Water, Food, Energy, Climate Change Nexus

Prioritizing Great Lakes Protection in Key Discussions about Our Shared Future

The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the earth’s fresh surface water. More than 35 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, jobs, and a way of life. Yet all too often protecting our water is not part of the equation when leaders make key decisions about our energy choices, food systems, and climate security.

Citizens and leaders alike are searching for viable long-term policies and principles that improve and protect these waters, particularly as the demand for water for drinking, growing food, and generating energy is expected to double worldwide by 2050.

FLOW is elevating water as a key consideration in the decisions and plans that communities, states, provinces, and the private sector make concerning energy, food, and climate resilience in the Great Lakes Basin. We believe current and future leaders will make smarter plans and investments in energy supplies, transportation and land use, climate resilience, and environmental protection when water frames the conversation and is protected as a shared resource.

Boats going through an algae bloom on Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio.

Widespread blooms of toxic algae from agricultural and municipal phosphorous runoff into Lake Erie left 400,000 people without clean water.

For a real-life lesson about what happens when water is not part of the discussion, recall Toledo, Ohio, in the the summer of 2014, when widespread blooms of toxic algae from agricultural and municipal phosphorous runoff into Lake Erie left 400,000 people without water for drinking, cooking, or bathing.

Poor urban planning and weak farm regulation failed to consider and protect the freshwater supply, while starkly revealing the limits of our legal framework to deal with pollution from “nonpoint” or diffuse sources.


Advocacy and Education That is Making a Difference

FLOW’s strategy is to share these ideas of the commons and water as the nexus among energy, food, and climate change decisions with citizens, business leaders, and officials through policy papers, presentations, conferences, and curricula. In a short time, our approach has started to penetrate; for example, some of our recent successes include:

  1. Local Environmental Protection: Persuading the International Joint Commission to adopt our public trust legal framework as one of its 16 final recommendations to address Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms.

  2. Education Reform: Partnering with the Freshwater Studies Institute at Northwestern Michigan College to offer a first-of-its-kind freshwater policy curriculum as part of the school’s science program. We aim to inspire and shape the critical thinking of the next generation of leaders regarding the defining role of the commons and public trust principles in natural resource management and water as the nexus in guiding energy-food-climate change decisions and policies.

  3. National Environmental Protection: Convincing the International Joint Commission to recommend that "states and provinces consider developing, harmonizing, and implementing a binational public trust framework as a backstop to the Agreement and Compact” protecting the Great Lakes.



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