Author: FLOW Editor

It’s Septic Smart Week

Don’t do it in the river! Get your septic system checked, and push your elected leaders for a statewide inspection code. Click here for a (humorous) video of what happens when septic waste reaches our beloved rivers.

 

By Dave Dempsey

Most Michiganders don’t know that September 16-20 is Septic Smart Week — and that an estimated 130,000 septic systems in our state are failing. In many cases that means sewage and associated microorganisms are reaching groundwater, lakes and streams.

As FLOW described in our fall 2018 report on groundwater contamination in Michigan, our state is the only of the 50 states that lacks a statewide sanitary code requiring regular inspection and maintenance of small, mainly domestic septic systems. Some counties, townships, cities and villages are enacting local ordinances in place of statewide requirements.

Septic systems are small-scale wastewater treatment options, used when a home or complex cannot easily be connected to a municipal sewer system. Raw sewage and wastewater (e.g., bath water and dishwater) are first pumped from the home into the septic tank. This is an underground, sealed, concrete tank where the household waste is treated. Here, solid waste sinks to the bottom of the tank and materials such as oil form a layer of scum on top. Bacteria in the tank break down the solid waste, while the wastewater migrates out of the septic tank and into the drain field. Perforated pipes distribute the liquid wastewater throughout the drain field. Once out of the pipes, the wastewater effluent seeps through a gravel layer, then through the soil. Both filter the wastewater before it flows into the groundwater or nearby surface water.

Leaking or malfunctioning septic systems allow organic wastewater compounds like nitrate and E. coli to percolate through the soil and enter the groundwater. Leakage and effluent runoff are also major contributors to E. coli levels in surface water. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, now EGLE) has identified 196 rivers, lakes, and beaches with E. coli levels over the EPA limit. Between 2013 and 2014, an estimated 5.7 billion gallons of untreated sewage were pumped into surface water in Michigan. A 2015 study headed by Dr. Joan Rose, co-director of Michigan State University’s Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment and Center for Water Sciences, sampled 64 river systems that drain approximately 84 percent of the Lower Peninsula, for E. coli and the human-specific source tracking marker bacteria called B-theta. The more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source tracking bacteria were found in the water.

Human wastes are not the only pollutants that failing septic tanks are releasing to groundwater and surface water. So-called emerging contaminants like pharmaceutical residues and endocrine disruptors are found in household wastes whether they discharge to publicly-owned sewage systems or septic tanks. Little groundwater monitoring is done to identify these substances in groundwater.

In a 2017 journal article in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 20 different studies on septic systems, identifying 45 contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, personal care product ingredients, chemicals in cleaning products, flame retardants, hormones (both natural and synthetic), and other common substances such as caffeine. The analysis found that septic systems are somewhat effective at removing chemicals such as acetaminophen, caffeine, and alkyphenols, a common group of ingredients used in cleaning products. But some chemicals remain largely untreated, including TCEP, a carcinogenic flame retardant, an anti-epilepsy drug called carbamazepine, and the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole. “In high density areas where you have a large number of homes with their own septic systems, these systems are likely the primary source of emerging contaminants in the groundwater,” said Laurel Schaider, the study’s lead author.

Eleven Michigan counties have ordinances that require septic tank inspection at the time property is sold. Within the first six years of implementing their ordinances, two Michigan counties found 1,000 failed septic tanks and 300 homes without any septic system.

Dave Dempsey is FLOW’s senior policy adviser.

 

Septic Smart Information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promoting Septic Smart Week with a variety of information tools. Those include posters, tips and a new homebuyer’s guide. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) also offers helpful information.

 

This trailer for a video documentary produced by Joe VanderMeulen of NatureChange and sponsored by FLOW, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC), Leelanau Clean Water, and the Benzie Conservation District underscores the serious health risks posed by a hidden pollution source fouling groundwater, lakes, streams and drinking water across Michigan. Click here for the full video.

 

Lake Erie: Clean It Up or Admit It’s a Sacrifice Zone

Photo: the algae bloom fed by excess nutrients from agricultural runoff returns to western Lake Erie each summer.

By Dave Dempsey

As the sickening annual western Lake Erie bloom neared its summer peak, news came that the major source in northwest Ohio of the excess nutrients feeding the bloom is agricultural runoff.

But this is really not news at all.

For almost 10 years, the scientific consensus has pinpointed agriculture — both the commercial fertilizer it uses and the vast quantities of animal waste it discharges — as the leading contributor to the problem. Unable to wish the problem away, but unwilling to take serious action, government officials entered into much-heralded pacts like the Western Basin of Lake Erie Collaborative Agreement to combat the algae. The June 2015 agreement called for a 20% reduction in phosphorus loading by 2020 and 40% by 2025. Yet here we are, nearing the end of 2019 with western Lake Erie resembling pea soup.  There is no reason to believe next year’s 20% target will be achieved.

It’s been five years since the August 2014 bloom that contaminated Toledo’s water supply for a weekend, leaving half a million people without drinking water — an event that many compared to the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River at Cleveland. The fire is said to have outraged America and played a major role in the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Where’s the outrage and action now on Lake Erie?

All we have to show for the last five years of “cleanup” for Lake Erie is hundreds of millions, if not billions, of taxpayer dollars spent on agricultural incentives, partnerships, and research. But there is no plan to do anything serious regarding agriculture, in which a transformation is needed if the lake is to be restored.  Unconventional ideas may have to be employed, such as reverting parts of Ohio’s Great Black Swamp back to its natural state.

An equally unconventional idea is to treat factory farm pollutants as we treat other industrial sources of pollution — with tough, but fair, regulation and enforcement. But holding agricultural accountable is one of the great taboos in current U.S. politics. The lobby groups that represent agribusiness interests won’t let it happen. Only a strong wave of public opinion can erode that wall, because governments can’t or won’t do so.

In effect, without saying so, our governments are telling us that the price of food and biofuels production is a deeply compromised and impaired Lake Erie. If we want the food grown in its basin, they say, we’ll have to tolerate large algae blooms and the public health, environmental, and economic impacts they cause.

There is a better way.

After years of dragging its feet, the State of Ohio listed the waters of Lake Erie as “impaired” under the definition of the Clean Water Act.  That means it goes on a list of water bodies for which a pollution limit is established and reductions in pollution are allocated among various categories of sources. But given the unflinching opposition of the agricultural lobby to change, that process will take many years. The Toledo “bill of rights” for Lake Erie ordinance is a bold attempt to create a legal foothold for citizens and Toledo to force real change, but it remains uncertain whether this will be more than a forceful political statement with the teeth to enforce the necessary phosphorus reductions to restore the lake.

Importantly, the words “impaired” and “impairment” are associated with the public trust doctrine, a centuries-old common law principle that is also the central organizing purpose of FLOW. Among other things, the doctrine holds that governments are trustees of waters like Lake Erie and must protect them from impairment of public uses that include swimming, fishing, and boating. But the state governments whose waters directly feed into Lake Erie are failing this duty. What needs to be understood is that once public trust waters are “impaired,” as with the destruction of Lake Erie from algal blooms, citizens are the legally recognized beneficiaries of this trust, and they have the common law right as to enforce it in the courts.

Five years ago, in a report recommending steep reductions in phosphorus pollution, the International Joint Commission also recommended (at FLOW’s request) that the Lake Erie states use the public trust doctrine as a backstop when statutory laws aren’t doing the job. But it appears the states won’t fulfill their trustee obligations unless the public forces them to.

The only way to compel a cleanup of Lake Erie in our time is for citizens to bring a public trust action in the courts.  Lacking such action, we can look forward only to further lost summers in the western basin — a sacrifice zone to unsustainable agriculture.

Dave Dempsey is FLOW’s Senior Policy Adviser.

Government Must Protect the Great Lakes, our Greatest Source of Natural Capital

Report author Skip Pruss

By Skip Pruss

This article is excerpted from the second of four policy briefs by former FLOW board chair, and former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, Skip Pruss that make the economic case for government’s role in protecting the environment.

The second policy brief, “Resetting Expectations: The Value of Natural Systems and Government’s Role in Protecting Water,” is available here to read or download as an executive summary or full report. FLOW will unveil the last two briefs in the coming months. (Pruss’ first report in the series also is available here in executive summary and in full.)

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Michigan lies at the heart of the Great Lakes, the largest fresh surface water system in the world. Harboring 95 percent of all fresh surface water in United States and 84 percent of all fresh surface water in North America, the Lakes are an enormous source of natural capital, providing direct health, economic, environmental, and ecological services to 40 million people. The Great Lakes system is a magnificent natural endowment. Sculpted by ancient retreating glaciers that left the largest interconnected body of fresh surface water in the world, the Great Lakes are truly globally unique.

We in Michigan are water rich. The Great Lakes support a $6 trillion regional economy. Water is our most valuable source of natural capital, bestowing billions of dollars in ecological services by providing fresh, potable water for consumption, recreation, agriculture, and industry. Freshwater aquatic ecosystems — our lakes, streams, rivers, groundwater and wetlands — provide drinking water, produce fish, nourish unique biological niches at the land and water interface, and provide diverse recreational opportunities. Wetlands are prolific biological nurseries harboring birds, insects, waterfowl, and aquatic organisms throughout the food chain, while purifying water, storing stormwater, recharging aquifers, and buffering nutrients — essential services that are largely unknown and unappreciated. Great Lakes fisheries alone provide more than $7 billion in annual economic benefits and support more than 75,000 jobs.

Photo: Great Lakes fisheries alone provide more than $7 billion in annual economic benefits and support more than 75,000 jobs.

With our water wealth comes special obligations of stewardship. The Great Lakes and their tributary rivers and streams belong to the public and are held in a public trust. Government, as trustee, has the responsibility to protect the trust waters from impairment and cannot allow diminishment of water quantity or water quality. Our people, our businesses, and our economy depend on the health and viability of our Great Lakes, and others less gifted by geography will set their sights on the Great Lakes. There will soon come a time when discussions about human rights in water, growing water scarcity, and the need for a more “equitable” distribution of Great Lakes’ water wealth will elevate in Congress and state legislatures.

A recent study conducted under the Resources Planning Act, a federal law requiring periodic resource assessments on forest lands and rangelands, indicates that of the 204 water basins in the United States, 145 basins will show decreases in yield over the coming decades and nearly half may experience monthly water shortages. While climate change is projected to increase precipitation in some northern regions of the United States, increased frequency of droughts will result in reduced river flows, less reservoir capacity, and decreases in soil moisture. Globally, the situation is much worse. The United Nations reports that today “over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.”

Our abundant water resources will increasingly weigh to Michigan’s competitive advantage, but, more likely than not, Michigan will face future challenges from states that will be stressed by inadequate water supplies and who will look to our region with the belief and expectation that our water resources need to serve a larger geography. Our water wealth will be certain to attract a broad universe of water-dependent agricultural, commercial, and industrial private interests as well. At the same time, the chasm between the water rich and the water poor will grow. Great Lakes freshwater resources and the vital services they provide will only increase in value in a future where national and international water supplies become more stressed and attenuated.

Government, as the fiduciary charged with the protection of public trust resources, must use the tools and resources it has in terms of laws, regulations, and best practices to conserve and protect our water as a public good. Greater public understanding of the vital services water resources provide would empower citizens to participate more effectively in the political process and demand that policymakers and legislators take active measures to protect water. Intelligent, sensible water management and conservation practices and effective application of laws and regulations on the part of government to protect the waters upon which we all depend are imperative. Ultimately, our legal and moral authority to resist appropriation of our water wealth will be a function of how adept and effective we are as Great Lakes stewards in the conservation and protection of our waters.

And we must learn from our mistakes.

Line 5 Poses On-land Explosion Risk for Michigan Residents

On August 1, a natural gas pipeline operated by an Enbridge subsidiary exploded in Kentucky. The blast killed one person, injured six others, and blew 30 feet of pipeline out of the ground, resulting in a crater that is 50 feet long, 35 feet wide and 13 feet deep. About 66 million cubic feet of natural gas was released by the explosion, with the resulting fire destroying multiple structures and burning vegetation over approximately 30 acres of land.

Although public attention has rightly focused on the risk of a catastrophic oil spill from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, FLOW board member Rick Kane points out that the risk of a similar explosion is also possible because of the natural gas liquids (NGLs) running the length of Line 5’s 645-mile transit through Wisconsin and Michigan. Here is Kane’s analysis.

 

Enbridge’s Line 5, a legacy hazardous liquids pipeline, poses a major explosion and fire safety risk to citizens and property along its entire length while it transports natural gas liquids (NGLs). This risk is particularly high for the Line 5 segments north and south of the Straits of Mackinac. Why is this issue not being investigated as part of the proposed tunnel project so that citizens and first responders living along the Line 5 hazard zone know the current risk and likelihood that permitting and replacing the pipeline will pose in the future?

The severe consequences of a Line 5 failure and crude oil release into the Straits have been widely publicized. Construction of a tunnel with a new pipeline is now being pursued as a risk reduction approach against a major crude oil spill disaster. However, a tunnel does not reduce the risks posed by Line 5 across the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula where a rupture could release crude oil into hundreds of lakes, rivers and streams, some even leading to the Great Lakes. Nearly absent from the studies and debate are the threats and catastrophic consequences to human safety and property posed by Line 5 while it transports NGLs.

FLOW highlighted the NGL risks in 2018. The risk was on display on August 1 when a large legacy natural gas pipeline in Kentucky exploded, causing one death and sending five residents to the hospital. Unfortunately, the Kentucky incident is only one of many in recent history.

Pipelines are the safest transportation mode for crude oil, NGLs and especially natural gas. However, there are a wide range of pipeline design specifications, materials transported, pipeline ages, physical conditions and operating environments. Line 5 is a legacy pipeline, well past its designed retirement age, operating in an extremely sensitive environment and transiting through several populated areas. Unlike wine, a vintage pipeline does not get better with age; government and industry statistics show that failure rates increase dramatically for legacy-class pipelines. Several major incidents in recent years call into question the reliability of pipeline industry failure prevention programs to justify the continued operation of these pipelines.

A Line 5 failure during the transport of NGLs could have consequences beyond the Kentucky failure and other too-typical natural gas pipeline failures:

  • Natural gas (methane) is transported as a compressed gas. The NGLs in Line 5 are mostly propane with some ethane and butane that are gases compressed to a liquid state when transported by pipeline.
  • When a natural gas pipeline failure occurs, a rapidly, vertically expanding gas cloud ignites, creating a huge flaming torch. Many people reported that the fire from the Kentucky explosion reached 300 feet high.
  • When an NGLs pipeline fails, liquid is expelled quickly, forming a large vapor cloud that moves with the wind until it finds an ignition source. Then the vapor cloud ignites, and an explosion and fireball occur with a shock wave, flame front and radiative heat wave moving out from the explosion area.
  • The potential energy (explosion and heat) from an NGLs explosion can be much greater than from a natural gas break as NGLs have a higher caloric value and the quantity of energy released can be much higher.
  • The risk study developed by Dynamic Risk Systems, Inc. for the State of Michigan in 2017 contained an NGLs deep water release scenario in the Straits that would result in a flame front of almost one mile. Contrast this with a ground level release upstream or downstream of the Straits where the release quantity could be much higher as the distance between pumping stations and shutoff valves is greater at ground level and near populated areas and valuable property. Computer modeling of potential release scenarios near populated areas would provide estimates of fatalities, property damage and important evacuation zones for law enforcement and first responders.

The Kentucky pipeline explosion is still being investigated but preliminary information indicates that the pipeline is similar in size, age and construction to Line 5. Corrosion is believed to be the cause of the failure, and as in other similar incidents, Enbridge is trumpeting the touted pipeline loss prevention program and the reliability of inspections with “smart pigs” to justify continued operation of legacy pipelines.

 

Issues and Questions   

  • The entirety of Line 5 will need to be replaced at some point if the tunnel project proceeds. Does the State of Michigan understand the risks for transporting NGLs in legacy hazardous liquid pipelines, and have assessments been conducted and verified by third-party experts? Are citizens living in the potential impact zone aware of the risk they face?
  • Do property owners and citizens know that a flurry of permit requests for Line 5 “maintenance replacement” will be issued if the tunnel project is given the green light, as was done with Line 6B/78 after the Kalamazoo River disaster in 2010? A similar piecemeal, preventative maintenance and capacity expansion approach is currently being used on Line 3 in Minnesota—a pipeline with an increasing number of failures that Enbridge says needs to be replaced and is 10 years younger than Line 5.
  • Importantly, emergency response organizations along the Line 5 route should complete pre-modeling of NGLs release scenarios to understand potential explosion overpressure and flame envelops and have evacuation scenarios ready to use. The modeling required is more complex than typically done by first responders for hazardous materials spills; they could underestimate the size of an evacuation zone.
  • The State of Michigan regulates gas pipelines but not hazardous liquid pipelines such as Line 5. Why not? Cost is not the answer: other states have taken on the task after disasters occurred; the cost is covered by inspection and audit fees charged to the pipeline companies. State inspections can supplement and provide local control rather than depending on the overwhelmed federal regulators from Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
  • What about a “National Emphasis Program” focused on pipeline safety starting with the largest operator, Enbridge? After a spate of major refinery and chemical facility accidents several years ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that focused on certain segments of the industry based on risk and accident history. Comprehensive inspections and audits addressed not only regulatory requirements but a company’s adherence to industry standards and requirements applicable through the General Duty Clause.

Accidents will continue as long as the pipeline industry uses its own standards for acceptable levels of pipeline failures and relies on current loss prevention and inspection programs for legacy pipelines. The industry is currently deciding the risk tolerance for citizens. A large NGLs pipeline rupture near a local city or village could happen again, just as Line 6B/78 dumped crude oil into the Kalamazoo River nine years ago.

Rick Kane, FLOW Board Member

Rick is the former Director of Security, Environment, Transportation Safety and Emergency Services for Rhodia, North America.  He is certified in environmental, hazardous materials, and security management, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan and University of Dallas.

Natural Capital and the Value of Ecological Services

Report author Skip Pruss

By Skip Pruss

This article is excerpted from the second of four policy briefs by former FLOW board chair, and former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, Skip Pruss that make the economic case for government’s role in protecting the environment.

The second policy brief, “Resetting Expectations: The Value of Natural Systems and Government’s Role in Protecting Water,” is available here to read or download as an executive summary or full report. FLOW will unveil the last two briefs in the coming months. (Pruss’ first report in the series also is available here in executive summary and in full.)


 

The natural world provides a continuous stream of abundant, valuable goods and services. Air, water, soil, flora, and fauna upon which we all depend are relentlessly harvested, used, and abused without an appreciation of our dependency upon this natural capital and the value we derived from it. Nature-based capital, when unimpaired by outside stressors, is continuous and sustainable, providing a constant, renewed flow of natural resources that undergird the global economy.

Natural capital is the feedstock; nature also provides processes that continuously provide beneficial services. The list of ecological services nature provides is limited only by our evolving understanding of science. Fertile soils assisted by microbial action enabling nutrient absorption produce food and fiber and enable life. The hydrologic cycle purifies and refreshes our waters, absorbing floodwaters and recharging aquifers. Terrestrial and aquatic plants purify the air, sequester carbon dioxide, and produce oxygen. As integrated complex systems that thrive in the absence of human interventions, these ecological processes only scratch the surface of the sustainable services nature provides.

Calculating the services natural systems provide in dollars and cents does not mean that money is the only measure of nature’s value to human beings. Humanity depends on nature for inspiration, beauty, and spiritual and physical renewal. Scientific research has shown that living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits, reducing the risk of stress and disease. An economic measure of ecosystem services is merely one way of expressing their value.

The primary benefits and functions provided by nature-based services are set forth in the National Climate Assessment, a requirement by federal law calling upon the U.S. Global Change Research Program to “conduct a state-of-the-science synthesis of climate impacts and trends across U.S.
regions and sectors every four years.” Those benefits and functions of natural capital include:

  1. Providing provisioning materials, such as food and fiber,
  2. Regulating critical parts of the environment, such as water quality and erosion control,
  3. Providing cultural services, such as recreational opportunities and aesthetic value, and
  4. Providing supporting services, such as nutrient cycling.

The work of understanding and quantifying the economic benefits of natural capital and ecological services is very recent. Herman Daly, a Senior Economist in the Environment Department of the World Bank and co-founder and associate editor of the journal, Ecological Economics, is credited with being among the first to document both the value of natural systems and the costs of degrading the services nature provides. Robert Costanza, Paul Hawken, and Amory Lovins were also among the first to write widely on the abundant benefits of nature-based services as well as to probe deeply into the economic consequences of diminishing these services by degrading the environment.

The field of ecological economics is now well established. A recent report from the United Nations International Science & Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecological Services (IPBES), Regional Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for the Americasquantified the annual value of ecological services provided by natural systems in the Americas. The analysis, involving the collaboration of over 100 scientists who reviewed more than 4,100 scientific publications, found that 40 percent of the planet’s capacity to provide nature-based services lies in the Americas, having a total annual value estimated at $23.4 trillion. This figure, incomprehensibly large, is even more remarkable given the fact that only 13 percent of the world’s population resides in the Western hemisphere.

We who reside in the United States and Canada enjoy a surfeit of world’s capacity to produce natural capital and ecological services. Eighty-seven percent of the world’s population lives in areas of the planet that offer only 50 percent more nature-based capital and ecological service value than the Americas have with one-sixth the population. North Americans also have a much larger ecological footprint; our relative wealth in natural resources works to conceal both our disproportionate consumption of global ecological services and the magnitude of the environmental challenges facing the rest of the world.

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

~IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson

The global capacity to produce nature-based capital and ecological services is finite. The “biocapacity” of the earth’s natural systems is a measure of the planet’s ability to supply and reproduce nature-based goods and services and absorb society’s waste products. It is nature’s banking system — a natural endowment that provides trillions of dollars of benefits annually to the global population — that is now being overdrawn.

In most of the developed world the consumption of natural resources exceeds the regenerative capacity of the earth’s natural systems. Quantifying and monetizing the earth’s biocapacity, as well as the ecological footprint of nations, are difficult and complex endeavors, but essential to advancing our understanding of our impacts on the environment and to formulating and implementing strategies that enable better stewardship of the natural systems on which we depend.

In Honor of Ted Curran: Friend and Founding Board Member of FLOW

Photo by Marcia Curran

By Jim Olson

President and Founder, FLOW

Ted Curran and his wife Marcia walked into my life and FLOW’s life during the fight by the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) for the soul of Michigan’s public water and the Great Lakes in its lawsuit against bottled water-giant Nestlé.

I served as legal counsel in MCWC’s battle, and it was during a citizens’ meeting in the lower level of Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City that Ted and Marcia showed up to support us. When they introduced themselves after the meeting, and offered their assistance, I realized they were there because they cared not just about a single issue, but cared deeply about the common good.

Ted became a stalwart supporter of FLOW during our early years from 2009-2011 when we formed as a coalition to work to close the dangerous loopholes in the Great Lakes Compact diversion ban for bottled water and water as a product. Little did I know when I first met Ted that when he chose to work on something, he wouldn’t stop until he saw it succeed. 

Thankfully, Ted, along with our other MCWC board members, meant just that. Then he continued as a founding member of FLOW’s Board of Directors. Our mission—“Keep it plain and simple,” Ted urged: Save and sustain the waters of the Great Lakes Basin from diversion, impairment, and private control by establishing a framework and body of principles for generational stewardship.

This framework and body of principles are rooted in what is known as the common law public trust doctrine— principles that impose a duty on government, as trustee, to protect the integrity of common public waters like the Great Lakes, for citizens, as beneficiaries, from one generation to the next. Ted understood the importance of these principles, but he also understood the majestic beauty and importance of 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.

He rolled up his sleeves, attended most every meeting, and began to demand that we continually define and hone our mission and goals. Shortly after we formed FLOW, Ted invited me to his home on the Lake Michigan shore near Frankfort to talk over coffee. He stressed clarity in our work, and contacts with others, especially in raising funds. He urged me to reach out and follow up, and to not shy away from asking for donations, something I’ve never been very good at. He cared for FLOW, but he knew caring and missions also demanded professionalism for an organization to succeed and serve the common good.

Ted was a mentor, sharp observer, astute organizer, and quiet leader—he encouraged, asked questions to force you to think clearly, and guided strategy and direction. Ted drew on his wealth of diplomatic experience around the world—often in hot-spots like the Middle East–during his career as a one of the highest-ranking members in the United States Foreign Service, and on his deep passion for peaceful solutions in serving the common good throughout his life.

Ted’s idea of peace was not quietism when he was with us. As FLOW co-founding member Bob Otwell, former Executive Director of TART Trails, recalled, “Ted was a warm, gracious man, and at board meetings, his comments always helped move us forward with more wisdom.” Former FLOW Board Chair Mike Dettmer said, “Ted’s work, dedication, and involvement cannot be overstated. He was, and always will be a guiding light, someone who kept us moving in the right direction, and when we strayed, he gently, firmly called us on it.”

As FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said, “Ted was there in the early days, for meetings, events, outreach, and fundraising. He would always take me aside, reminding me about details, people to contact, and always to keep raising funds. His words and actions were, and remain, an encouragement and reminder that good things come about with faith and action.”

These qualities of clarity, grace, wisdom, and a keen sense of the right thing to do, and then to do it, are something that he and Marcia seemed to have shared throughout their entire life of more than 60 years together.

Ted, you lived for community and the common good of humanity. We miss you. Thank you for your solid, kind service and friendship to all of us here in Northern Michigan. We’ll always think of you when we look at the majestic Great Lakes that you cherished. You have been, and will continue to be, a beacon of light.

A memorial service is planned at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Beulah, Michigan, for 2 p.m., Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. For more on Ted’s full life, read his beautiful obituary here.

Swine CAFO Threatens Environment, Public Health along Lake Michigan Shoreline

By Tracy Dobson

Special contributor

Public notice in a local Michigan newspaper, the White Lake Beacon, in October 2017 announced a permit application for a mammoth swine factory near the Oceana/Muskegon County line along Lake Michigan. Called a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), this proposed pollution factory activated our resistance. Reviving Our American Democracy (ROAD) is a White Lake-area public interest group that has worked hard to stop this outrage ever since.

We strongly oppose the CAFO because it threatens to 1) degrade natural resources, including Flower Creek, Lake Michigan, nearby beaches, and the groundwater within the Flower Creek Watershed, 2) endanger public health, 3) reduce local property values and erode the tax base, and 4) undermine the quality of life for neighbors.

From the public hearing in January 2018 when 350 people gathered in Montague High School in unanimous opposition to our continuing years-long efforts to contest the permit authorized by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, now EGLE), we have been relentlessly mobilizing against a massive industrial enterprise that threatens to destroy a peaceful and lovely rural community. We sued in the courts, filed a contested case at the MDEQ, led public information campaigns, sought and made allies, explored dozens of arguments and avenues, raised funds widely, and have urged the Muskegon County Health Department to become involved, given the large potential human health impacts.

This 36,000 square-foot CAFO was built 1.8 miles inland from the Lake Michigan shoreline. The 4,000 pigs multiplied by 2.8 batches per year will generate more than 1.5 million gallons per year of hog slurry (urine and manure) to be spread near the factory. The waste is too heavy to transport a long distance. The farmlands to which the waste will be applied surround tributaries of Flower Creek, which flows directly into Lake Michigan. Much of the acreage has clay soil, which will not absorb the waste when sprayed or spilled, and substantial slopes. Both factors likely will contribute to significant runoff pollution.

Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) contained in runoff, along with climatic warming trends, increase the risk of eutrophication and fish kills, along with harmful toxic and nuisance algal blooms. Runoff also will likely deliver unsafe levels of pathogenic microorganisms to recreational waters. Other nearby areas are very sandy, raising the prospect that nitrates (and pathogens) will infiltrate to the water table to contaminate groundwater, and therefore private drinking well water. More intense rainfall due to climate change could exacerbate all this. Amazingly, no factory farm setback is mandated by law from Lake Michigan or any other water body.

Beyond weak regulatory standards favoring the agricultural industry over public welfare and the environment, there were problems with the CAFO-siting process under the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) — issues ignored, including dismissal by state officials of credible scientific data, coupled with lack of public transparency. The state permitting process also is flawed. This arises in part because no single agency is responsible for overseeing the big picture and anticipating the consequences of this or any other CAFO, let alone combined and cumulative effects of the industry. State review is cut into pieces because of pressures from Big Ag on the legislature. Agencies are underfunded and hobbled.

Swine CAFOs are spreading in Michigan (now there are more than 200, with another 100 or so forecasted for the future) because of abundant water resources, cooler climate, and the recent addition of slaughter capacity in Coldwater (thanks to Pennsylvania pork empire, Clemens Food Group). Major swine “integrator” Fred Walcott, owner of Valley View Pork (VVP, based in Coopersville) helped broker this plant while serving on the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development (MCARD, appointed by former Gov. Snyder) with $55 million in state taxpayer-funded subsidies. Not yet up to its capacity of approximately 2.5 million hogs per year) because it is difficult to find workers yearning to kill hogs day in and day out, the Coldwater plant awaits the delivery of hordes of pigs from future facilities.

Flower Creek Swine, LLC, claims to be raising breeding sows to increase production in our region. Flower Creek Swine will fatten the sows to supply a VVP farrowing barn in Walkerville, which will, in turn, supply multiple finishing CAFOs; all hogs owned by Valley View Pork. And Michigan is welcoming the dairy CAFO industry — construction of a mega dairy processing complex and whey powder manufacturing plant in St. Johns is now underway.

ROAD commissioned two scientific studies with alarming conclusions that were ignored by MDARD, MCARD, and DEQ/DEGLE: 1) a hydrologic and geomorphic analysis of Flower Creek Watershed (January 2018) by Drs. Hyndman and Kendall of Michigan State University (eminently qualified subject matter experts) which projects that watershed levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, already high, will increase substantially, making it one of the most nutrient-laden watersheds in the Great Lakes basin; and  2) an analysis of Flower Creek water quality (April-October 2018) by another reputable scientist, (Dr. Richard Rediske of the Annis Waters Resource Institute at Grand Valley State University), which documented baseline E. coli impairment of Flower Creek and serious degradation of other water quality parameters. This provides a basis for comparison with future measurements. E. coli levels exceed the state standards for human body contact by four times. DNA analysis of frozen samples will confirm the origin of the bacteria, almost certainly excess dairy manure and not human waste from septic tanks. Both reports are available on the ROAD website.

Flower Creek has joined Little Flower Creek, which drains the adjacent watershed, among the sorry ranks of polluted Michigan waters. A “No Swimming” sign is a permanent fixture where Little Flower Creek traverses Meinert Park beach into Lake Michigan. The state environmental agency says the hog CAFO “won’t make things worse.” That is a pitiful consolation to offer the residents of Claybanks Township. Pig manure has yet to be spread but is expected in August (pigs were delivered to the CAFO in April 2019). We doubt the state’s assertion.

No attention is paid to the human health impacts stemming from the disposal of massive amounts of pig waste, which is untreated and therefore teeming with infectious microorganisms, despite an abundance of incriminating scientific evidence. Public health risks include infections from contact with contaminated recreational waters, infections and nitrate toxicity from contamination of groundwater/aquifers supplying private drinking wells, and respiratory ailments related to toxic CAFO air emissions.

Odor is given some, but insufficient consideration. Due to diet and physiological differences in the animals, odor from pig manure is triple that from cow manure, making outdoor activities in the area or opening windows unpleasant to hazardous. A recent jury award in North Carolina exceeded $50 million against CAFO operators for environmental degradation and nuisance. Iowa has more than 7,000 CAFOs and a third of U.S. pork production. The City of Des Moines Waterworks, which serves a quarter of the state’s residents, sued the industry for pollution of water supplies.

ROAD is committed to shutting down this CAFO and stopping the spread of more such outrageous violations of the public trust. Our organization has raised and spent $40,000 in 18 months. We need at least $20,000 more to carry on with our contested case with the state environmental agency and a related civil action for an injunction. More will likely be required.

The reason to alert the wider Michigan public is that this facility and the ones that are sure to follow, likely will result in a huge environmental disaster for Michigan and impose very high human health costs.  With lead in Flint, PFAS in Rockford, and hog waste in Claybanks Township as examples, Michiganders deserve better than their government is delivering. The White Lake area is still recovering from Hooker and Dupont malfeasance — let’s not allow a repeat horror to befall this natural resource-rich community. Let’s fight together to be “Pure Michigan!” We need to unite and “take back our water.”

More information about this situation may be found at ROAD’s website. Property tax impacts reports are viewable here, and here. For an infectious disease physician’s statement on potential health risks, click here. Finally, Sierra Club produced a compelling 11-minute video on this subject.


Tracy Dobson co-founded ROAD in 2010. She was a professor of Fisheries and Wildlife, as well as and Women’s Studies, at Michigan State University for 31 years and co-creator of the Center for Gender in Global Context. She led study abroad trips in Kenya and conducted environmental research in Malawi. A long-time summer resident of Montague, she is now a full-time resident and activist.

Digging a Hole for Future Generations

By 4-3 Vote, Grand Traverse County Commissioners Support ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes

By Kelly Thayer

After a brief rally outside with many participants wearing black t-shirts saying, “No Line 5 Oil Tunnel,” dozens of people this morning (August 21) overflowed the meeting room and lobby of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners in Traverse City. In all, 54 residents spoke out for the next 2 ½ hours against a resolution supporting a proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. Only two people — one an owner of a local gas and oil company — spoke for the oil tunnel.

And then the county commissioners had the final say, with the majority ultimately disagreeing with their own constituents and voting 4-3 for the resolution. (Click here to view a video of the meeting.)

The outcome was disheartening to many in attendance who spoke of Enbridge’s spill-laden track record and the risk to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the economy, tribal rights, the climate, and a way of life that could be denied to future generations.

“It’s not a good pipeline. And for all the reasons already said, it needs to be shut down. And so promoting the life of it isn’t exactly helpful for my generation, or generations that come after me – or your generation! It’s not good for our water, it’s not good for our state, it’s not good for the world! So just consider that, please,” said Kellyn Walker Hundley, a teenager who attended and also is the daughter of Commissioner Bryce Hundley, an opponent of the resolution.

The pro-tunnel result delivered a boost for Enbridge, which didn’t comment at the meeting, but instead is letting its money do the talking by spending heavily on public relations and lobbying to gain support among counties statewide for their proposed oil tunnel. Only three other counties — all in the Upper Peninsula — to date have approved the model resolution that bears close resemblance to talking points that Line 5-owner Enbridge has circulated for months.

The Canadian energy transport giant’s goal is to build political backing for a tunnel as a replacement for its decaying oil pipelines crossing the open waters and bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. Enbridge thought it had secured the oil tunnel in late 2018, when Michigan lawmakers rushed through a bill in lame-duck session. In March, however, newly elected Attorney General Dana Nessel found that the oil tunnel legislation to be unconstitutional.

Enbridge sued the State of Michigan in early June to resuscitate the law, and the multibillion-dollar company also is working with the Republican majority, as well as some Democrats, in the state House and Senate to introduce a new oil tunnel bill as early as this month to overcome the flaws flagged by Nessel. Nessel in late June also sued Enbridge to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorizes Enbridge to pump oil through the twin pipelines in the Straits.

FLOW and its team of lawyers, scientists, engineers, and an international risk expert since 2013 have studied the increasing threat from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and, more recently, the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.

FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer read a statement calling on the county board to reject the oil tunnel resolution, which claims an admirable safety record that is at odds with the reality that Line 5 has leaked at least 33 times, spilling a total of 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin.

“It is vital to understand that with a ‘yes’ vote today for the oil tunnel resolution, you would effectively be interfering in ongoing litigation between Enbridge and the State of Michigan,” Thayer said. “Why entangle Grand Traverse County in these legal fights on Enbridge’s behalf?”

Enbridge wants the right to bore a tunnel in the next 5-10 years for Line 5 through State of Michigan public trust bottomlands under the Straits. Enbridge also wants to keep pumping up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the decaying, 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits during tunnel feasibility studies and construction.

An oil tunnel also would fail to address the risk posed by Line 5’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and would conflict with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to combat ongoing climate change.

FLOW and other Great Lakes advocates have long called for shutting down Line 5, which primarily serves Canada’s, not Michigan’s, needs and threatens the Great Lakes. FLOW research shows that viable alternatives exist to deliver propane to Michigan and oil to regional refineries, and Gov. Whitmer has formed an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force to identify energy supply options. The system can adjust with smart planning.

You can learn more by visiting FLOW’s Line 5 program page and by downloading a copy of FLOW’s latest:

Kelly Thayer is FLOW’s Deputy Director

Call to Action: Ban Balloon Releases that Kill Birds and Other Wildlife

By Lara O’Brien

Every day, balloons and balloon ribbons and strings are discovered littering the waters and shorelines of the Great Lakes. Between 2016 and 2018, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes picked up more than 18,000 pieces of balloon debris during coastal cleanups.

Mylar balloons, made from nylon with a metallic coating, will never biodegrade. While latex balloons are said to be biodegradable, they still take many years to break down. Latex balloons also burst into small pieces that are easily mistaken for food by birds and other wildlife, often with fatal consequences. Balloon debris also includes long ribbons and strings, which can entangle birds and other wildlife, causing serious injury or death.

In order to collect more data about the environmental impact of balloons and balloon releases in the Great Lakes region, I recently created a web survey that can be used to record the date, location, condition, and photo of any balloon debris found. The website, BalloonDebris.org, has a link to the survey and an interactive map of the balloon debris sightings. There are also ideas for eco-friendly alternatives, including how to make your own giant bubble recipe and wand, luminaries, kites, and even crochet water balloons.

The site also includes information on how to get more involved, including how to sign up and participate in the upcoming International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21. In collaboration with the International Coastal Cleanup, the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ September Adopt-a-Beach Event also will be held the same day. Here is a link to more information on how you can find a beach cleanup near you or how you can organize your own.

Awareness is growing, and a handful of states, including California, Florida, and Tennessee, have passed legislation banning balloon releases. Michigan, however, is not one of them. My hope is that by engaging and participating in this citizen science research, more people will become aware of how pervasive balloon pollution is in the Great Lakes and have a greater understanding of the impact balloons and balloon releases have on the environment and wildlife. Hopefully, this will lead to changes in behavior and changes in policy.

Help raise awareness by learning more about the impact of balloon releases, using green alternatives, and talking with friends and family. You also can reach out to your local leaders at the city, village, township, or county level and urge them to take action to prohibit mass balloon releases and help support statewide Michigan legislation. Lara O’Brien

Lara O’Brien is a master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). Focusing on Conservation Ecology and Environmental Informatics, her studies aim to utilize GIS and remote sensing technologies to enhance conservation efforts, natural resource management, and public engagement and appreciation of the natural world.

Déjà Vu: PFAS are Latest in Long Line of Failed Chemical Policies

Photo: Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center

By Dave Dempsey

The discovery of toxic per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in many Michigan locations, the fear and concern these chemicals have stirred, and the difficulty posed to government officials and the public on how to respond feel familiar to those residents 50 and over. As the baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

PFAS are just the latest symbols of failed chemical policy in a chain reaching back to World War II. That policy has caused disease and death, ruined landscapes and waters, and cost taxpayers scores of billions of dollars. And still politicians haven’t learned.

A Look Back

A look back at Michigan’s history of dealing with chemical crises illustrates the point:

  • Mercury – When fish from the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River were found to have alarmingly high levels of toxic mercury in 1970, the state had to shut down the Lake St. Clair fishery until it completed an exhaustive effort to trace and control the sources. Although much reduced, mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources continue.
  • DDT – After the state banned most uses of toxic DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) in 1969 for its effect on fish, wildlife, and human health, it also had to ban several replacement chemicals in succeeding years.
  • PCBs – In 1971, investigators found surprisingly high levels of toxic PCBs in Michigan water bodies, including the Kalamazoo River. This led to a ban on the chemicals in the mid-1970s.
  • PBB & PBDEs– When toxic PBB, a flame retardant, was accidentally mixed with cattle feed in 1973, government responded slowly and the entire Michigan food chain was affected. Chemical companies replaced PBB with compounds like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were subsequently found to be toxic to fish, wildlife and people and were banned or phased out.

    There are many more examples, the result of a policy that treats chemicals as though they have constitutional rights like people, “innocent until proven guilty.” It also treats them one at a time.

    Whack-a-mole

    “We’re playing chemical whack-a-mole,” says Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director of the Ecology Center, based in Ann Arbor. The Ecology Center has been working to develop chemical policy reform for years and has successfully championed initiatives such as Michigan state government’s Green Chemistry program. The program’s objective is to foster use and development of new chemicals and chemical products that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances while producing high quality products through safe and efficient manufacturing methods.

    The price of a piecemeal approach to chemical policy can be measured not just in damage to human health and the environment, but to taxpayer pocketbooks. Between the commencement of state-funded toxic cleanup program in the late 1970s and today — a 40-year period — Michigan citizens have shelled out more than $1.5 billion to handle cleanups of messes created by private parties. Created by everyone from small businesses to corporate giants, these toxic sites have become the public’s problem because many of the businesses involved have gone bankrupt or have chosen to contest their responsibility.

    Solutions?

    What can we do about this problem? We need a new national chemical policy that requires full testing and safety evaluation of chemicals before they are introduced to the market and to our air, water, and bodies. Although this is common sense, chemical manufacturers have successfully resisted these reforms through the political process.

    Meuninck says legislation passed and signed into law by former President Obama in 2016 has the potential to help.  Key provisions include:

    • A mandatory requirement for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines;
    • Risk-based chemical assessments;
    • Increased public transparency for chemical information; and
    • Consistent source of funding for the EPA to carry out the responsibilities under the new law.

    “These are important changes, but they’re only as good as the EPA that’s supposed to implement them,” Meuninck said.  “Otherwise, it could go horribly wrong.”

    REACH

    A potential model for a new U.S. policy is the European Commission’s 12-year-old REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation. REACH shifts the burden of identifying chemical hazards, means of mitigating hazards, and managing risk from government to business.

    Among other things, REACH:

    • Places responsibility on industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances.  Manufacturers and importers are required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances, and to register the information in a central database.
    • Calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals (referred to as “substances of very high concern”) when suitable alternatives have been identified.

    “One of the main reasons for developing and adopting the REACH Regulation,” the Commission says, “was that a large number of substances have been manufactured and placed on the market in Europe for many years, sometimes in very high amounts, and yet there is insufficient information on the hazards that they pose to human health and the environment. There is a need to fill these information gaps to ensure that industry is able to assess hazards and risks of the substances, and to identify and implement the risk management measures to protect humans and the environment.”

    But the European approach is far from becoming U.S. policy, despite the best efforts of skilled, effective public interest groups like the Ecology Center. It is difficult to say what chemical crisis might prompt needed change here at home. That change is badly needed — without another crisis coming first.

    Dave Dempsey is the Senior Policy Advisor at FLOW