Author: FLOW Editor

Resetting Expectations in Traverse City and Grand Rapids

FLOW hosts community engagement sessions on government’s role in protecting human health and the environment

Photo by Rick Kane

By Diane Dupuis

Do environmental regulations hinder or help the economy?

That question framed FLOW’s community engagement session on November 13 in Traverse City examining the role of government in protecting human health and the environment. Presenters included Cherry Republic founder and environmental steward Bob Sutherland and former FLOW board chair Skip Pruss, who has authored three “Resetting Expectations” reports for FLOW that make the case for government regulations to protect the environment.

Surgical pathologist and climate activist Lisa Del Buono, FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, and Senior Policy Advisor Dave Dempsey also presented on the importance of governmental protections. (Click here to see slides from the presenters and here to watch a recording of the event).

FLOW will hold a second Resetting Expectations community engagement session on December 5 in Grand Rapids. Click here to RSVP; the event is free, but seating is limited.

Community members who attended the Traverse City session were able to interact throughout the series of presentations by responding via text or web app to questions projected intermittently. Residents of Northwest Michigan are well versed in matters affecting the Great Lakes Basin, yet the session presented familiar concepts in new ways, as well as altogether new perspectives.

Kicking off the presentations, Cherry Republic’s Bob Sutherland noted that in December his cherry-themed retail-and-catalog operation will give away $250,000 in profits, mostly to environmental organizations. “My giving comes from my trust in society, in people’s ability to make the world better,” Sutherland said.

“I trust in my neighbor,” he continued, but “it’s just a trickle in the bucket. We need to get the trust back in our government to establish better rules and regulations. As a businessman, I wish that my competitors were operating with the same principles that drive me to continuous improvement in how we treat the environment.”

“Wouldn’t it be great,” Sutherland mused, “if every company was working on clean water and protecting our land? That’s where government regulations come in. We have a future in building trust here. Let’s start a movement in getting a fair and continuously improving level playing field for business.”

Skip Pruss, former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth, cited a United Nations study that estimated the value of nature-based services at $60 trillion globally and $18 trillion in North America. As an example, wetlands are among the most biologically productive areas on Earth, Pruss noted, yet Michigan has lost more than 4 million acres of wetlands to development and drainage, worth billions of dollars in lost functions such as water filtration, flood and erosion control, wildlife habitat, human recreation, and food supply.

In terms of cost-benefit analysis, the Clean Air Act generated economic benefits valued at $2 trillion, while the compliance costs to business were $65 billion; benefits exceeded costs by a factor of 43-to-1, Pruss explained.

Of all the water on Earth, only 3% is fresh water. Of that 3%, only 0.30% is surface water. So only .09% of the entire world’s water is fresh surface water. The Great Lakes contain more than 1/5 of this extremely scarce resource.

Dave Dempsey, senior policy advisor at FLOW, focused his presentation on Michigan’s groundwater, depended upon for drinking water by 45% of Michigan residents. Dempsey identified multiple threats to Michigan’s groundwater, including failing septic systems, nitrates from agricultural practices, and contamination from both closed and ongoing sites. Over the last 24 years, Dempsey revealed, Michigan’s taxpayers have been burdened with more than $1 billion in costs to remedy “orphan” contamination sites (sites where the polluter is not picking up the bill).

Regarding the contaminant PFAS, Dempsey noted that Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has proposed one of the most health-protective PFAS drinking water standards in the country. However, a new state committee controlled by business interests may delay the proposed state drinking water standard for PFAS. Meanwhile this group of chemicals, called “forever chemicals” because they can remain in the human body for years, is linked to a raft of adverse effects on human health, Dempsey said.

Presenting next, Lisa Del Buono, MD, discussed public health and the environment. Del Buono revealed that, according to the American Lung Association, the Clean Air Act has saved $22 trillion by avoiding hospital admissions, emergency room visits, premature deaths, and other adverse effects of air pollution. In 2012 alone, Del Buono noted, 10 climate-sensitive events analyzed by GeoHealth caused an estimated $10 billion in health-related costs. With most economists agreeing that carbon-pricing is the quickest way to reduce the costs and health risks of carbon pollution, Del Buono concluded, a bipartisan climate solution has been introduced as legislation in Congress as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, HR763.

Next, Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, praised the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program that has funded 3,500 restoration projects around the basin, with an economic output of $3.35 for every dollar invested. Kirkwood then outlined a new FLOW initiative, “OUR20 Communities,” in which the relevance of water as a finite resource fundamental to life is recognized in every aspect of community decision-making. Collaborative solutions in the OUR20 model are developed by the communities themselves, and address multiple threats to water while building champions and coalitions involving stakeholders in transportation, food production, energy, recreation, housing, and more.

Kirkwood outlined the legal framework—The Public Trust Doctrine—that underpins the OUR20 Communities model, and described a sustainable “blue economy” in which the environment, the economy, resilience, and social equity are intertwined. She noted that the future is in the hands of millennials, 81% of whom view business success as tied to meaningful social impact. And more businesses, she said, are choosing to be seen as a force for good by emphasizing people and planet as well as profit.

As an example of a nature-based solution to support infrastructure, Kirkwood pointed to the Kids Creek Restoration Project in Traverse City, coordinated by the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. Looking at the potential of adopting the OUR20 Community model in Traverse City, Kirkwood proposed future action plan ideas for the Grand Traverse Bay watershed, including a plastics pollution awareness campaign, septic system stewardship and local ordinances, stormwater funding options, and more.

Kirkwood explained that every community in the Great Lakes can become an OUR20 Community.  The framework, she said, puts more tools in the toolbox — tools that allow for flexible thinking as each community defines how we move forward together with solutions that keep water in the forefront of conversations and action steps. “These are opportunities to engage,” she concluded, on something we all agree about: the vital importance of water in our communities.

FLOW will hold a second community engagement and listening session on December 5 in Grand Rapids. Click here to RSVP.

Diane Dupuis is FLOW’s Development Director.

FLOW Cites New Evidence of Enbridge Operating Illegally, Calls for Orderly Shutdown of ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipelines in Straits of Mackinac

enbridges-line-5-under-the-straits-of-mackinac

Formal comments filed today to assist State of Michigan’s Line 5 review, citing new and ongoing legal violations by Enbridge, rising risk to the Great Lakes, jobs, and drinking water

FLOW today called on the State of Michigan to increase and strictly enforce the requirement for comprehensive oil spill insurance and terminate the 1953 easement that conditionally allows Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, triggering the orderly shut down of the dual oil pipelines as soon as practicable after securing alternative sources for residential propane.

FLOW’s request came in formal comments to the state following recent revelations that Enbridge and its subsidiaries lack adequate liability insurance for a potentially catastrophic oil spill from the Canadian company’s decaying dual pipelines snaking across the public bottomlands, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. The new evidence further supports FLOW’s long-standing contention that Enbridge is operating Line 5 illegally while the risk rises to the Great Lakes, jobs, and the drinking water supply for half of Michiganders. 

FLOW’s comments are directed to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (“EGLE”), and intended specifically to aid in the DNR’s “comprehensive review of Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 easement and other factors affecting its validity,” as ordered by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on June 27.

“It’s time for the State of Michigan to restore the rule of law on Line 5. We call on the Whitmer administration to commence the shutdown of the dual oil pipelines and direct Enbridge, if it wishes to continue operating its 66-year-old pipelines in the Straits, to apply for permission under public trust law and the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “Enbridge must prove that its use and operation, including the substantial change in design with hundreds of elevated spans and significant other matters, complies with and is entitled to authorization.”

Until the shutdown is complete, FLOW urges the state to impose immediate emergency measures that reduce the flow of oil in Line 5 to its original limit, a reduction of 40% from current flow. State officials also should implement more stringent requirements for a mandatory emergency shutdown, including a wave height of 3.3 feet or more in the Straits or winds in excess of 18 miles per hour, conditions that render oil spill response equipment ineffective. Based on the level of risk from Line 5 to public waters, the state also should require Enbridge and its subsidiaries to secure adequate insurance, bond, surety and/or secured assets in the total amount of $5 billion.

FLOW’s comprehensive review of eight violations of the state-granted easement — related to design, operation, and maintenance — demonstrates convincingly that Enbridge has committed, and continues to commit through its conduct, omissions, and breaches of the 1953 easement that are beyond correction. It is also clear that there are major “other factors affecting the validity” of the 1953 easement and Enbridge’s continued use and operation of the cracked-and-dented Line 5 dual oil pipelines in the open waters and on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes in the Straits of Mackinac, including the failure of Enbridge to obtain from previous directors of the DNR (and its predecessor Department of Conservation) the authorizations required by the common law of public trust and/or the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (“GLSLA”).  

Enbridge’s ongoing violations related to anchors and pipeline design threaten the very safety and health of the Great Lakes, and thus trigger the state’s duty to enforce its conditional occupancy agreement with Enbridge. The State continues to have substantial legal and factual cause to terminate the agreement with Enbridge to stop the oil flow.

In support of these comments, FLOW also submitted the multiple reports and comments that FLOW and others have previously submitted to the DNR, DEQ (now “EGLE”), the Attorney General’s office, and Governor’s office over the past six years. It is clear that the Director of the DNR and executive team, as trustees of the Great Lakes and soils beneath them, have the authority and duty to invalidate, direct compliance with, terminate, and/or revoke the 1953 Easement.

The 200-plus anchor supports (constituting 3 miles of elevated pipelines in the water column) represent a substantial change in design from the dual pipelines designed and built pursuant to the specifications of the 1953 easement. Although DEQ (now “EGLE”) approved anchor supports of the elevated lines over the past 18 years, the anchors have been issued only as permits to “place other materials on bottomlands,” and not as a conveyance or agreement for occupancy or use of the bottomlands and waters for the substantial change in the dual pipelines themselves. The Affidavit of Dr. Edwin Timm filed in the consolidated contested cases against the State of Michigan demonstrates seriously increased risks, a total lack of review of applicable risk standards for elevated multiple-span pipelines, and new or substantially changed pipeline that has not been assessed by the state.

“The only real solution now is to apply the law and shut down the 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines permanently to protect the Straits, and nearly 400 other water crossings in Michigan, from the next Enbridge oil spill,” said Kirkwood. “The Canadian oil, which Enbridge does not own, can be sent through other pipelines operated by Enbridge and its competitors. Michigan has no obligation to guarantee Enbridge a shortcut to Ontario oil refineries and the overseas export market.”

Where Does Michigan Go from Here on Leaking Septic Systems?

FLOW’s Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey facilitates the Michigan Septic Summit’s closing panel discussing, Where Do We Go from Here? Photo by Rick Kane

FLOW and partners look to grow awareness, pass statewide code

By Dave Dempsey

Can Michigan’s governance system succeed in solving one of our state’s worst water pollution problems?

That’s the key question in the wake of FLOW’s Michigan Septic Summit in Traverse City on November 6. Attended by more than 150 people representing diverse points of view, the summit demonstrated that there is widespread interest in addressing a problem that is putting our waters and human health at risk.

That problem—actually a challenge that has faced Michigan for decades—is the lack of a uniform state sanitary code to protect our rivers, lakes, and groundwater from pollution from failing septic systems. An estimated 10%, or 130,000, of Michigan’s septic systems are failing. Except for a handful or so of counties, townships, and villages that have passed their own ordinances, there are no standard requirements for inspection and proper maintenance of septic systems. Michigan is the only state that lacks statewide requirements. It is a glaring and unacceptable gap in Michigan’s water-protection laws.

The Septic Summit’s presentations, panel discussions, and audience questions addressed much of the detail that must be resolved in order to enact such a statewide code.  Should inspections be required when property is sold or on a routine basis, perhaps every five or 10 years? How should a “failing” system be defined? What should be required if a system is found to be failing? What government agencies should be charged with enforcing a code, and how will they be funded? How can property owners be assisted in paying for expensive system repair or replacement? These are just a few of the knotty problems.

State political attention to the absence of a Michigan uniform sanitary code is nothing new. In 2004, as part of a special message on water issues she transmitted to the Legislature, former Governor Jennifer Granholm called for such a code. The then-Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was asked to provide leadership in developing a code and to assemble a task force to formulate potential legislation.

Twenty-six organizations representing a variety of interests involving the septic waste problem were invited to name a representative to serve on the task force. But the work group ultimately could not agree on a solution. Legislators have proposed laws to cure the problem since then, but none has gained traction—again because of lack of consensus on how to act, if at all.

It’s a tricky governance problem. A large number of interests are concerned about both the problem and how a solution would affect them. In addition to private property owners who rely on septic systems, environmental groups, several state agencies, local health departments and environmental health administrators, local government officials, homebuilders, realtors, scientists, septic system waste haulers, and others all need to come to the table.

Doing so is an imperative. Presenters at last week’s Septic Summit underscored how failing systems are contaminating groundwater and surface water with microorganisms that sicken those who drink from or swim in the affected waters.  Because households with septic systems use the same household hazardous materials that other households do, toxic contaminants are also entering waters from failing systems.

There is hope, however. The summit underscored a growing resolve in the state to do something meaningful about septic system pollution. Historically, when Michigan’s various interests have come together in good faith to solve an environmental problem, they have succeeded. FLOW will be following up with Septic Summit attendees to share information, support educational efforts elsewhere in Michigan, and work with allies to craft a state legislative solution.

It will no doubt take time to reach consensus on what needs to be done, but there is no doubt something needs to be done. For Michigan’s environment and human health, we cannot afford further inaction on a statewide uniform sanitary code.

Dave Dempsey is FLOW’s senior policy adviser.

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

FLOW Welcomes Development Director Diane Dupuis and New Board Members Brett Fessell and Douglas Jester

FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, is excited to announce the growth of our staff and board of directors.

Diane Dupuis has joined FLOW’s team as our new Development Director. Diane is working to connect FLOW with supporters and resources that propel our work to safeguard the Great Lakes for all of us.

“Like many lifelong Michiganders, as well as those who embrace Michigan later in life, I feel a fundamental connection to our waters, and, along with that, believe we all share a responsibility to protect and preserve this precious asset,” Diane said. “FLOW is the right place for me to roll up my sleeves and live my values, inspired every day amidst a landscape defined by water.”

Diane’s work in the nonprofit sector has included 10 years serving Interlochen Center for the Arts in communications and fund development roles, fundraising for two land conservancies in Michigan, and serving as campaign director for the Ann Arbor Art Center. Her past volunteer affiliations include Pathfinder School, Parallel 45 Theatre, Michigan Writers, and Washtenaw Literacy; she now serves as Vice Chair of Michigan Audubon.

“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Diane to the FLOW team,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “Diane brings a wealth of professional knowledge and a deep commitment and connection to the Great Lakes, and is a pure joy. She is already growing our connections to others who are passionate about protecting our fresh water.”

A fun fact about Diane is that, to mark certain sentimental milestones, her family makes a point of swimming together in all five Great Lakes in deliberate succession.

FLOW also is pleased to welcome Brett Fessell and Douglas Jester to our Board of Directors.

Brett Fessell is the River Restoration Ecologist at the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. With degrees in fisheries, his work over decades has ranged from negotiating tribal treaty rights to watershed restoration. Although forged in formal Western science-based education and technical training, his career was truly honed and tempered through immersion within the intricate Indigenous perspectives of the natural world.

Douglas Jester is a partner at 5 Lakes Energy and specializes in utility regulation and energy policy, research, and modeling. Prior to joining 5 Lakes Energy, Doug served as senior energy policy advisor at the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth, where he applied scientific, engineering, and economic principles to the formation and adoption of energy policies for the state of Michigan.

“By tapping Brett Fessell’s expertise in freshwater ecology and river restoration and Douglas Jester’s facility for systems thinking and sparking clean-energy solutions,” said Kirkwood, “FLOW’s Board of Directors is well positioned to guide us through 2020 and the critical period ahead as climate change influences the quality and quantity of freshwater in the Great Lakes Basin and beyond and threatens our economy and very way of life.”

Michigan Septic Summit Draws Packed Crowd to Traverse City

Above: Nature Change’s Joe VanderMeulen and FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood welcome attendees to the Michigan Septic Summit on Nov. 6, 2019, at Northwestern Michigan College’s Hagerty Center in Traverse City. All photos by Rick Kane.


We really didn’t know what the level of public interest would be when FLOW started working with Joe VanderMeulen of Nature Change—as well as a variety of expert presenters, co-sponsors, and community partners—to develop a day-long summit devoted to Michigan’s septic dilemma.

Would people show up for a whole day to talk about old and failing septic systems? And sit still through an intestinal-bacteria presentation during lunch? Was our estimate of 150 registrants realistic?

Those questions were answered with a resounding “yes” on Wednesday, at our first-ever Michigan Septic Summit, which overflowed with more than 160 attendees and interest in:

  • Exploring the latest septic system research on the human health and environmental risks,
  • Learning about local and regional programs and regulations adopted in response to surface water and groundwater quality threats, and
  • Fostering dialogue toward more effective and geographically extensive efforts to reduce risks from septic system waste.

More than 160 people from around Michigan turned out and tuned in to presentations, panel discussions, and peer-to-peer conversations around regulating Michigan’s septic waste.

 

On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that delved into septic tanks, Michiganders demonstrated we care about public health and water that’s safe for drinking, bathing, swimming, fishing, boating, and beachcombing. We care about finding equitable solutions to one of humankind’s oldest problems in communal living—disposing of human waste safely in Michigan, the only state that lacks a uniform sanitary code requiring periodic inspection and maintenance of septic systems—even though 30% of Michiganders rely on such systems.

The results of unregulated septic waste are devastating to Michigan surface water and groundwater. An estimated 130,000 septic systems in the state are failing, releasing 5.2 billion gallons of sewage annually into Michigan waters. Numerous Michigan rivers and lakes have detectable levels of fecal bacteria. Groundwater, too, is contaminated by septic wastes. And conventional household waste isn’t the only thing polluting our waters. Emerging contaminants like pharmaceutical residues and endocrine disruptors are also found in household wastes. Little monitoring is done to identify these substances in groundwater.

Some of the many highlights of the Michigan Septic Summit, which was streamed live by Traverse Area Community Media and available to watch now on Facebook, include:

Scott Kendzierski,  Director of Environmental Health Services at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, in his presentation on “Construction and Maintenance of Septic Systems,” identified an emerging issue in septic management: the seasonal rental scenario, in which a three-bedroom home with a septic system designed and permitted in the 1970s for perhaps six occupants is now accommodating more than three times that many people as vacationers, overtaxing an aging or possibly failed system.

Scott Kendzierski presents at the Michigan Septic Summit on construction and maintenance of old and new septic systems in Michigan.

A slide from the presentation by Scott Kendzierski at the Michigan Septic Summit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Mark Borchardt, a research microbiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Marshfield, Wisconsin, detailed a fascinating story of forensic detection in the case of disease outbreak in a Wisconsin restaurant with a new septic system that failed and contaminated the restaurant’s well and customers.

An audience member asked Borchardt about how high water levels affect septic-system effectiveness in deterring the spread of pathogens. He responded that ideally a system would put maximum distance between a septic drainfield and groundwater level; the higher the water table, the shorter the distance for microbes to travel from wastewater to drinking and surface water.

Jon Beard of Public Sector Consultants, a non-partisan public policy firm in Lansing, revealed perhaps the worst canine job in the world: Source-tracking bacterial contamination. He also shared a startling mid-Michigan survey result: 30% of residents with a septic system did not know they had one. And even more alarmingly, later presenters judged this figure to be too low.

A Michigan Septic Summit participant ponders suggestions from attendees regarding potential solutions for Michigan’s poorly regulated, old and failing septic systems.

Afternoon panels increased our understanding of the complexities facing local communities, all of which are united in the desire to protect groundwater from contamination. Rob Karner, watershed biologist at the Glen Lakes Association in Leelanau County, offered, “I have yet to find anybody who says, ‘I want to pollute the water. I want to drink contaminated water.’ It all comes down to this: Loving the water.”

FLOW’s Executive Director Liz Kirkwood echoed, “We’re having these conversations because we love the Great Lakes. Michigan is the Great Lakes State, and despite our infrastructure crisis, Michiganders really care about clean water. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, we’re here because we love these waters.”

In reflecting on the success of the Septic Summit, FLOW’s founder and famed environmental attorney Jim Olson, summed up the summit this way: “The need to come together never ends. A conference on an important matter concerning our water and the common good goes beyond the adoption of a particular septic system law or code.”

“It brings together a wide spectrum of people, diverse speakers with diverse backgrounds and something to say, and demonstrates the value of education, bringing people together—people who not only care about groundwater and the tens of thousands of failing septic systems, but also about the world and the water, environment, and quality of life in which they live,” Olson said. “I drove home in wonder over the conference and the inspiring feeling from being in a room of people who authentically care, share, and listen at a critical time for our communities and the world.”

FLOW’s Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey facilitates the Michigan Septic Summit’s closing panel discussing, Where Do We Go from Here?

 

You can view the entire slide show here.

What’s next in the wake of the Septic Summit? Stay tuned as FLOW and allies from around the state, including Michigan Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, and many others, intend to support more local and regional education and build backing for legislative action to develop and pass a statewide septic code.


The Multifaceted Benefits of Regulation for the Economy and Environment

Report author Skip Pruss

By Skip Pruss

This article is excerpted from the third 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 third policy brief, “Resetting Expectations: The Multifaceted Benefits of Regulation for the Economy and Environment,” is available here to read or download.

Pruss’ first policy brief in the series, “Resetting Expectations: Government’s Role in Protecting Human Health and the Environment,” is available here in executive summary and in full.

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 brief in early December.)

FLOW convened an environmental economics public listening session on Nov. 13 in Traverse City and will hold a second one on Dec. 5 in Grand Rapids.


Common to the understanding of economic conservatives is the notion that government regulations interfere with “free markets,” serve as a brake on economic activity, and stifle innovation and competition. The term “regulation” itself suggests to many burdensome “red tape” and unnecessary interference in the market economy.

The evidence proves quite the opposite. Regulations, properly designed and implemented, can be a powerful force fostering innovation in product design, advanced materials, and manufacturing processes. Regulations can reduce manufacturing costs for industry and business, enhance competition, reduce business risks, and expand and create new markets for goods and services.

Environmental regulations, in particular, have created a huge global market for environmental technology, goods, and services. The result is not only marked improvement in the quality and vitality of ecological systems, but health benefits accruing to the public that are valued at trillions of dollars.

Environmental regulations can catalyze needed change in otherwise stagnant areas in business, agriculture, and government. The protection of the Great Lakes freshwater system is a case in point. Billions of dollars have been invested in the management of wastewater and stormwater through the creation of a network of sewers, drains, pipes. New integrated water management systems that include nature-based solutions are proving to be more protective, cost-effective, and sustainable then conventional systems.

Yet investment in superior “green infrastructure” is sorely lagging as both local government and the business community remain fixed on investing in conventional “grey infrastructure.” This paper provides a menu of possible regulatory interventions to address this problem.

Newly formed constituencies focused on policy innovation and educating community leaders on the value and benefits of enlightened water management practices are on the rise. Initiatives like “Our20 Communities,” the Great Lakes Water One Partnership, and Water First all share a vision of aligning community values around a commitment to protecting water. 

Integration of the Public Trust Doctrine into local decision-making could, over time, imbue an ethic of enlightened water stewardship, creating a proactive culture to protect and safeguard commonly held resources.

Carrying on Governor Milliken’s Environmental Legacy

Gov. William G. Milliken, Traverse City’s native son and Michigan’s longest-serving governor, who passed away October 18 at age 97, left behind an important legacy of environmental protection, good governmental policy, and civility in public discourse.

As Michiganders, we’re deeply proud of Gov. Milliken and mourn his passing, too. FLOW senior policy adviser Dave Dempsey, who wrote Gov. Milliken’s biography, knew him and his wife Helen well, and authored this remembrance.

After he left office, Milliken summarized his environmental values: “In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”

It is the responsibility of FLOW and other environmental stewards to take up Gov. Milliken’s torch and carry it forward. We must preserve our Great Lakes, wetlands, and drinking water held in public trust for all of us, and stop polluters from soiling these most precious resources—which represents 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. We will help carry that torch both with honor and humility.

You can learn more about Gov. Milliken’s life in the family tribute posted here.  FLOW gratefully acknowledges the Milliken family’s suggestion that memorial donations in Governor William G. Milliken’s name be made to FLOW and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. We will carry on the Milliken legacy of environmental stewardship and hope for the future.

To donate to FLOW in honor of Gov. Milliken, please click on our Donate page, fill out all required fields, and write “Governor Milliken” in the bottom field. Thank you.

Remembering Governor William Milliken, Protector of Michigan’s Environmental Soul

By Dave Dempsey

Michigan has many magnificent natural features, but none is quite like Hartwick Pines. A small remnant of the great white pine forest that spanned millions of acres of Michigan before the European arrival, the 49 acres at the heart of Hartwick Pines contain trees as tall as 160 feet and as old as 400 years. When, in 1992, a storm mortally wounded the tallest and largest of the primeval trees, known as the Monarch, it generated news headlines.

Another great tree has fallen. On Friday, October 18, former Governor William G. Milliken passed away at age 97 in Traverse City. The longest-serving governor in the history of Michigan, Milliken distinguished himself in numerous other ways, several of which seem especially important today. 

Former Vermont Governor Richard Snelling in 1982 suggested that Milliken “will surely be recorded in history as one of the nation’s great governors.” The day after Milliken’s passing, the Traverse City Record-Eagle wrote in an editorial that, “We cherish our governor … for his most precious quality: his innate ability to set aside party, politics and partisanship for the good of all Michiganders”.

Perhaps the Governor’s most lasting policy legacy is the framework of environmental laws that came into being during his 14 years in office, from 1969 to 1982. It was a case of the right person at the right time. As public consciousness of a century of environmental neglect and abuse peaked, and a clamor for a new approach grew to a crescendo, Governor Milliken took the initiative to propose or support, and ultimately sign into law the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Wetland Protection Act, the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act, the Sand Dune Management and Protection Act, and many more. When the Legislature deadlocked on a proposed recycling deposit on beer and soda containers, he helped lead a citizen initiative to put the proposed law on the ballot. Voters approved it by a two-to-one margin in 1976.

Even in the 1970s, the decade of the first Earth Day, it wasn’t always politically easy to push for a cleaner environment. When scientists identified phosphorus laundry soaps as a major contributor to the algae blooms in western Lake Erie and elsewhere, the proposed remedy was a strict limitation on phosphorus content. Major Republican contributors strongly opposed the change, but Milliken defied them and took aggressive action to bring it into effect. Within only several years phosphorus discharges from wastewater treatment plants plummeted and Lake Erie began to recover.

Another important part of the Milliken record was his concern for the state’s great cities, including Detroit, which was deeply distressed during the 1970s. Working with Democratic Mayor Coleman Young, he invested state and federal resources in the city and won political support unusual for a Republican in the city. Today Milliken’s name crowns Michigan’s first urban state park on the Detroit waterfront.

Milliken’s regard for Michigan’s environment began early. His Traverse City upbringing (and a cottage in nearby Acme) acquainted him with woods and waters. Among his earliest memories were outdoor outings and swimming in Grand Traverse Bay. Deeply rooted in his home community, he frequently returned on weekends to his house on the bay while governor, finding peace and renewal.

But the Governor’s environmental record and values are not his only legacy. His style of governance—shunning the extremes, looking for solutions on which diverse interests could compromise for the public good—was the ultimate trademark of his service. In a time of divided government, when Democrats largely controlled the Legislature, he was able to enact his program through negotiation and cooperation.

Governor Milliken did not demonize his opponents. Public name-calling was foreign to him. And his civility worked. He remained in office longer than any other governor of Michigan in part because voters trusted him to do the right thing.

In researching and writing Governor Milliken’s biography, William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate, I was honored to spend many hours with him and his wife Helen Milliken, a major historical figure in her own right. They were in person as they were in public—unfailingly gracious, kind, and reflective. There was nothing false or inauthentic about them.

Bill and Helen Milliken

In our time together, both Millikens spoke repeatedly of their appreciation of Michigan’s beauty and the need to continue fighting to protect it. It should not be forgotten that it was Helen Milliken who alerted her husband to the controversy over oil development in the wilds of the Pigeon River Country State Forest, and urged him to take a stand in favor of the forest’s conservation. She was a major influence on his environmental policies.

After he left office, he famously summarized his environmental values: “In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather, it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”

A part of Michigan’s soul passed from the scene last week, but thanks to Governor Milliken’s work, our soul will renew itself for generations to come.

Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy adviser, wrote the award-winning biography William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

A memorial service for Governor Milliken will be held in May 2020. The Milliken family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory and in support of his environmental legacy be made to FLOW and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

FLOW and Partners Hosting “Michigan Septic Summit” on November 6 in Traverse City

FLOW and several local and statewide partners will host the Michigan Septic Summit on Wednesday, November 6, at the Hagerty Conference Center in Traverse City. The public event aims to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic pollution. The one-day conference runs from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and costs $25 in advance (including lunch) or $30 at the door. Click here to register.

Click here for the summit’s agenda.

Septic summit attendees will explore emerging research on the human health and environmental risks presented by old and failing septic systems in Michigan, learn about local and regional programs and regulations adopted in response to surface water and groundwater quality threats, and foster dialogue toward more effective and geographically extensive efforts to reduce risks from septic system waste.

Speakers will include FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood; Nature Change publisher Joe VanderMeulen; Scott Kendzierski, director of Environmental Health Services at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan; Mark Borchardt, microbiologist and researcher at the U.S.D.A. Agriculture Research Service in Marshfield, Wis., and others.  

“Our wastewater can seem invisible being out of sight and therefore out of mind,” said Kirkwood. “But dealing with our septic issues is paramount in Michigan. This is the Great Lakes state. Whenever we flush, we run the risk of polluting our precious waters if we don’t adopt smart septic regulations.”

An estimated 130,000 septic systems in Michigan may be failing, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. In many cases, that means sewage and associated microorganisms are reaching groundwater, lakes, and streams. Yet Michigan is the only state in the nation that lacks a statewide sanitary code requiring regular inspection and maintenance of domestic septic systems.

Some counties, townships, cities, and villages are enacting local ordinances in place of statewide requirements. Others, like Kalkaska County, repealed their point-of-sale ordinance last month. In Leelanau County, the Board of Commissioners has failed to adopt a point-of-sale ordinance despite support from groups like Leelanau Clean Water and the riparian Glen Lake Association.

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

Michigan Septic Summit co-sponsors include the League of Women Voters Grand Traverse Area, League of Women Voters Leelanau County, Michigan Environmental Council, Nature Change, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and Traverse Area Association of Realtors. Promoters include Au Sable Institute, Clean Water Action, Leelanau Clean Water, Michigan Resource Stewards, and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.

Hot Off the Presses: Keeping Water Public and the World from Burning

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

I just finished immersing myself in global public-water activist Maude Barlow’s incisive new book, Whose Water Is It Anyway?: Taking Water Protection into Public Hands (ECW Press, 2019).  Thanks to Maude and the publisher, I received an advance copy a few weeks ago on the promise of a book review, which remains a work-in-progress for next week.

But first, I couldn’t wait to share this article about the Vancouver Writers Fest and its feted authors Barlow, Canada’s leading world water leader, activist, and author of 19 books, and, then, Naomi Klein, equally visionary environmental, climate change, and green activist and writer.

Why my urgency to spread this coverage? Because the Vancouver Writers Fest has captured  the urgency of the moment due to the changing climate and its implications for the future control of, and human right to, water.

It is notable that the famed fiction writers’ conference has elevated these two nonfiction writers, whose works herald the citizens of the world to leave the past, become fearlessly engaged in life, not accumulation and consumerism, and halt the privatization of the world’s water.

Those of you who follow FLOW’s Facebook page understand that water is public and held in trust for the benefit of citizens, that privatization is not only morally wrong, but also that when it comes to our public water, schemes to privatize water are, and should be declared, legally and constitutionally prohibited.

Thanks to Maude Barlow, Meera Karunananthan, Emma Lui at the Council of Canadians, the Blue Planet Project, the World Social Forum, and the dedication of so many other individuals and organizations, the United Nations in 2010 declared in successive resolutions that water is a human right. Barlow tells this quiet, heroic story in her new, Whose Water Is It Anyway? It’s a story that should be read by everyone who cares about liberty, dignity, harmony, and the common good of people and planet.

But the deeper, highly readable story she tells is of her own personal journey, and those of others, in a fierce dedication against private control of water on the planet—privatization—everywhere in now in ways both commonplace (for example, Nestlé’s extraction of public groundwater and spring water for billions of dollars in bottled water profit) and extraordinary (e.g. Bechtel’s attempted takeover of Bolivia’s water).

Then there is Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (Simon and Schuster, 2019), a book that calls on all of us to step into the future now, by giving up rampant material consumerism that is killing the planet, and lighting the fire of a movement that turns on-end our gorging ourselves on the planet and each other—a movement in which we turn to each other and what is good for the planet. 

Preachy? Not really. I’d call it a practical, common sense call to action for all of us to join in the creation by FLOW and the Council of Canadians of “Blue Communities”  that put water first as if our lives depended on it: Good for all of us, especially children and grandchildren everywhere who will be facing the turmoil and dangers of an over-heating planet in 30 years from now.

So, read the article, and, yes, pick up a copy of these two books! Then take action, because these two authors help show the way. And dive into FLOW’s website for further insight and guidance on how to keep public water in public hands, and steep yourself in FLOW’s mission to defeat privatization and protect water as a commons through the public trust doctrine.