Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of For Love of Water (FLOW), discusses the mission of FLOW to advance the public trust doctrine: the basic fundamental notion that public resources, such as water, belong to and are shared by the public.
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Amy Rotter: On today’s episode, we hear from Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, “For Love of Water.”
Liz Kirkwood: FLOW is really unique group here in the Great Lakes. It’s the only public trust policy center and educational group that is addressing the systemic threats in the Great Lakes. What that means is we are trying to advance the public trust doctrine, which is the basic, fundamental notion that public resources, like the waters, belong to, and are shared by, the public. And, it’s the duty of the state to protect the waters for the citizens and ensure that the waters themselves are not impaired. They also have a duty to ensure that protected public uses such as navigation, fishing, commerce, swimming, and ecological values are protected as well.
The public trust is an ancient doctrine that goes back to the Roman times, but it really pulls at all of our heartstrings, it’s that inherent sense that water cannot be privately owned, and it belongs to all of us. And that is a very important public right that we all have and it’s very empowering for citizens and governments and leaders to exercise as we face greater scarcity of waters and greater competition for those uses.
Guest Blogger and FLOW Board Member Emma Lui is the Water Campaign Director for the Council of Canadians. She shared her recent blog post with us about Maude Barlow’s speaking engagement in Rochester, NY.
I just got home from an incredible event in Rochester, New York, the fourth Great Lakes tour stop. Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians, has been touring around the Great Lakes speaking out about threats to the Great Lakes and what we need to do to stop them once and for all. We began the Great Lakes tour last year where we visited eight cities and continued the tour this year with events already in Duluth, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids.
Wayne Howard, Linda Isaacson Fedele, Kate Kremer and Peter Debes of Rochester Sierra Club, Eric and Jim Olson from FLOW for water along with the support of Cool Rochester, Monroe Community College and Rochester Institute of Technology, did an incredible job organizing an thought-provoking and inspiring event.
On Thursday night Maude gave a riveting talk to a captivated audience of 300 about the serious threats plaguing the Great Lakes including fracking, pollution, low water levels and inequitable extraction. Recognizing the amazing work that groups have been doing to protect the lakes for decades, she outlined a needed shift in decision and policy making around the Great Lakes and outlined a framework on how to effectively address the threats to Great Lakes, so we’re not simply fighting one fight after another.
Barlow addresses the audience in Rochester, NY
Maude put forward a vision of the Great Lakes that protects a community’s right to say ‘no’ to projects harmful to water sources, incorporates community input into decision making and prioritize communities’ rights to water over private interests. These ideas form the basis of the notion that the Great Lakes are a commons and public trust. The notion of the commons, a very old concept, states that certain resources – such and air and water – are shared resources which people within a community have the collective obligation to protect. The public trust doctrine outlines governments’ obligations to protect these shared resources for community use from private exploitation.
After Maude’s talk, she was joined by Jim Olson from FLOW, Roger Downs from Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and David Klein from the Nature Conservancy for an engaging panel discussion and to answer the audience’s questions. Jim Olson, an expert in the public trust doctrine, stressed that private rights cannot subordinate public rights.
Rochester was an important community to host a tour stop because of the water issues they’re facing. There are plans to ship fresh water by train from the region for fracking projects in Pennsylvania. Mountain Glacier, a subsidary of Nestle, is bottling water from Lake Hemlock as well as the municipality’s water. Similar to what happened in Niagara Falls, there is talk about the possibility of Monroe County, which Rochester is a part of, treating fracking wastewater.
New York anti-fracking activists share knowledge and ideas at the NY forum
Communities in New York state are incredibly active in the fight to protect water sources, public health and the environment against fracking. With approximately 200 municipal resolutions, New York state has by far the most resolutions on fracking in the US. Community groups and fracking coalitions have been successful in keeping a moratorium on fracking in New York state where delays in a health study are stalling Governor Cuomo’s already delayed decision on whether to lift or continue the moratorium. There have been recent calls for the environmental impact assessment to be scrapped because of Ecology and Environment and other consultations links to the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.
Yesterday morning Maude and Jim outlined the principles of the commons and public trust respectively and set the context for the day-long workshop where 50 engaged participants applied them to local issues. I gave short presentation of examples of our work on the commons and public trust. An ongoing case with Nestle, of which we’re parties to, is an exciting opportunity for the public trust doctrine to be recognized by the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal. I also talked about two municipal resolutions in Burnaby and Niagara-on-the-Lake that respectively recognize water as a commons and the Great Lakes are a shared commons and public trust.
I am heartened and inspired by the enthusiasm and openness of the people we met in Rochester to embrace the needed shift in the framework governing the Great Lakes, one that will rightfully prioritize the protection of the lakes above all else. With many governments failing to protect community watersheds, the commons and public trust principles are crucial to changing people’s relationships to water to one of responsibility and stewardship and holding our governments to account so they protect water sources for today’s and future generations. People within communities like Rochester are the catalysts for this change and it is them that I place my faith and hope that we will save the Great Lakes.
FLOW Staff to Issue Public Statement at Governor’s Energy Forum in Traverse City
Michigan’s Energy Plan Needs to Bring Water to the Center of the Conversation
For Immediate Release
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Governor Rick Snyder’s “Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions” Public Forum tour makes its seventh and final stop in Traverse City on Monday April 22, 2013. FLOW, a Traverse City-based nonprofit water policy and education center, has prepared written comments and will made public statements during next week’s forum that highlight the water-energy nexus as an integral part of charting Michigan’s energy future plans. Once water is elevated and integrated into the energy debate, the case for prioritizing renewable energies becomes clear. FLOW is a proponent for establishing and applying principles that unify and protect the integrity of the water cycle that flows through the “nexus” between energy production, water management, and climate change.
“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,” says FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. Energy production, particularly of non-renewable sources, depends heavily on water for resource extraction, refining and processing, transportation, and electric power generation. The International Energy Agency projects that the amount of water consumed for energy production will double by 2035. FLOW urges Michigan energy policy-makers to wean Michigan off water-intensive energy sources, such as coal-fired power plants and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. “The big issue with fracking is the water, both in sheer quantity (e.g., 300 million gallons to frack 13 wells in Kalkaska County) and in safe disposal of chemical-laden and often toxic wastewater that will never return to our hydrologic cycle,” remarks Kirkwood.
In addition to water consumption for energy generation, climate change is a major issue to address in the water-energy nexus, according to Attorney and FLOW Chair Jim Olson. “What we want the Governor’s office and our state’s decision-makers to realize is that Michigan’s current energy plan is much more expensive when the costs of climate change impacts on water resources are accounted for. Our dependence on fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change—the largest diversion of water from the Great Lakes—and the principle reason for current low water levels,” says Olson. Historic low water levels are costing taxpayers up to $21 million for emergency dredging this year. Super-storms, drought, increased evaporation, heavy precipitation, and precipitously falling water levels are all strong indicators that our fossil fuel and carbon-rich lifestyle and diet is no longer sustainable to assure the integrity and health of the waters of the Great Lakes.
The bottom line is that expanding Michigan’s renewable energy portfolio makes good sense because it good for jobs, good for the environment, good for energy affordability, and good for the water.
For more information: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, FLOW