By Malachi Barrett
May 24, 2014
Pure Michigan may not be as untainted as one would think.
Environmental advocacy policy organization For Love of Water spoke in front of an assembly of students and faculty members at Alma College recently on the dangers facing the Great Lakes and Michigan watershed.
Climate change, invasive species, polluting contaminants and nutrient runoff are just a few of the issues afflicting one of the most valuable natural resources in America.
The forum discussion was sponsored by students in an Alma College environmental communication course.
Students sponsored the event to facilitate the discussion of projects and issues that they studied over the spring term.
“It is a real pleasure to work with this generation to figure out what motivates people to be passionate about the most important issue, and that is water.” said Liz Kirkwood, FLOW executive director.
The main goal of FLOW is to build public awareness and educate decision makers to provide a framework for governance over the Great Lakes Basin so they are protected for future generations.
“We have a number of issues that are systematic and not easy fixes, one of the most important things that we do is education,” said Allison Voglesong, FLOW Communications Designer.
Kirkwood said FLOW’s understanding of Michigan’s relationship with water is defined by the public trust, an idea that the government is responsible to act as a trustee of water, much like a bank trust protects money, with citizens being the beneficiaries.
Because water is cyclical in nature, protection of surface water connects people to every part of hydrological cycle. The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.
“What happens here affects the Great Lakes, we supply the contaminants that go down and get into the Great Lakes,” said Alma Environmental Studies Professor Murray Borrello.
He cited fish in Lake Huron containing a fire retardant chemical only manufactured in St. Louis, Michigan. He also warned the audience of the dangers of overdrawing water from wells and agricultural waste produced that enters the Great Lakes Basin.
Most dangerous of all to the watershed is hydraulic fracking, a process that maximizes the output of natural gas and oil wells by pumping water and chemicals into formations deep into the ground. Building pressure fractures rock layers that release oil reserves to the surface, at the cost of irrecobly contaminating large amounts of water.
“The greatest danger to Michigan right now is fracking,” said writer Michael Delp. “It takes 22 millon gallons of water to frack a well in Michigan, and the water that they take back out of the ground is full of toxins.”
It is tough for the average person to judge what 22 million gallons of water looks like, so Delp made a conservative comparison to the amount of water dumped by Tahquamenon falls in ten minues. Fracking fluid is composed of 90 percent water by volume, but not even the most advanced filtration systems can remove the .5 percent of chemicals in the composition.
Delp is writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction who focuses on nature, especially rivers and lakes. He opened the forum with three poems in his character of the “Mad Angler” a persona used to take on a vengeful, uncomprimising stance against the destruction of natural habitats.
FLOW Founder Jim Olson steered the conversation towards legal action. He has been practicing environmental and water law for forty years and has been involved in a variety of state and federal court decisions protecting the public commons.
Olson spoke at length about the need to protect the public trust and keep waters out of the hands of individuals or corporations. He said America has strong public trust laws that have been used by the Supreme Court in the past, but they are often overlooked.
“The free markets wil not exist if theyr are owned by a few at the cost of the commons,” Olson said. “What we’re talking about is saving the markets through decentralization so that young people can be the entrepreneurs of renweable energy, new water techology, conservation, health; the things, ideas and connections we can make to do something about this.”
By Malachi Barrett, firstname.lastname@example.org @PolarBarrett