone: 231.944.1568. Additional background on the author and FLOW.  On May 13 FLOW is hosting a webinar on nutrient pollution and algal blooms. Space is limited; registration required.

BAYLIFE North: For Love of Water FLOW

Frankfort Lighthouse with Surfer - John Russell

Click here to read the article in BAYLIFE North Magazine (page 40)

By Allison Voglesong

The vast Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the whole world’s fresh surface water, but they are not infinite. That’s one reason why James Olson helped found FLOW, a Traverse City-based nonprofit. FLOW’s acronym means “For Love of Water,” and FLOW’s policy and education programs protect the Great Lakes.

It started when veteran attorney Olson represented a community group battling a Nestle water bottling plant lowering a nearby stream. Since the beginning, FLOW has worked to protect this limited fresh water supply.

How did FLOW go from protecting one stream in Michigan to protecting 90 percent of the nation’s freshwater supply? “The water cycle connects it all,” explains Olson, “whether it’s your backyard creek or rain watering your garden. And it needs to be protected at every point in this water cycle.”

The water cycle doesn’t just connect the Great Lakes to the pond at the park; it connects the people who use it. Fresh water for drinking and sanitation is a human right, and Executive Director Liz Kirkwood points out that FLOW’s programs safeguarding certain public protected uses that rely on clean and abundant Great Lakes water, like fishing, swimming, boating, navigation, and commerce.

FLOW Staff Allison Voglesong Eric Olson Jim Olson Liz Kirkwood

FLOW Team: Allison Voglesong, Communications Designer, Eric Olson, Communications Director, Jim Olson, Founder, President and Advisor, Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

“These protected uses are all special for health, for happiness, for our jobs and economy. And because water is a common resource that is shared, we have to make sure that what we do with the water protects it for everyone,” says Kirkwood.

That’s a lot to think about when watching the sun’s opalescent reflection across the lake horizon. It’s also a tough pill to swallow realizing that your neighbor’s loud motorboat has the same right to use the waters as the quietude of your fly rod.

Above all, Olson and Kirkwood hope that the idea of protecting our common waters empowers citizens who live, play, and visit in the Great Lakes. “Once you realize these uses are legally protected, you’ve got a starting point for taking action,” says Kirkwood. That’s why FLOW’s offer legal strategies for people to address the issues that hit close to home. Between climate change, invasive species, algal blooms, pollution, and thirsty communities looking to tap our water, there has never been a better time to act than now.

As the tourist season in the Grand Traverse area simmers through spring and summer boils it to a fever pitch, we might forget that we should want to share our common waters when all we really want is a place to unfurl our beach towel, undisturbed. Yet our capacity and willingness to share our beautiful waters is what defines the culture of Grand Traverse just as much as the contour of the bay shores defines our remarkable landscape. The mission of FLOW’s Great Lakes Society citizen contingency captures this trait in four words: “Common waters, common purpose.”

Frankfort Lighthouse with Surfer - John Russell

For more about FLOW’s programs, the Great Lakes Society, and to follow their updates, please visit www.flowforwater.org.

Longtime FLOW Volunteer Eric Olson Steps Down as Communications Director

Eric Olson, FLOW, Great Lakes, public trust, policy center, water

Click here to view and download the press release as a PDF.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Liz Kirkwoood, Executive Director
231 944 1568 or liz@flowforwater.org

Longtime FLOW Volunteer Eric Olson Steps Down as Communications Director, Maintains Position as Board of Directors Vice Chair

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Presiding selflessly as an unpaid volunteer Executive Director from 2009 to 2012 and then as Communications and Education Director from 2012 to April 2014, Eric Olson has stepped down from his staff role and now maintains his position as Vice Chair and interim Secretary of the Board of Directors.

Eric Olson has been with FLOW since its infancy, and was the first Executive Director. He joined FLOW to help realize the lifelong dream of his brother—FLOW Founder and President Jim Olson—to start a Great Lakes policy and education nonprofit.

“Jim, of course, infected me with his passion for the Great Lakes, the public trust, and water justice,” says Eric Olson.

“If it were not for my brother Eric joining forces with me to form the original FLOW coalition, FLOW would not be the thriving, cutting-edge water policy and education nonprofit organization it is today,” says Jim Olson.

Some of Eric Olson’s notable contributions to FLOW include:

  • transitioning FLOW from a coalition to a nonprofit,
  • reimagining the FLOW website,
  • launching and managing FLOW’s Facebook page,
  • growing the very beginning of the Great Lakes Society, and
  • networking to bring FLOW together with world-renowned water advocate and National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow for a series of speaking engagements and workshops across the Great Lakes Basin.

“Eric has worked tirelessly to build a movement and a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to protect the Great Lakes as a commons. We are so grateful to him for his volunteer work and service. Because of Eric, FLOW has become a strong policy and educational center for the Great Lakes,” remarks Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

Eric Olson, who resides in Rochester Hills, MI with his wife Joyce, gave enormous amounts of his free time to FLOW during what he calls his “semi-retirement” from commercial real estate. He spent countless long weekends travelling hundreds of miles, dedicated to helping forge FLOW from an idea into reality.

“FLOW started because of the need to address questions and threats to the Great Lakes and waters of Michigan, and Eric understood the magnitude of this. He also shared the larger vision of the right of the public to use and enjoy the Great Lakes and our common waters, and the importance communicating this to the public in addition to our research and reports submitted to government leaders. Because of Eric, we now have a strong communications program and several partner organizations around the Great Lakes, in addition to our water policy program and projects,” says Jim Olson.

Eric Olson will remain with FLOW as Vice Chair and interim Secretary of the newly expanded Board of Directors, and his staff leadership legacy will continue to benefit FLOW for many years to come. “I’m looking forward to continue serving on the Board as Vice Chair to ensure FLOW’s leadership in educating the public and our government leaders about the threats facing our Great Lakes and the solutions FLOW is advancing to protect these majestic waters. These solutions not only protect the Great Lakes but also the public’s rights and responsible uses of these waters that have been handed down generation to generation by our forefathers through public trust doctrine,” says Eric Olson.

Serving alongside Vice Chair Eric Olson is newly-elected Board of Directors Chair and attorney Mike Dettmer. Also joining the FLOW Board of Directors this spring are former Executive Director of the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy, Lew Coulter; Senior Editor of Circle of Blue, Keith Schneider; and Food & Water Watch Water Program Director, Emily Wurth.

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FLOW is the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the Great Lakes.

Crawford County Avalanche: Township will host meeting regarding hydraulic fracturing

Click here to read the article on Crawford County Avalanche

By Dan Sanderson, Staff Writer – Crawford County Avalanche

April 30, 2014

Grayling Charter Township is hosting an informational presentation regarding Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing, more commonly known as fracking for oil and gas, for area citizens.

A organization called FLOW, For Love of Water, will make a presentation called  Horizontal Fracking for Oil & Gas in Michigan:  Legal Strategies & Tools for Local Communities. The presentation will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13 at the Grayling Charter Township Hall.

“We as township officials are educating ourselves and researching possible zoning and ordinances that could be adopted to help regulate ancillary activity associated with oil and gas exploration and production in our area,” said Grayling Charter Township Supervisor Rick Harland. “This will be a great opportunity to get a good overview of what goes on and a chance to ask questions.”

Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling into geologic formation ranges between 5,000 to 10,000 feet deep, compared to more common oil and gas well that are 600 to 2,000 feet deep. High volume hydraulic fracturing involves the use of more than 100,000 gallons or water. In addition, materials such as sand and chemicals are used to prop open the artificially created or enhanced fractures to extract the oil and gas from the deeper formations.

FLOW is a Great Lakes water policy and  education center, dedicated to advancing public polices to protect the Great Lakes for current and future generations.

According to FLOW, the natural gas and oil industry is largely exempt from key federal environmental laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act.

“We all need gas and oil to continue a life style we have become accustom to,” Harland said. “Having said that, it is equally important to protect and preserve our precious rivers, lakes and other sources of fresh water. We believe that we can protect our valuable resources at the same time explore for oil and gas, through regulation and cooperation.”Therefore, states are primarily responsible for regulating activities.

Rick Henderson, field operations section supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, said the state updated its regulations to address hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas exploration, development and production in 2011.  More rules were proposed in late 2013 and are currently under consideration.

Henderson said that hydraulic fracturing was first used for oil and gas exploration in the State of Michigan in 1952. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Henderson added that 12,000 wells were drilled using hydraulic fracturing in the Otsego County-region.  Those wells were shallower and did not involve a high volume  of water usage, but had no negative impact on the environment or public health and safety.

“It’s our goal to protect the resources of the state and public’s health and safety – that’s our number one goal and focus,” Henderson said.

FLOW educates township officials on ordinances they can adopt to regulate related oil and gas activities such as natural gas pipelines, flow lines, gathering lines, treatment or production facilities, compressors and water and chemical mixing stations. In addition, townships can adopt ordinances regulating emission releases, high truck traffic and  transportation issues, land impact, odors, noise, the handling reuse and disposal of wastewater and hazardous solid materials or liquids.

Harland encouraged residents from throughout the area to attend the meeting.