FLOW President and Chair Jim Olson joins international water advocate Maude Barlow at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club’s 15th Annual Environmental Forum on March 25, 2013. To watch the video in full, click here.
As part of Earth Day today, I had the opportunity to submit FLOW’s memorandum to the Michigan Public Service Commission at the Governor’s “listening session” on future energy policy in Michigan. At FLOW we believe that by looking at the entire hydrological cycle as a basis for addressing systemic threats like climate change–the single largest human induced diversion from the Great Lakes–water and energy policy and actions are inseparable. More importantly, if energy policy is elevated to an obligation to protect the integrity of water, something the commons and public trust in water may well require, then our energy policy can better promote jobs and economic stability and growth and protect water and the environment. FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood also spoke at the forum to address the need to connect water to climate change, energy, and wasteful or inefficient and inequitable water consumption practices related to energy and food production, and other consumptive uses. You can read FLOW’s memorandum on the Energy and Water Nexus, along with the rest of our reports, on our policy center page. The text of our comments are below:
Statement by James M. Olson, Chair, FLOW
A Water and Energy “Nexus” Policy For Michigan
The “energy listening” sessions ordered by Governor Snyder to help Michigan fashion an energy policy are welcomed. However, at a time of a climate change crisis fired by coal and other greenhouse gases with severe and worsening impacts and costs, including increasing extreme low water levels, there is a disconnect between energy and Michigan’s most valuable common treasure – water and the great lakes. No energy policy in Michigan should omit the protection of the integrity of our water – both quality and quantity- as one of if not its central core principles.
There is a rapidly increasing demand for water world wide and strong probability that global demand will outstrip supply in just 30 years. If anything drives the point home for a 21st century policy that centers on a “nexus” between water and energy, it is the staggering cost to life, property and communities from storms like those experienced in the northeastern United States this past year. Add to this the lowest water reported water levels in the Great Lakes, and devastating future climate change entails for all of us and our children in this century, and it becomes quite evident that water and energy are inseparable. It is imperative that water is declared the core of our energy policy. If we honor and respect the integrity of water and our Great Lakes, we will find and follow a sound energy policy.
Because of the need to address water and energy together (as a “nexus),” Michigan must move forward with a multi-disciplined framework that requires application of “integrated resource planning” principles for evaluating energy policy and options. The same should be true for water policy. This would require a goal and planning effort that seeks the least costly energy services and goods with a full evaluation of all costs to water, the ecosystem, and our communities. Without “full cost” and integrated resource planning, Michigan’s energy policy and use will lead the state into an impoverishing downward spiral — economically, environmentally, and culturally. “Pure Michigan” and a sound sustainable economy and jobs mean pure air and pure water both in quality and quantity.
Therefore, it is my opinion, and I urge the governor, his advisors and staff, and the legislature to consider and adopt an energy policy that conforms to the integrity of water, the gravity of climate change, and a dynamic open mindedness that applies full cost evaluation and integrated resource policy. If we fail to do this, Michigan will fall into decline while other parts of North America and the world begin to prosper.
- Michigan sits in the middle of the most valuable water/ecosystem in the world. It is held in public trust so that it is protected from impairment and loss. The Great Lakes Compact and Water Quality Agreement of 2012 underscore this principle and enact a policy that these waters are held in trust and should not be diverted or loss by consumptive uses, and this requires a response to keep greenhouse gases in check.
- In one week, thermal electric power plants use (a net loss to great lakes) as much water as the Chicago Diversion. Energy costs are rising, water levels are falling, water is more essential than coal-fired or other fossil fueled power, including the extraction of equally water intensive fuels like fracturing deep shale for natural gas – deep shale fracturing will displace or remove approximately 21 million gallons in 21 days for just one gas well. Multiply this times the 1,000 wells we will see if this is not carefully considered and regulated, and it will result in a permanent loss of 21 billion gallons of water from fragile headwater areas.
- The only sound and secure goal for Michigan is to move quickly toward a renewable and efficient energy world. This will diversify, increase, and lower cost of energy supplies, reduce costly infrastructure, reduce toxic air and water impacts, and temper the effects of climate change, including our plummeting water levels. Equally important, it will set Michigan on a course to lead the nation and help the next generation create positive profitable investments, cheaper more appropriate power, new industries and jobs – batteries, solar, wind, and conservation. Michigan must enact a “greenhouse trust fund” for any so-called “bridge fuels” like natural gas so that the justification of such a water-intensive environmentally risky method of extraction will be assured by a conversion to a renewable energy economy.
Michigan and Michiganders are nothing without water. Any approach to energy without integrity of water as its core principle and without an immediate shift to renewable energy and efficiency will put Michigan in an economic and environmentally disastrous downward spiral. We owe to ourselves and children and grand children to put water and Community first. It is a matter of water and public trust. It is a matter of survival.
FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood’s Comments on the Water-Energy Nexus
My name is Liz Kirkwood and I’m the Executive Director of FLOW (“For Love Of Water”), which is a water policy and educational institute dedicated to understanding the threats and solutions to water in the Great Lakes by focusing on the nexus between water, energy, food, and climate change.
I want to thank Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman John D. Quackenbush and Michigan Energy Office Director Steve Bakkal for the opportunity to speech and address overall question 1: What information do energy policy makers need to consider in order to make good energy decisions?
Michigan faces a watershed moment and opportunity to chart a new cleaner energy course that is good for jobs, good for the environment, good for energy affordability, and good for the water.
To chart this new course, we first must recognize that our energy choices profoundly affect our water and cause serious climate change impacts.
Water and energy are inextricably linked. Water is used and lost in energy-resource extraction, refining and processing, transportation, and electric-power generation. And yet, because water is such a cheap commodity, it is rarely calculated and balanced in our energy decisions. Let’s change this so that the water-energy nexus become an integral part of charting Michigan’s energy future plans.
By 2035, the amount of water consumed for current energy production is projected to double. During this same time, there will be increasing water scarcity from pollution, waste, drought and human-induced climate change and impacts.
Given the clear interrelationship between energy, food, and water, we can no longer “silo” these sectors; rather we must improve decision-making with greater integration and collaboration between water resource management and energy production.
This calls for a new vision that recognizes the nexus between water, energy, food, and climate change. To make this shift, we must view water in a different light where water becomes the starting point for everything we do. Without water the health of our people, economy and ecosystem are diminished.
The recent U.S. natural gas industry shale boom has reignited attention on the water-energy-climate change nexus. The big issue with hydraulic fracking is the water, both in terms of sheer quantity (e.g., 300 million gallons to frack 13 wells in Kalkaska County) and safe disposal of chemical-laden and often toxic waste water that will never return to our hydrologic cycle. Before Michigan embraces natural gas as a “bridge” fuel, we must conduct a generic analysis of cumulative impacts on water, environment, and health that properly weighs the unprecedented risks that fracking poses to our precious water resources.
Additionally, Michigan’s coal-fired power plants are the state’s largest single source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, which are detrimentally contributing to climate change by increasing lake evaporation and causing our extreme low water levels in Lake Michigan-Huron.
In fact, we hit record low water levels in January of this year – 26 inches below average – according to data collected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since 1918. The water levels issue is at the heart of the Great Lakes’ and Michigan’s economy, energy and water needs, social fabric, quality of life, and environment. In March of this year, our Governor signed legislation providing $21 million in taxpayer emergency funds to dredge state harbors that are in danger of becoming impassable because of low water levels.
We cannot sit idle anymore; rather we must adapt our current fossil-fuel economy to one with low-carbon and low-water footprint. Water in effect must become the center of everything we do, such that shifting to renewables becomes the obvious energy choice and addresses the root causes of receding water levels so that we do not jeopardize our current and future way of life.
Michigan is already witnessing renewable energy sources like wind becoming more cost effective and affordable to our businesses and citizens than polluting traditional sources like coal and oil. Wind is at 4.5 cents/KWH as opposed to traditional blended energy sources at 7.6 cents/KWH. The benefits of renewable energy are clear: affordable, clean, stable rates, Michigan job generator, minimal water use, and protective of human health and the environment.
In addition, Michigan should promote energy efficiency and energy conservation in all sectors because it is the cheapest, cleanest, and most quickly deployed source of energy.
To chart this new course, Michigan must embrace its innovative manufacturing traditions and promote renewable energy sources to reduce pressure on water resources and limit adverse climate change impacts. We think Michigan can and should become a leader in renewable energy, and at a minimum compete with the neighboring states that currently generate 20%+ of renewable power with excellent reliability.
We urge the State of Michigan to think wisely about its future energy choices, pay for water consumed, and ensure that the long-term energy decisions are good for our water too. Once we chart this path, then we can proudly say we are living up to our motto: “Pure Michigan.”
Welcome to FLOW – Flow for Love of Water. Beginning today, with the launch and christening of our new website, I will host and write a new species for the “blog” world. In the conversation to come, I hope we will all get to the heart of the beauty, threats, and solutions that just might save the precious Great Lakes and their tributary waters — the entire hydrologic cycle — these gifts of nature and God, the Great Spirit. Fortuitously, previous generations have not yet killed these Great Lakes off. And its up to us and our children to make sure this doesn’t happen.
The threats facing the Great Lakes and its tributary waters, communities, businesses, governments loom large. The difference of the threats today compared to 40, 30 or even 20 years ago is that they are systemic, large, beyond borders and watershed. All of the permit and regulatory systems, government investments in preservation and restoration, and conservation protection from that first Earth Day in 1970 to date, are being overwhelmed by harms documented by science that undermine this incredible effort and investment. Climate change, with its increased intensity and shifting patterns is attributable to human conduct and behavior, has undeniably contributed to the lowest recorded water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron – a single system. Read our recent op-ed about Climate Change and Water Levels
Climate change is a diversion of water as much as any other, and the impacts to environment and economy are devastating, and will get much worse if we can not chart a new course for food, energy, and human use, transfers, diversions, waste of water. We’re finding out very fast that there is no “surplus” or “abundance” of water, not here or anywhere else. As a wise Michigan Supreme Court Justice once said in the late 1800s, “water is a wandering thing, of necessity a commons.” In other words, water has meaning in the watershed where it flows and supports the community, life, and endeavors that have evolved there.
Last week I had coffee with friend and Editor of Traverse Magazine, Jeff Smith, who out of his keen instinct and concern about the Great Lakes told me about the disappearance of the tiny shrimp diporeia that makes up a key link to the food chain and healthy fish populations in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Fish populations are already plummeting from invasive species, even without the Asian Carp, to the point where whitefish, trout and salmon are scrawny scales and bones.
There are lots of other systemic threats – nutrient run off, sewage overflows, nuclear waste shipments more toxic than the lakes could ever absorb, a disconnect between energy consumption and policy, including the fracking craze which to date is moving faster than the information needed to assure local watersheds and communities are not sacrificed, or that global climate change with even more evaporation may be exacerbated if not handled correctly.
So this brings me back to FLOW, why this webpage, and why this first page invites you to interact with us to explore and understand these many threats, and how to adapt, become resilient through foresight, and find solutions. Since that Saturday in May 2011, when a conference on “Threats and Solutions” for the Great Lakes was winding down on Northwestern Michigan College’s Traverse City campus, a new idea, one that would force us to look at threats to the planet and humanity, like those facing the Great Lakes, emerged: We need a new paradigm or framework that goes beyond, but compliments, protects like an umbrella the time and investment to protect our quality of life and better assure prosperity for all living creatures.
What we have discovered at FLOW is this: The systemic threats to the Great Lakes present a rare, although unprecedented, challenge to all of us. If we can understand these threats as a whole, that is holistically, through science, data, values, and new frameworks, we may find a unifying principle that integrates the science, policy, law and economics into a comprehensive way of thinking and making decisions that will assure solutions, adaptation, and resilience that protect and pass on the integrity of these Great Lakes and their people from one generation to the next, thereby also assuring our quality of life and prosperity and communities.
And what we have identified is this: The Great Lakes are part of a larger water cycle that is inseparable from the air, soil, and surface or groundwater by or through which it flows. The Great Lakes have been declared and protected by a public trust since 1892 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared these inland sees public, held by states in trust for citizens in perpetuity, so they cannot be alienated, abused, or materially impaired from one generation to the next. All eight Great Lakes and Canadian provinces recognize this right of public use for boating, swimming, fishing, recreation, commerce, and survival. So if we understand, learn about, and apply this public trust as a fundamental umbrella principle, no matter what specific choices and decisions are made for this or that special benefit or at this risk or that cost, are made, the framework of water as public, a commons, and public trust principles will give us a way to make decisions that point toward a generational integrity and protection of that which is part of and dear to us all.
Just this afternoon at the office we were half-joking about the new 3-D printer technology, where something can be manufactured or made from a printer, like the coffee cup in my hand. And it occurred to us, some things that just can’t be duplicated – not the diporeia shrimp or the larger commons that we know as the Great Lakes, smack in the heart of North America.
In the years ahead, we hope to be a small part of a new framework, way of seeing and solving the threats and problems we face, one that is based on time-tested principles like those in the bod of law known as “public trust.” We welcome your participation and hope you join us in whatever way you can.
Finally, I want to end this first post with a number of acknowledgements, too many to list here, but we thank everyone of you who has supported and worked to bring FLOW to this threshold. Thank ou to our fine Board of Directors, some of our chief fans and advisors, Maude Barlow, Wenonah Hauter, Irena Salina and Steve Star – director and producer of the film “FLOW,” Sam Bosso of the film “Blue Gold,” Ted Curran, Denis Pierce, Mike Delp, Dave Dempsey, Carl Ganter, Keith Schneider, Hans Voss, Brian Beauchamp, Amy Kinney, Judy Cunningham and all of you at the Michigan Land Use Institute, Terry Swier and everyone at the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the lawyers and staff at Olson, Bzdok & Howard, Bob Otwell, Herrington-Fitch Foundation, Park Foundation, Skip Pruss, Rich Vanderveen, Ross Biederman, Judy Bosma, Linda Sommerville (and so many other event volunteers), and my brother Eric Olson, our organizational and media leader who has wrestled this webpage into existence, Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, and Ursula Johnson, our past communications head, and now Allison Voglesong, a media and communications whiz who comes to us from Circle of Blue, and our web designer Pro Web Marketing, and Chelsea Bay Dennis and Aaron Dennis.