A Grounding in Groundwater, Climate, and Water Justice

Alex Theophilus Reflects on His Winter Internship at FLOW

FLOW and the Great Lakes are healthier and stronger because of the help we have received from interns specializing in law, policy, and communications during our 10 years of keeping water public and protected.

Case in point: Alex Theophilus, who has served since January as a policy intern at FLOW. Currently studying environmental geography and sociology at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, Alex grew up in Leelanau County and the Traverse City area before graduating from Traverse City Central High School in 2018. We asked Alex to share his thoughts about his experience as a FLOW intern in a year unlike any other as the COVID-19 pandemic continued its grip on the globe. Here are Alex’s responses to the questions we posed.

What do you think of FLOW as a result of your internship?

Throughout my months working with FLOW, I have been continuously awestruck by the passion and intelligence of the staff and those who work closely with the organization. FLOW is fighting to protect the resources that are often taken for granted and the people who have been rendered voiceless in environmental injustices of the past and present. My involvement has given me insight into the depth of the climate issues we must overcome to achieve a sustainable future for generations to come in the Great Lakes, while also allowing me to witness the willingness to fight for the protection of our most valuable public asset. 

What about the issues that you’ve worked on has interested you the most?

My work on issues related to Michigan’s groundwater has been of particular interest to me, and represents a topic that I hope to maintain a connection to moving forward in my life. Collaborating with Dave Dempsey and other FLOW staff on the recently released groundwater report, Deep Threats to Our Sixth Great Lake, as well as on subsequent projects, has motivated my interest in an issue that directly impacts ecological and human health. Protecting our groundwater resources is vital to the well-being of Michiganders, and deserves at least equal attention to surface water-related threats. 

What do you hope to do in your career and how has your internship supported that?

Following my graduation from Colgate University in the Spring of 2022, my plan is to attend graduate school for further studies in either environmental justice or sustainable resource use. My plans after that are either to remain in academia while researching and teaching, or to work with a non-profit organization undertaking similar work to FLOW’s focus. My internship has supported these motivations by allowing me to gain experience within an non-governmental organization fighting for issues of both environmental justice and water management, while exposing me to a wide variety of situations that have expanded my understanding of how the real-world fight for a healthy environment works.

What do you think are the greatest threats to water and the best solutions, too?

I think the greatest threats to water in the coming years will be based around privatization of our public resources. From the Great Lakes to our rivers and groundwater sources, the control over water does not belong to any single corporation or group. The best way to guarantee water remains uncompromised and available for use in the livelihood of all people is to protect it with public trust law that both guarantees access, while also defending populations from pollution or other hazards. 

Tell us a little about what got you into the environmental field—what’s your personal connection—what’s one of your favorite places outdoors?

Growing up in the Traverse City and the Leelanau County area allowed me to spend my time in a natural world that consisted of nothing but pristine coastlines, beautiful forests, and immaculate sand dunes. As I got older and my intellectual appetite began to grow, came an understanding of the privilege that my connection to the environment represented, and a knowledge of the ways in which environmentalism needs to be so much more than a desire to recreate unobstructedly. While my interactions with my natural surroundings had never been anything but positive, I grew to recognize that environmental injustices have been perpetrated against human populations and our planet’s ecosystems for centuries. This has resulted in countless situations in which communities must fight for their lives against their polluted environment, rather than holding any hope of a symbiotic relationship. I now feel I have a responsibility to future generations and the environment that has done so much for me, to join the fight against the wrongs of the past, while working to prevent such injustices from further impacting people and other living things.

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Alex Theophilus Reflects on His Winter Internship at FLOW