Many thanks to Susan McQuaid, producer, and the Up North Media Center.
Welcome to FLOW – Flow for Love of Water. Beginning today, with the launch and christening of our new website, I will host and write a new species for the “blog” world. In the conversation to come, I hope we will all get to the heart of the beauty, threats, and solutions that just might save the precious Great Lakes and their tributary waters — the entire hydrologic cycle — these gifts of nature and God, the Great Spirit. Fortuitously, previous generations have not yet killed these Great Lakes off. And its up to us and our children to make sure this doesn’t happen.
The threats facing the Great Lakes and its tributary waters, communities, businesses, governments loom large. The difference of the threats today compared to 40, 30 or even 20 years ago is that they are systemic, large, beyond borders and watershed. All of the permit and regulatory systems, government investments in preservation and restoration, and conservation protection from that first Earth Day in 1970 to date, are being overwhelmed by harms documented by science that undermine this incredible effort and investment. Climate change, with its increased intensity and shifting patterns is attributable to human conduct and behavior, has undeniably contributed to the lowest recorded water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron – a single system. Read our recent op-ed about Climate Change and Water Levels
Climate change is a diversion of water as much as any other, and the impacts to environment and economy are devastating, and will get much worse if we can not chart a new course for food, energy, and human use, transfers, diversions, waste of water. We’re finding out very fast that there is no “surplus” or “abundance” of water, not here or anywhere else. As a wise Michigan Supreme Court Justice once said in the late 1800s, “water is a wandering thing, of necessity a commons.” In other words, water has meaning in the watershed where it flows and supports the community, life, and endeavors that have evolved there.
Last week I had coffee with friend and Editor of Traverse Magazine, Jeff Smith, who out of his keen instinct and concern about the Great Lakes told me about the disappearance of the tiny shrimp diporeia that makes up a key link to the food chain and healthy fish populations in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Fish populations are already plummeting from invasive species, even without the Asian Carp, to the point where whitefish, trout and salmon are scrawny scales and bones.
There are lots of other systemic threats – nutrient run off, sewage overflows, nuclear waste shipments more toxic than the lakes could ever absorb, a disconnect between energy consumption and policy, including the fracking craze which to date is moving faster than the information needed to assure local watersheds and communities are not sacrificed, or that global climate change with even more evaporation may be exacerbated if not handled correctly.
So this brings me back to FLOW, why this webpage, and why this first page invites you to interact with us to explore and understand these many threats, and how to adapt, become resilient through foresight, and find solutions. Since that Saturday in May 2011, when a conference on “Threats and Solutions” for the Great Lakes was winding down on Northwestern Michigan College’s Traverse City campus, a new idea, one that would force us to look at threats to the planet and humanity, like those facing the Great Lakes, emerged: We need a new paradigm or framework that goes beyond, but compliments, protects like an umbrella the time and investment to protect our quality of life and better assure prosperity for all living creatures.
What we have discovered at FLOW is this: The systemic threats to the Great Lakes present a rare, although unprecedented, challenge to all of us. If we can understand these threats as a whole, that is holistically, through science, data, values, and new frameworks, we may find a unifying principle that integrates the science, policy, law and economics into a comprehensive way of thinking and making decisions that will assure solutions, adaptation, and resilience that protect and pass on the integrity of these Great Lakes and their people from one generation to the next, thereby also assuring our quality of life and prosperity and communities.
And what we have identified is this: The Great Lakes are part of a larger water cycle that is inseparable from the air, soil, and surface or groundwater by or through which it flows. The Great Lakes have been declared and protected by a public trust since 1892 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared these inland sees public, held by states in trust for citizens in perpetuity, so they cannot be alienated, abused, or materially impaired from one generation to the next. All eight Great Lakes and Canadian provinces recognize this right of public use for boating, swimming, fishing, recreation, commerce, and survival. So if we understand, learn about, and apply this public trust as a fundamental umbrella principle, no matter what specific choices and decisions are made for this or that special benefit or at this risk or that cost, are made, the framework of water as public, a commons, and public trust principles will give us a way to make decisions that point toward a generational integrity and protection of that which is part of and dear to us all.
Just this afternoon at the office we were half-joking about the new 3-D printer technology, where something can be manufactured or made from a printer, like the coffee cup in my hand. And it occurred to us, some things that just can’t be duplicated – not the diporeia shrimp or the larger commons that we know as the Great Lakes, smack in the heart of North America.
In the years ahead, we hope to be a small part of a new framework, way of seeing and solving the threats and problems we face, one that is based on time-tested principles like those in the bod of law known as “public trust.” We welcome your participation and hope you join us in whatever way you can.
Finally, I want to end this first post with a number of acknowledgements, too many to list here, but we thank everyone of you who has supported and worked to bring FLOW to this threshold. Thank ou to our fine Board of Directors, some of our chief fans and advisors, Maude Barlow, Wenonah Hauter, Irena Salina and Steve Star – director and producer of the film “FLOW,” Sam Bosso of the film “Blue Gold,” Ted Curran, Denis Pierce, Mike Delp, Dave Dempsey, Carl Ganter, Keith Schneider, Hans Voss, Brian Beauchamp, Amy Kinney, Judy Cunningham and all of you at the Michigan Land Use Institute, Terry Swier and everyone at the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the lawyers and staff at Olson, Bzdok & Howard, Bob Otwell, Herrington-Fitch Foundation, Park Foundation, Skip Pruss, Rich Vanderveen, Ross Biederman, Judy Bosma, Linda Sommerville (and so many other event volunteers), and my brother Eric Olson, our organizational and media leader who has wrestled this webpage into existence, Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, and Ursula Johnson, our past communications head, and now Allison Voglesong, a media and communications whiz who comes to us from Circle of Blue, and our web designer Pro Web Marketing, and Chelsea Bay Dennis and Aaron Dennis.
FLOW President and Chair, Jim Olson, will speak about the problems facing our Great Lakes Basin – climate change, extreme water levels, dead zones, nuclear and sands oil shipments, to name a few – at 10:30 am on Sunday, July 7 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Center Road in Traverse City. MAP
His presentation will address the threats to our waters within the framework of our larger ecological challenges – including energy and food. The best way to address these threats, he says, is to see water and related issues as a commons and to apply public trust principles to come up with solutions in this century.