Tag: Circle of Blue

Holiday Thoughts on the Paris Climate Change Agreement: A Christmas Gift of Hope and Reality

By Jim Olson, President

FLOW (For Love of Water)


We can be thankful that nations of the world have opened the door to the foyer to address climate change. Most encouraging is the senses of cooperation to protect this home we call earth.

The other end of the promise and hope of the Paris accord is the reality that the thick tail of climate change has been rampaging and will continue to do so, erasing soil, melting glaciers, flooding and erasing people, landscapes and communities from the face of the earth.

Keith Schneider, NY Times journalist and senior editor at Circle of Blue, once again, in his true to form visionary hard-core journalism, lays bare this reality in his article in the New York Times. The whipsawing swing of climate has, is, and will strike hard. In the midst of humanity’s hope, so the message is clear: We must face reality, start the change, start finding and living the new renewable life, move toward inevitable near fossil-fuel free economies and lives, and we must do so as fast as possible to shift to the inevitable renewable energy economy.

Many places and people need this, we owe it to them as co-citizens.  We owe it to ourselves and our children, and the unborn children to come.  Earth is our common home — as Pope Francis puts it in his encyclical on climate and sustainable environment and communities. And, in the middle of this change, there is another shift, one that is based in ancient and modern principles — the commons of this world — air, water, soil, species, life itself, and the liberty of humans, depend on understanding and respecting this commons.  To do this, we must view and manage these as held in trust, a public trust, one that brings us to an ethical and legally implemented framework that manages and passes on these commons by maintaining or restoring a sustainable integrity of air, water, soil, species, including we sapiens, for centuries to come.

If we can shift to seeing our individual goals, dreams, needs as dependent on and fostered by the commons, we can solve these threats with incredible resilience, creativity, cooperation and entrepreneurship. But we must start this shift in paradigm to a comprehensive, unifying principle of commons and public trust now – in 2016– to guide our decisions, force the right decisions that if not made trespass on and impair the commons in violation of this trust, so that we truly solve these threats at the level of the problem. If we do this, the gift this Christmas may be the protection of liberty and dignity and survival that depend on this, a gift of reality that encourages us to change along the lines of both the hope and reality of climate change and our future.

Waukesha Presses First Test of Great Lakes Water Compact

Click here to read the article on circleofblue.org

By Kaye LaFond

July 9, 2014

WAUKESHA, WI — There was a time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when this southeast Wisconsin town was known throughout the Great Lakes Basin for its ample supplies of pure water. The aquifers underlying the forests and meadows served up water of such taste and compelling clarity that local spas marketed the health restoring qualities to city dwellers in nearby Milwaukee and Chicago.

A century later Waukesha is a much bigger city and its water supplies are again attracting considerable attention from its Great Lakes neighbors.

After decades of suburban and industrial growth Waukesha’s deep groundwater aquifers are contaminated and becoming exhausted. Almost a year ago, in October 2013, the city of nearly 71,000 residents formally proposed to fix its groundwater water supply problem by tapping surface water from Lake Michigan provided by the water treatment plant in Oak Creek, another Milwaukee suburb, 31 miles to the east.

The amount of water that Waukesha is ready to buy and have transported in a pipeline is 10.1 million gallons a day, or 1 millionth of 1 percent of the total supply of water in the Great Lakes, according to city figures. But that seemingly trivial withdrawal has stirred a legal, environmental, and potential diplomatic tempest in the Great Lakes Basin. The reason: In seeking water from Lake Michigan, Waukesha’s proposal has become the first formal test of the water diversion rules under the 2008 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

The agreement involving eight states, two Canadian provinces, and two federal governments banned diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes watershed. But the compact included an exception for cities within counties that straddled the watershed boundary. One of those cities is Waukesha, which lies within the Mississippi River Basin; about 1.5 miles west of the Great Lakes watershed divide.

Dan Duchniak, the general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, is well aware of the precedent his city may be setting. But Waukesha’s options, he asserts, are limited. “If the application for Great Lakes water would be rejected in full or in part,” Duchniak says, “the city would need to move to one of its alternatives, which would be a combination of two of three sources described in our application: shallow wells; deep wells; or river bank inducement [wells along the Fox River].”

Waukesha, Wisconsin sits just a few miles west of the Great Lakes watershed border. Because Waukesha County lies partially within the basin, the City of Waukesha has the right to apply to purchase Lake Michigan water from the city of Oak Creek.

Dave Dempsey, a long-time environmental advocate and the award-winning author of “Great Lakes for Sale,” argues that Waukesha’s application doesn’t meet the requirements for exceptions provided in the Great Lakes Compact. The amount of water Waukesha seeks is 45 percent more than it uses now and is designed to allow the city’s sprawling growth pattern to expand.

“Waukesha’s proposal goes beyond what is needed to address legitimate public health concerns,” Dempsey says. “If approved, it will set an unfortunate precedent for implementation of the compact. Great Lakes diversions for urban sprawl could open the door for other diversion demands that could threaten the unity of the Great Lakes states.”

“If Waukesha is not required to downscale its proposal,” Dempsey adds, “the decision will signal that the region’s decision makers are not as serious as they need to be in conserving Great Lakes water.”

A Historic Water Agreement At Center of Continent

The Great Lakes Compact, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, is intended to protect the Great Lakes from what its authors called “overspending.” The agreement came in response to several proposals at the turn of the 21st century from international companies to ship Great Lakes water out of the basin in tankers and in bottles.

Under the compact, the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces agreed to adopt water conservation plans and to abide by strict rules for allowing and managing diversions of Great Lakes water. The compact recognizes the lakes as a shared resource, which no single state owns, but of which all states are stewards. A defining feature of the compact is its emphasis on using regional cooperation to manage the lakes as a single ecosystem.

The agreement’s primary provisions are aimed at minimizing the amount of Great Lakes water that is unnaturally diverted out of the Great Lakes basin, never to return to the lakes. There are limited exceptions for communities, like Waukesha, that straddle the basin boundary and may be allowed to divert water for public use if they 1) return unconsumed water to the basin after use, 2) show that the need for the diversion cannot be avoided through conservation and efficient use of existing water supplies, and 3) show that the diversion will not hurt water quality or quantity. Such diversions require the approval of all eight Great Lakes governors.

Case For Diversion

Waukesha is busy making its case for such a diversion. The city’s water supply relies mainly on wells which draw from aquifers deep underground. Over the past century, the level of the deep aquifer water table has dropped by about 500 feet and continues to drop at a rate of 5 feet to 9 feet annually.

Not only has the groundwater been depleted, it has become more and more affected by pollutants like salt and radium, which have dramatically increased in concentration. The city is under legal obligation to fall into compliance with federal radium standards by the year 2018.

Waukesha draws its water from deep wells that are becoming contaminated with salt and radium.

None of the city’s alternative water supplies are exactly ideal. While the use of shallow surface aquifers has been discussed, there are 4,000 acres of wetlands near the proposed shallow drilling area that may be harmed. Drawing from the Fox River also poses environmental issues. The method involves sucking water through the soil just adjacent to the river.

The city asserts that its best option is to purchase an annual average of 10.1 million gallons per day from Oak Creek, which lies within the Great Lakes basin and ultimately obtains its supply from Lake Michigan. That is 3.15 million gallons per day more than it currently uses.

In the documents justifying the diversion the city asserts that its population will grow to 97,400 by 2050, and it also needs to make provisions for supplying water to new industries. But water use by industrial companies, which reached 4.1 million gallons per day in 1980, has dropped to 900,000 gallons daily, a nearly 80 percent reduction, according to city reports.

Waukesha residents support the city’s application, which is being reviewed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Our new mayor was elected on a platform that included obtaining Great Lakes water for the water supply. He won receiving 62 percent of the vote,” says Duchniak. “Opposition to the water sale has primarily come from outside of the City.”

Jim Olson, a lawyer specializing in water law and founder of FLOW, a Great Lakes law and policy center in Traverse City, MI, is among the critics. “The reason for the exception for straddling communities was to meet their fundamental needs, not as an artifice to expand and grow other communities outside the basin,” Olson says. “The Great Lakes by Supreme Court law are held by the states, and under the compact, as a public trust for public trust purposes like boating, swimming, navigation, fishing and health or sustenance of those who live in the basin. This means the water can’t be transferred outside the basin as if it was a commodity for non-public trust purposes.”

Kaye LaFond, a recent graduate of Michigan Tech, is designing graphics and reporting this summer from Circle of Blue’s Traverse City office.

Virtual Townhall Webinar: A New Vision and Framework to Address Nutrient Pollution and Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie and Beyond

Click here to view and download the press release as a PDF

April 24, 2014


Contact: Liz Kirkwoood, Executive Director
231 944 1568 or liz@flowforwater.org

May 13 Virtual Townhall Webinar Convenes Top Experts on Nutrient Pollution

Panelists Discuss Harmful Algal Blooms on Great Lakes

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Registration is limited for the May 13 12pm ET webinar on Nutrient Pollution, Harmful Algal Blooms, and Dead Zones in the Great Lakes.

 A New Vision and Framework to Address Nutrient Pollution and Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie and Beyond

Join Dr. Don Scavia (University of Michigan), Dave Dempsey (International Joint Commission), Codi Yeager-Kozacek (Circle of Blue Correspondent), and Jim Olson (Founder, FLOW) for an interactive webinar discussion on nutrient pollution and resulting harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Great Lakes, and how the public and the states together can utilize the public trust doctrine framework as an added decision-making tool to address HABs in Lake Erie and beyond.

Date: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 12 – 1:30 pm EST


Dr. Don Scavia (University of Michigan) will set the stage and provide the scientific foundation and causation of phosphorus pollution and resulting HABs in Lake Erie.

  • Dave Dempsey (International Joint Commission) will describe the IJC’s most recent bi-national recommendations to tackle nutrient pollution in Lake Erie. 
  • Codi Yeager-Kozacek (Circle of Blue Correspondent) will share stories about agricultural practices and their impacts across the Lake Erie basin. 
  • Jim Olson (Founder, FLOW) will discuss the states’ roles in applying the public trust framework to set enforceable phosphorus limits and address nutrient pollution.

Moderated by Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, FLOW

Description: In 2011, Lake Erie experienced an unprecedented harmful algal bloom (HAB) that covered most of its western basin and created a “dead zone” the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The slimy green algae excrete toxins that result in closed beaches, threatened drinking water, and harmed fish and wildlife. The International Joint Commission (IJC) – the bilateral agency founded in 1909 to help manage the Great Lakes and boundary waters of the United States and Canada – just released its 2014 Lake Erie Environmental Priority (LEEP) Report. In the final LEEP report, the IJC encourages states and provinces in the Great Lakes Basin to apply the public trust as a framework for future policy decisions in order to prevent and minimize HABs in Lake Erie:

 “The governments of Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario should apply a public trust framework consisting of a set of important common law legal principles shared by both countries, as an added measure of protection for Lake Erie water quality; government should apply this framework as an added decision-making tool in policies, permitting and other proceedings…”

With the IJC’s invaluable recent support, the opportunity is ripe to utilize the public trust doctrine as a tool to address HABs in Lake Eerie and beyond. This webinar will inform participants on the root causes of HABs and the threats they present to ecosystems and communities of Lake Erie. After outlining the nature and scope of the problem, the webinar speakers will then discuss specific strategies for citizens and leaders to tackle HABs through the framework of the public trust doctrine. Participants will leave the webinar informed on nutrient pollution, HABs, and one of the most promising new strategies to eliminate them.

Registration: Space is limited to the first 100 registrants. Click here to register.

This is the third webinar of Council of Canadians’ Protect the Great Lakes Forever Virtual Townhalls.

Be sure to invite your friends, colleagues and family to this event!

Learn more about Council of Canadians’ Protect the Great Lakes Town Halls.

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FLOW is the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the Great Lakes.