You probably don’t know it, but through next Sunday, Michigan is observing Great Lakes and Freshwater Awareness Week.
It’s certainly appropriate. Michigan has an astounding array of waters. As Governor Whitmer said in her proclamation, “during this week, we encourage Michiganders to learn more about the unique wonders of our Great Lakes and freshwater resources that are vital to Michigan’s future.”
FLOW likes to stress one Great Lakes and freshwater statistic not mentioned in the Governor’s proclamation: Michigan’s boundaries encompass more than 38,000 square miles of Great Lakes surface water, and the lakebed beneath them.
Why is this important? Obviously, size is one reason. Michigan has more land under those 38,000 square miles of Great Lakes waters than the land some states (like Indiana) have above water – that is, the whole state of Indiana could fit beneath our Great Lakes waters. If you count above-water land alone, Michigan is the 22nd largest state, but add in Michigan’s lakebed and we are the 11th largest state.
The other reason this is important is that these 38,000-plus square miles of water and land beneath it are a public trust – owned by no private party and belonging to all of us who constitute the public. FLOW’s central organizing principle is the public trust doctrine, which stresses the duty of the government to protect that endowment as a trustee on behalf of the people of Michigan.
In fact, you could call those Great Lakes waters and submerged land a vast public park, available to any person for sustainable uses like boating, swimming, fishing, and drinking. FLOW has proposed that the Legislature and Governor designate our Great Lakes land lakebed as the largest state park in the country.
Whether or not they do, this public trust deserves our awareness – and protection.
- The Great Lakes that surround us contain approximately 20 percent of the world’s available surface fresh water.
- Lake Superior alone has approximately 10 percent of the world’s available surface fresh water.
- Michigan has 11,000 inland lakes.
- Michigan has more than 36,000 miles of rivers and streams.
- Michigan has 6.5 million acres of wetlands.
- Groundwater supplies 45 percent of Michigan’s population with drinking water.
- Michigan has 1,233 public beaches.