Above: A burst of sunshine and Lake Michigan’s power at the shore in Frankfort, Michigan. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)
Michigan’s water bounty is vast—touching four of the five Great Lakes, more than 10,000 inland lakes, 36,000 river miles, 6 million acres of wetlands, and groundwater that is the drinking water source for more than 4 million Michiganders.
At FLOW, we envision a future where healthy waters sustain healthy communities in the Great Lakes Basin, and together with our supporters and partners, we are bringing that vision to life.
Such an abundant heritage requires protection from a host of threats, and creative thinking about opportunities to keep water public and protected. These, in turn, require vision. At FLOW, we envision a future where healthy waters sustain healthy communities in the Great Lakes Basin, and together with our supporters and partners in 2022, we are bringing that vision to life.
The view Michiganders enjoy of expansive, seemingly infinite Great Lakes waters is mirrored in our work, which spans all of Michigan’s public waters and includes all beings who depend on them. FLOW protects the Great Lakes—and our public trust rights to access, swim, drink, fish, and navigate these magnificent fresh waters—from threats that include climate change and the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, while strengthening protection of our vital groundwater and securing clean water for all.
In 2022, FLOW’s sustained efforts to ensure safe, clean, affordable, and public water for all resulted in measurable, immediate achievements, as well as in steps toward long-term goals. Here’s a summary of the impact, as well as hope for an even better 2023 in the fight to protect 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water and a way of life for all of us who depend on it for our well being.
Line 5: Preventing a Petroleum Disaster in the Great Lakes
The continued presence of Enbridge’s nearly 70-year-old Line 5 petroleum pipelines crossing in the Straits of Mackinac is a navigational hazard and a clear danger to the Great Lakes, communities, tribes, and businesses. The dented and decaying pipeline is owned and operated by Enbridge, the same Canadian corporation responsible for the 2010 spill of more than 1.2 million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall, Michigan.
The nearly 70-year-old Line 5 petroleum pipeline crossing in the Straits of Mackinac is a navigational hazard and a clear danger to the Great Lakes, communities, tribes, and businesses.
Acting on the public trust doctrine legal principles articulated by FLOW, Attorney General Nessel filed a lawsuit to shut down LIne 5 in 2019. In 2020, Governor Whitmer revoked and terminated the 1953 easement Enbridge relied upon to operate Line 5, while recognizing that alternatives to Line 5 exist for supplying oil and propane.
The State of Michigan and the public, however, must remain vigilant until the oil stops flowing for good because Enbridge is defying the shutdown order, and Line 5 remains exposed to exceptionally strong currents, lakebed scouring, new anchor and cable strikes, and corrosion. At the same time, Enbridge is seeking permission to locate a tunnel to carry the petroleum under the Straits, posing another set of unacceptable risks.
In 2022, to shut down Line 5 and stop the ill-advised oil tunnel, FLOW:
- Spurred Public Engagement & Comment—Spurred, as a founding steering committee member of Oil & Water Don’t Mix, vigorous public engagement and public comment last fall as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review of the proposed oil tunnel; and FLOW also prepared final comments submitted to the federal agency on October 14.
- Helped Reopen the Record on Proposed Tunnel—Helped persuade the Michigan Public Service Commission in July to reopen the record to receive more safety details on the tunnel proposal and Line 5 pipelines.
- Hosted a Line 5 Livestream—Co-hosted, in partnership with Oil & Water Don’t Mix and the Bay Mills Indian Community, a July livestream event on the status of the Line 5 struggle that drew nearly 600 registrants and reached thousands more people through social media and our e-newsletter.
- Released a New Fact Sheet—Published a new Line 5 fact sheet.
Groundwater: Strengthening Protection of Our Sixth Great Lake
The volume of groundwater in the Great Lakes Basin is comparable to the volume of Lake Huron—in essence, it’s the sixth Great Lake. Groundwater supports industry and agriculture, recharges our streams and the Great Lakes, and provides drinking water to millions of people.
But because it is out of sight, and therefore often out of mind, groundwater is the least protected arc of that cycle. Limited protections and underinvestment in monitoring have allowed contamination to plague groundwater in tens of thousands of locations in Michigan. Since 2018, FLOW has advanced groundwater as a top priority, bringing new attention and momentum to its stewardship.
Since 2018, FLOW has advanced groundwater as a top priority, bringing new attention and momentum to its stewardship.
One of the biggest threats to Michigan’s groundwater is 130,000 failing septic systems. They pollute groundwater with pathogens and household toxic materials, yet Michigan is the only state lacking statewide requirements for inspection, maintenance, and replacement of failing septic systems. FLOW and our partners are striving to remedy that unacceptable fact.
In 2022, to protect groundwater, FLOW helped lead the way with these actions:
- Helped Pass a Countywide Septic Ordinance—Helped in August to persuade the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners, in northwest Michigan, to enact a countywide ordinance preventing and defending against septic system pollution of groundwater.
- Published a New Groundwater Report—Released in June, as the culmination of 15 months of work, our report, Building Consensus: Securing Protection of Michigan’s Groundwater, and accompanying story map. The report expresses the consensus of multiple stakeholders critical to the state policy process that the state must do more to gather and analyze data fostering an understanding of the condition of groundwater. Key recommendations from the report have helped to form FLOW’s 2023 groundwater policy agenda.
- Hosted a Groundwater Livestream—Hosted a livestream in March featuring FLOW staff and five partners, including State Rep. Padma Kuppa and experts on groundwater from academia, the scientific community, and the state. In all, 180 people registered for the event, which offered perspectives on the critical importance of our groundwater resources and the work of the Michigan Groundwater Table convened by FLOW.
- Collaborated on a World Water Day Resolution—Worked with Rep. Kuppa on a World Water Day resolution that was adopted by Michigan’s State House of Representatives.
- Guided Water Infrastructure Funding—Engaged last spring with national, regional, state, and local partners, to determine the most impactful policy interventions to ensure the equitable distribution of state and federal funds for water infrastructure, including a $35 million appropriation to help address failing septic systems.
Clean Water for All: Keeping Water Public and Protected
Access to clean water for all is a human right and even more vital during emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, household water shutoffs in Detroit and elsewhere, and the Flint lead-tainted water crisis. The cost of inaction and the failure to fund public water infrastructure continues to result in water insecurity, flooding, pollution, and costly patchwork repair.
Access to clean water for all is a human right and even more vital during emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, household water shutoffs in Detroit and elsewhere, and the Flint lead-tainted water crisis.
In 2022, to ensure equitable funding for public water systems and to prioritize water access and affordability, FLOW:
- Helped Advance Public Water, Public Justice in New York—Worked with New York State lawmakers in support of the newly introduced Public Water Justice Act, based on FLOW’s groundbreaking 2018 model legislation to extend public trust protection to groundwater, establish a royalty and public justice trust fund from bottled water companies, and pay for water infrastructure priorities.
- Supported Equity in Water Infrastructure Funding—Engaged statewide with Michigan lawmakers and the Whitmer administration on legislative and other proposals to equitably distribute an historic, short-term increase in federal funds for water infrastructure.
- Participated in an Environmental Justice Livestream—Presented at an Environmental Justice livestream event hosted by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative in March.
- Celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act—Published original insights and perspectives throughout the year about keeping water protected and in public hands, including a series of articles in October on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and its importance, and asked in November, What Do the Election Results Mean for the Great Lakes State?
- Hosted a Livestream with Maude Barlow—Hosted a livestream event in June with lifelong and world-renowned champion of water, Maude Barlow, who has written a memoir built on her career of activism. Its title, appropriately, is Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. In the book, Barlow vividly details her work on many issues, perhaps most importantly her successful advocacy of water as a human right.
In March, FLOW supported the introduction of three related public trust bills on groundwater, bottled water, and natural resources.
- Supported Public Trust Bills in Michigan—Supported in March the introduction of three related public trust bills to expand public trust protections to groundwater, end the bottled water loophole of the Great Lakes Compact in Michigan, and direct the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to be strong public trustee stewards.
- Collaborated on a Public Trust Resolution—Worked with state lawmakers to declare water as a public trust in a World Water Day resolution.
- Upheld the Human Right to Water & Sanitation—Continued our efforts to build upon the successful passage of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation Resolution in Traverse City. Promoted statewide and regional engagement on this resolution work with We the People, Michigan Municipal League (MML), Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.
- Drafted a Model Ordinance on Green Infrastructure—Drafted a model green infrastructure ordinance that would require municipalities to evaluate the economic and environmental effectiveness of green infrastructure alternatives—assisted by MML, SEMCOG, and City of Grand Rapids.
- Advanced Green Infrastructure in Communities—Continued to work with Traverse City and Marquette on advancing green infrastructure as part of their new master plans to benefit the environment and save taxpayer dollars.
FLOW’s Commitment: Lifting Up Young Leaders on Water Protection
Too often we hear that members of Generation Z, those born between 1997-2012, mistrust government, worry about the future of democracies, and feel overwhelmed by the weighty burden of climate change they are inheriting. But from the depths rise the leaders of tomorrow—our beacon of hope.
“Protecting our precious waters is a multigenerational mission,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.
“Protecting our precious waters is a multigenerational mission,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “We put that mission into practice not only by pursuing solutions to water problems that will pay off for generations to come, but also by engaging young people who will carry forward the work as part of a rising generation.”
In 2022, to lift up the youth water movement, FLOW was proud to engage with:
- Water&—Bebe Schaefer and Rachel Roberts, two students at American University in Washington, D.C., recently launched the nonprofit organization Water&, on a “constant journey of collective action.” We at FLOW were thrilled to join hands with Water& and other young adult-led organizations in the Great Lakes Basin, and in our nation’s capital, to expand hope and leadership in the protection of our public waters.
- Mackenzie Joseph—Our highly productive summer 2022 Milliken Intern for Communications was Mackenzie Joseph, a native of Johnstown, Ohio, and rising senior at Ohio University in Athens, who is majoring in Communication Studies with minors in History, English, Writing, and Political Communication.
- Mary Basso and Irene Namae—Our ambitious and talented summer 2022 Milliken Interns for Law and Policy were Mary Basso and Irene Namae. Irene was born in Uganda; after finishing a Bachelor of Law there from Makerere University, she served as a magistrate judge. She currently is pursuing her PhD in law at the University of Arizona, focusing on Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy. Mary Basso is from Owosso, Michigan. After finishing a bachelor’s degree, Mary moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to study law at Vanderbilt University Law School.
- Lucy Jones—When FLOW first wrote about Lucy Jones—the inspiring Traverse City teen who creates and sells jewelry to benefit the Great Lakes—last February, our supporters were moved by her environmental ethic and enterprising spirit. So we thought it was fitting to catch up with Lucy at year’s end with her holiday sales in full swing. FLOW thrives on these creative collaborations with teens and young adults—the Next Generation—who take action and lead the way to protect fresh water.
Looking to 2023: Abundant Opportunity to Protect Fresh Water for All
Now comes the next phase of the work that we all must do together: Hold our elected officials accountable to ensure the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are healthy, public, and protected for all. As the Great Lakes State, Michigan must lead on every imaginable freshwater policy to protect this fragile, water-rich ecosystem and to secure safe, affordable drinking water for all.
“Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.
“Michigan must seize this window of opportunity to think about systemic changes needed and make the greatest gains we can to protect fresh water, the environment, Pure Michigan economy, and our way of life in the face of impacts from unrelenting climate change and a water-scarce world,” said Kirkwood. “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it.”
P.S.—Your Inside Look at FLOW with Liz Kirkwood Starts Now. Take an exclusive look behind the scenes at FLOW’s work, made possible by our generous supporters: