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.
It’s been five years since the August 2014 bloom that contaminated Toledo’s water supply for a weekend, leaving half a million without drinking water — an event that many compared to the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River at Cleveland. Where’s the outrage and action now? 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.
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.
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. The risk of a similar on-land explosion with Line 5 is also possible because of the natural gas liquids (NGLs) running the length of its 645-mile transit through Wisconsin and Michigan.
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.
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. 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.
Public notice in a local newspaper 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.