Tag: Dave Dempsey

A Modest Proposal: The Biggest State Park in America

When Michiganders want to point out where a specific location lies in the state, we often raise our hands and point at a spot somewhere on our palms.  Indeed, our identity is tied up in nicknames like The Mitten State.

But the legal boundaries of Michigan look nothing like a mitten or a hand. They are far broader, too.

Michigan includes over 38,000 square miles of Great Lakes surface area and underlying submerged lands.  These often-forgotten lands, when added to the Michigan land base above water, move Michigan from 22nd largest state to 11th. The 38,000 square miles of underwater land constitute more than one-third of the total area of Michigan and are larger than 11 states in the Union. Over water, Michigan borders not just Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, but also Minnesota and Illinois.

By virtue of the public trust doctrine, both the open waters of the Great Lakes and underlying submerged lands are held in trust by the State of Michigan on behalf of the people of Michigan. The title and ownership of these waters and underlying submerged lands vested in the State of Michigan on admission to the Union on January 26, 1837, to be held in trust for the benefit of its citizens.

The public trust doctrine confers an obligation on the State of Michigan, as trustee, to protect public ownership of these open waters and submerged lands and to protect public uses of them including swimming, boating, fishing, sustenance, drinking water, sanitation, and many others.

Great Lakes submerged lands contain significant historical, ecological, biological, geological and other features–everything from suspected ancient aboriginal hunting sites established when water levels were far lower, to lake bottom sinkholes that mimic the environment of the early Earth.

Great Lakes open waters and underlying submerged lands are a unique endowment belonging to the people of Michigan, unlike that of any other state, and should be a source of pride for all Michiganders. They should be even more than that. They should be declared a state park officially open to all, for enjoyment by all.

It is not a new idea. Legislators proposed an official state park designation for Michigan’s Great Lakes waters and submerged lands in 2007 and 2008. But the legislative clock ran out.

Designating Great Lakes water and submerged lands a state park will affect their use little if at all in the short run. There won’t be an entrance fee as exists at traditional state parks. But the park concept would open the door to education and awareness among Michigan residents of the beauty beneath the waters and the need to protect it. Michiganders would benefit from that.

It’s time to revive the idea. Talk about national notoriety–a new state park larger than the entire state of Indiana.

Progress and Hope for the Environment

Ten years to save the planet from climate change. PFAS, microplastics, and invasive species. Wetland destruction and failing, polluting septic systems.  Sometimes it seems as though the only environmental news is bad news.

Here’s an antidote, borne in a glass half-full.

Great Lakes Piping Plover

An endearing, small shorebird that nests on Great Lakes beaches, the piping plover is on the federal endangered species list.  Its preferred habitat is also a lure to people and their dogs.  But thanks to intensive recovery efforts by federal and state government officials and citizen volunteers, the population of Great Lakes piping plovers has rebounded from 13 nesting pairs in 1990 to approximately 65-70 nesting pairs today, and the outlook is favorable.

Protecting Wetlands

Wetlands are important because they filter water pollutants, store floodwaters, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.  Yet they were regarded as wastelands from the time Europeans arrived to the 20th Century.  Draining and filling cost Michigan 4.2 million acres of its original endowment of 10.7 million acres of wetlands.  But the passage in 1979 of Michigan’s wetland protection law has made a dramatic difference. It has sl

owed the rate of wetland loss to less than 2000 acres a year, from a former pace of tens of thousands of acres a year. Meanwhile, private groups are working to restore wetlands.

Michigan’s Recycling Rate Improving

For years, Michigan’s recycling rate was the lowest in the Great Lakes region.  But things are changing. Michigan has significantly improved its recycling rate from 14.25% prior to 2019 to 19.3%, based on an analysis released by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) earlier this year.  An EGLE survey found that Michiganders’ understanding of recycling best habits has increased in every corner of the state. The recycling rate translates to 110 pounds per capita each year.

Public Drinking Water

The twin lead-in-drinking water disasters in Flint and Benton Harbor have raised public doubts about the safety of community drinking water systems.  The good news is that community systems in Michigan and the Great Lakes region generally maintain a high degree of compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards. Of the 19.5 million U.S. residents served by public water supplies that rely on the Great Lakes as their source water, 99.1% had drinking water that met all applicable health-based standards in 2020. In the Province of Ontario, approximately 60% of the population is supplied with treated drinking water from the Great Lakes. In 2020, 99.8% of municipal residential treated drinking water quality tests met Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards.

Defending the Monarch Butterfly

The exquisite monarch butterfly is in trouble, but the Village of Elk Rapids has stepped up to do something about it, recently becoming the second Monarch City USA in Michigan. The designation commits the Village to several actions, including:

  • Converting abandoned lands to monarch habitat
  • Integrating monarch conservation into the Village’s future land use conservation
  • Working with garden clubs and citizens in planting milkweed and nectar gardens
  • Building sanctuary sites, installing signage and hosting an annual Monarch Butterfly Festival

The population of migratory Eastern monarchs (those east of the Rocky Mountains) declined 90 percent during the last 20 years. If more communities follow the lead of Elk Rapids, the monarch butterfly has a chance.

State of the Great Lakes

Is More of the Same Good Enough for the Great Lakes?

Give the U.S. EPA and its Canadian counterpart points for recycling. When they released the 2022 State of the Great Lakes report last week, they offered the same characterization as in previous reports: overall, the Great Lakes are fair and unchanging.

Merriam-Webster defines “fair” as ‘not very good or very bad: of average or acceptable quality.”

Is “not very good or very bad” what we want for the Great Lakes?  

Looking at the five lakes individually, the U.S. and Canadian governments grade Superior and Huron good, Michigan and Ontario fair, and Erie poor. Is this what we want?

That we have become accustomed to such evaluations of the conditions of the Great Lakes is unacceptable. That we are making little progress toward the goal of fully healthy lakes is deplorable.

In this 50th anniversary year of the signing of the original Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement by President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, it is appropriate to look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

While the governments boast of their robust programs to protect and restore the lakes, they typically gloss over the trouble spots. The State of the Great Lakes report is the closest they come to accountability. In this report, they acknowledge that only two of nine indicators (beaches and fish consumption) show improvement. The other seven are unchanging and one, invasive species, is poor.

What are the reasons for treading water like this? The fundamental facts are that correcting past mistakes will cost taxpayers a fortune – and steering a new course for the future requires political will. That will is needed if we hope to keep new toxic chemicals out of the lakes, protect key habitats from exploitation, and once and for all control invasive species.

If the political will is lacking, it is not the fault of governments alone. We who live among the lakes are also conflicted. We want them to be healthy and beautiful yet we are not willing to make the changes that would enable this to happen.

There is plenty of talk in our region about the need for sustainability, a way of approaching the environment and the lakes that avoids doing damage by changing the way we live. Primarily, changing practices that provide short-term benefits and long-term harm. Like the excess fertilization on farms in the Lake Erie watershed, which fosters algae blooms that are reminiscent of the “dead” Lake Erie of the 1960s.

Like the production and disposal of plastic products that break down into the billions of pieces fouling the lakes. We do not need to buy most of them. The industries that manufacture them will not retire them out of the goodness of their hearts, but they will respond to market forces.

Of course, there is good news. It is true that there are many dedicated public servants, university researchers, local governments and citizen advocates who are making extraordinary efforts to understand the science of the lakes and to respond constructively.

There is also the fact that the U.S. government is spending over $300 million in dedicated money every year to restore the Great Lakes. That is a legacy of the late Peter Wege, a Grand Rapids philanthropist who in 2004 organized advocates to petition Congress for dedicated funding to clean up toxic hotspots, restore habitat and protect water quality. This is praiseworthy.

But it’s clearly not enough, or not the right stuff. The health of the lakes is stagnating and that’s unacceptable.

If we truly want Great Lakes that are great and improving instead of fair and unchanging, we need to make some changes. We need a new kind of agriculture, a new kind of consumption, a new approach by industry. Where is this going to come from? It begins with the residents of the Great Lakes watershed.

The history of conservation and environmental protection over the last 150 years teaches us that citizens lead and politicians follow. So it is time for us to lead by example and by engagement with our government processes, and to hold those who degrade the Great Lakes accountable.

Our job is to look at ways we can live among these lakes in harmony and to pressure our governments and institutions to do the same. Unless that happens, we are likely to see the same reports every three years indefinitely.

And is that what we want for the Great Lakes?

 

FLOW’s Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey Honored by IAGLR for Great Lakes Protection Efforts

Photo: FLOW’s Jim Olson (left) and Dave Dempsey.


Note: This is a FLOW media release issued June 21, 2022. Members of the media can reach FLOW’s:

  • Jim Olson, Founder & Senior Legal Advisor at Jim@FLOWforWater.org.
  • Dave Dempsey, Senior Policy Advisor, Dave@FLOWforWater.org.
  • Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, at Liz@FLOWforWater.org or cell (570) 872-4956 or office (231) 944-1568.

Traverse City, Mich.— FLOW’s Founder and Senior Legal Advisor Jim Olson and Senior Policy Advisor Dave Dempsey on June 15, 2022, were awarded prestigious honors for their career-long efforts to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and the environment and to educate and build support among the public and decision makers.

The awards were bestowed during an online ceremony by the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR).

IAGLR is a scientific organization made up of researchers studying the Laurentian Great Lakes, other large lakes of the world, and their watersheds, as well as those with an interest in that research. The new award recognizes and honors individuals whose work has made significant contributions to sharing the social, economic, and ecological understanding of the large lakes of the world. The complete list of those honored at the IAGLR Awards Ceremony is here.

Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and senior legal advisor, received one of the inaugural Large Lake Champion Awards for his “tireless efforts in protecting the environment in and around the Laurentian Great Lakes region, including his founding of the organization For Love of Water (FLOW).” 

​In announcing the award, IAGLR Awards Committee Co-Chair Neil Rooney expressed “appreciation for Jim’s extraordinary knowledge of environmental, water, and public interest law, and how he has used his skill set to advocate for the protection of these unique and essential ecosystems.” The complete list of Large Lake Champions is here.

Olson received the news with the same humility he has brought to his decades of work protecting the public waters of the Great Lakes—at the surface, in the ground, and from the tap.

“This caught me by complete surprise,” Jim Olson said. “So many dedicated people around our Great Lakes are deserving of this honor. I receive it in recognition of the many clients, organizations, people I’ve worked with over the years, especially the inspiring staff, Board, and supporters of For Love of Water. This is as much theirs as it is mine.”

“Thank  you, IAGLR, for this award,” Olson said. “Over the years, it has been those scientists within our Great Lakes region who have spent their lives in search of the truth of the mysteries and graces of our natural world—ultimately, the measure of how well or not we humans inhabit it—who have made a difference.”

IAGLR honored Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy advisor, with its John R. (Jack) Vallentyne Award, which recognizes “significant efforts to inform and educate the public and policymakers on large lakes issues to raise awareness and support for their protection and restoration.” The award is named for long-time IAGLR member and environmental scientist and educator, John R. (Jack) Vallentyne.

“Dave Dempsey is an unmatched Great Lakes resource,” wrote Lana Pollack, former US Section Chair of the International Joint Commission, in her letter nominating Dempsey for the award. “Deeply curious and wholly identified with the Great Lakes, he has devoted his life to understanding and helping others understand the Basin. An innately generous person, for decades Dave has stepped up to inform and assist colleagues, resource managers, legislators, reporters, educators, environmental advocates, business and labor interests, and of course countless students—all of them seeking well-founded information on a myriad of resource management and environmental policy issues.”

“He is not only a talented and well-respected policy advisor, but a gifted author and storyteller,” notes John Hartig, Visiting Scholar at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor, in his nomination letter. “His writing is a unique blend of his 30-year career shaping Great Lakes policy and his passion for inspiring a stewardship ethic for our inland seas.”

In receiving the award, Dave Dempsey said, “I’m very humbled by this award for two reasons. First that it comes from IAGLR, which I have great respect for. And I’m also humbled because to have my name associated with Jack Vallentyne in any way is a remarkable thing.” 

Dempsey recalled speaking with Vallentyne when doing research. “He impressed me not only as one of the fathers of the ecosystem approach to Great Lakes management, but he also was a very effective educator of young people. I think that’s what we all need to be.”

FLOW Executive Director Elizabeth Kirkwood called Olson’s Large Lake Champion Award “a richly deserved recognition of a career spent defending the Great Lakes and educating thousands of people across the continent on the importance of these precious fresh waters and the rights of the public to protect these waters under a legal principle known as the public trust doctrine. Everyone at FLOW is proud to be associated with Jim.”

“Dave Dempsey’s encyclopedic knowledge, clarity of conscience of what is good and right, reasoned voice, and gifted ability to speak and write in sparring, well-chosen words about the environmental history of, and policies related to, the Great Lakes are remarkable,” said Kirkwood. “It is the reason why lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, citizens, resource managers, business leaders, journalists, and lawyers have sought Dave’s advice for over three decades.” 

“Dave’s contributions to the protection of the Great Lakes are abundantly clear, and I can think of no other more deserving of such an honor as the Vallentyne Award than Dave Dempsey,” Kirkwood said.

Our Drinking Water Lacks the Protection It Deserves

Acclaimed author and FLOW Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey stands on the shore of Lake Michigan’s West Grand Traverse Bay.


Editor’s note: This opinion article was originally published on April 2, 2022, in the Lansing State Journal.

By Dave Dempsey

A natural resource on which nearly half the population of Michigan depends every day is one that most of us rarely think about: Groundwater, and it’s especially critical in mid-Michigan. The tri-county area depends almost exclusively on groundwater as a drinking water source—both from public wells managed by the Lansing Board of Water and Light and the City of East Lansing, and thousands of private wells in outlying areas.

Some 45 percent of Michigan’s population gets drinking water from underground, but because it is out of sight it is often out of mind. Its invisible nature has made groundwater vulnerable to neglect and mismanagement. Michigan is pocked with more than 14,000 groundwater contamination sites, including one of the nation’s largest, a 13 trillion-gallon plume contaminated by the toxic chemical TCE (trichloroethylene). Due to funding limitations, the state is addressing only two percent of these polluted sites this year.

Groundwater is vital globally, too. The salty oceans are not drinkable and constitute approximately 97 percent of all the world’s water. About two percent of all water is fresh water frozen at the poles or in glaciers. Of the remaining one percent, almost all of it is groundwater, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If Michigan’s groundwater were visible, it would be hard to miss. If combined, all the groundwater in the Great Lakes Basin is approximately equal in volume to Lake Huron—a sixth Great Lake of sorts.

But groundwater is not an underground pool. Instead, it fills the pores and fractures in underground materials such as sand, gravel and other rock—much the same way that water fills a sponge. And it lacks the protection it deserves.

Although 1.25 million private water wells supply drinking water to more than two million Michiganders, there is no regular safety testing of that water. Thousands of these wells are contaminated with nitrates. Michigan is the last holdout among the 50 states in protecting groundwater and public health from 130,000 failing septic systems that discharge human waste.

My organization, For Love of Water, is a nonprofit law and policy center based in Traverse City. Last month we sponsored a webinar on Michigan’s groundwater challenges and opportunities on World Water Day, where scientists and public officials spoke of the urgent need to educate Michiganders about the importance of groundwater.

Learning about groundwater is the necessary first step toward action, and protective action is what Michigan needs to safeguard its groundwater for current and future generations.

Dave Dempsey is senior advisor at FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. He is the author of several books on Michigan’s environment. Learn more about FLOW’s groundwater-protection program, including our latest report and fact sheet.

What’s Your Favorite Great Lake?

An informal poll of Great Lakes lovers gave a clear victory to Lake Superior. It holds as much water as the other four Great Lakes combined (plus three Lake Eries), has 2,726 miles of shoreline, and has a turnover time of 173 years. In the words of one respondent to a recent informal survey, “Every time I look at it I am convinced I am at the edge of the world.”

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

With the Winter Solstice and the darkest day of the year behind us, it’s time for a little light.

I recently posted a survey on both Twitter and Facebook asking followers and friends to name their favorite Great Lake and to explain their allegiance. The answers were both quantitative and qualitative.

The quantitative results came from a Twitter poll. Because Twitter offers only four options for a poll, I chose to leave out Lake Ontario but invited voters with allegiance to that lake to make comments about it. That didn’t satisfy Ontariophiles, who felt slighted and said so. Here are the results for the remaining Great Lakes, out of 571 votes cast:

Superior, 47.3%

Erie, 22.6%

Michigan, 17%

Huron, 13.1%

Such polls are grossly unscientific, but it was nevertheless a surprise that Erie topped Michigan in the voting.

The qualitative results reflect respondents’ insights. Dr. Nancy Langston, a distinguished professor of environmental history at Michigan Technological University and author of Sustaining Lake Superior and the just-released Climate Ghosts, offered a simple explanation for her vote: “Why? Because it is superior!”

Jeff Padden, a former Michigan legislator whose 10-year voting record expressed his strong environmental values, stands up for Erie. “At least for today, it is my favorite. It could be named Lake Lazarus, since it came back from the dead. Its resurrection is vivid proof that public policy matters.”

David Ruck, founder of Great Lakes Outreach Media and creator of the new documentary The Erie Situation, chooses Lake Michigan. “I grew up next to it and it has taught me as much as any education about the world, possibilities, using my imagination, and love.”

Katie Wolf vouches for Huron “for its miles of undeveloped shoreline and natural, wild beauty. The abundance of historical maritime treasures both along the shores and underwater offer a lifetime of mysteries to explore, research and photograph. Sunrises and sunsets from the Presque Isle Peninsula are spectacular, too.”

 As I mentioned, Lake Ontario has its adherents, too. Sharon Cottle wrote, “Lake Ontario for me. I have lived all my life within a couple of miles of her. Don’t mess with her when she gets mad, yet she can look like an infinity pool at times. Love the others too.”

And by “the others,” could we also mean Lake St. Clair? My colleague Diane Dupuis argues, “My favorite has to be Lake St. Clair, the essential yet perpetually omitted “pretty darn great” lake whose absence would mean quite a portage for Great Lakes freighters laden to the Plimsoll line. Lake St. Clair is born out of the world’s largest freshwater delta: unique by definition. By square feet it ranks #15 in the country, but by recognition it ranks zero in the Great Lakes Basin.”

It was Tony Infante who had, in my mind, the correct answer (although they’re all correct to someone). “Is this a trick question? It’s easy: Huron-Michigan, actually two Great Lakes, make one Grand Lake.”

That’s right. The one Great Lake that gets no respect is Lake Huron-Michigan (or Michigan-Huron).

When North Americans are asked to identify the largest lake in the world, many of them single out Lake Superior. But they’re wrong. Russia’s Lake Baikal is the largest by volume. Lake Michigan-Huron is the largest by surface area at 45,300 square miles. Superior is a mere 31,700 square miles and Baikal, a mere 12,248.

Why isn’t Lake Huron-Michigan widely recognized by the public? It has a single water level. But nature has designed it in such a way as to fool the human mind. Linked only by a five-mile strait, the Michigan lobe and the Huron lobe resemble fraternal twins. One is dotted by large cities, and heavily industrialized at one end. The watershed of the other is lightly populated, and the lake/lobe has been all but forgotten.

The converse of the above is the remarkable diversity of Lake Michigan-Huron. Sandy and stony shores, majestic cities and legally designated wilderness, sturgeon and salmon, the hush of the north and the anxious intensity of the Midwest, the maple leaf and the Stars and Stripes. There is no other lake close to it in all the world.

That’s mine. What’s your favorite Great Lake?

Does Environmental History Become Environmental Prophecy?

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

When a book of history you’ve written becomes history itself, this not only makes you feel old, but also gives you a chance, in hindsight, to see how accurate it is.

Twenty years ago, in 2001, the University of Michigan Press published Ruin and Recovery: Michigan’s Rise as a Conservation Leader. It was a book I’d long wanted to write. Based on 20 prior years of learning the environmental history of Michigan on the job, I attempted to put in perspective the good and bad in the state’s management of its natural resources.

Despite the catastrophes marking Michigan’s environmental history, I intended the book to capture a stirring story of citizen action to rebuild and protect the air, water, forests, fish and wildlife–and human health–since Michigan became a state in 1837. I was fortunate that the book received a generally warm welcome.

But now it’s time to look back. Although I’m pleased with much of Ruin and Recovery, I also see its flaws. They’re considerable. Here are a few; the book was:

  • Intended to cover Michigan’s environmental history as a state, but in doing so it said virtually nothing about the people who lived here for approximately 10,000 years before that. How did they live in relation to the landscape and waterscape? How did their ways and practices affect these peninsulas?
  • At 368 pages, too long for many readers.
  • Simplistic in its faith that Michigan would become a conservation leader among the states again.

This faith was founded on the finding that Michigan had lived through several cycles of destruction and healing. First, rapacious logging companies stripped Michigan of its white pine, and market hunting and fishing devoured wildlife and aquatic life.

Then citizens organized and successfully pressured state legislators to create forest reserves and commit to a plan of sustainable harvest. They also compelled legislators to enact legislation establishing harvesting seasons and rules.

Similarly, when pollution blackened the sky and poisoned the water, it was citizens who clamored for the cleanup laws that distinguished Michigan among the 50 states.

I projected that this would happen again as new challenges occurred, including urban sprawl, climate change, and new forms of air and water pollution.

So far, I’ve been wrong. Not because of lack of concern among Michigan’s residents, but because of a political culture resistant to–and designed to be resistant to–the wishes and forces of the public. And also because of social changes that limit the amount of volunteer and advocacy time available to the public.

Some readers have even joked darkly that the book should be renamed Ruin and Recovery and Ruin Again. I can’t go that far, or anywhere near it.

I still take heart from examples of Michigan’s past.

Charles Garfield, a Grand Rapids banker, for 20 years in the late 1800s and early 1900s advocated that the state create a public forest system to replace cutover, fire-charred acres of Northern Michigan. Today, the Department of Natural Resources manages 3.9 million acres of state forests.

Genevieve Gillette, a landscape architect, spent 50 years of her life from the 1920s as a volunteer champion of building Michigan’s state park system. Her work contributed to everything from Tahquamenon Falls State Park to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Today, there are 306,000 acres of state parks and recreation areas.

Joan Wolfe, a citizen advocate living in Belmont, organized and led a coalition of interests that overcame polluter resistance to win state legislative approval of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) in 1970. Today, MEPA stands tall as a landmark law empowering the public.

As Joan said in summarizing the work to enact MEPA, “To me the greatest lesson is: ‘None of us is as smart as all of us,’ and ’Nothing we do can be accomplished alone.’”

There is no time to fall back on cynicism. And there is no purpose in apathy. Michigan’s environmental challenges are too great. The impulse for environmental recovery in Michigan has always begun with its public. Today, it must again.

If it does, 20 years from now an environmental historian can write Ruin and Renewal: Michigan’s People Rise Again.

Water Connects Us to Everything That’s Alive: FLOW Inspires Us to Protect It

“Our bodies are mostly water. Water connects us to everything around us that is alive,” says award-winning poet Alison Swan. “The water and the land are inseparable from one another. Stop and think to yourself: How does what’s happening to the land around this water impact the water supply of essentially the world? Because water flows all over the surface and below the surface of earth.”

Throughout 2021, FLOW is developing and sharing a series of video interviews with key supporters and stakeholders who have been instrumental to our work and shared successes over the past decade. We hope you enjoy theses stories and reflections and share them with others who might be inspired to join us in protecting freshwater for all.

Watch a video of Alison Swan below.

“FLOW is really good at inspiring. Dave Dempsey is a master of inspiration,” adds Alison, who references an inscription that Dave, FLOW’s senior policy advisor, wrote 20 years ago in her copy of his book Ruin & Recovery. “I hope you always love and care for the majesty of the dunes, the lake, and all the creatures,” Dave wrote to Alison’s daughter Sophie, who was then 2 years old. “I’m glad you have parents who know the importance of these timeless things.”

“I really can’t think of a better person than Dave Dempsey to fight on behalf of the Great Lakes and the Sixth Great Lake (the groundwater under our feet).”

Introducing the Olson-Dempsey Fund for Public Trust in the Great Lakes

FLOW is welcoming donations here to the newly launched Olson-Dempsey Fund.

A true watershed moment: As FLOW in 2021 marks our first 10 years of groundbreaking work on behalf of public trust rights and responsibilities in the Great Lakes, we honor two of the most ardent champions of public water and most inspiring leaders in the Great Lakes watershed. To ignite FLOW’s next 10 years of forward thinking and momentum, as exemplified by Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey, FLOW and our community of local, regional, and international partners are recognizing, honoring, and ensuring the continuing influence of these two visionary leaders to protect public water in the Great Lakes Basin. 

FLOW Founder & Senior Legal Advisor Jim Olson

For nearly 50 years Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and senior legal advisor, has been an ardent and effective environmental, water, and public interest law advocate and champion. He has developed a deep knowledge and understanding of public trust principles and law as they apply to the systemic threats facing the Great Lakes Basin. Jim is a graduate of Michigan State College of Law (Detroit College of Law) and has an L.L.M. Degree in public lands, natural resources, and environmental law from the University of Michigan Law School. He received the Champion of Justice Award in 2010, one of the highest honors of the Michigan Bar Association, and was named a Michigan Lawyer of the Year in 1998 for his work on environmental and water citizen suit laws. Jim has lectured in Brazil, Canada, and the United States, and has written numerous articles and essays and three books. He was featured in two eminent documentary films on water, “FLOW: For Love of Water” (2008) and “Blue Gold” (2008).

Watch FLOW’s video homage to Jim Olson below:

FLOW Senior Policy Advisor Dave Dempsey, with long-time friend and colleague Lana Pollack

FLOW senior advisor Dave Dempsey has 40 years’ experience in environmental policy. He served as environmental advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and as policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission. He has also provided policy support to the Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action. He has written dozens of books on the Great Lakes and water protection. Dave has a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in environmental policy and law from Michigan State University. He has served as an adjunct instructor in environmental policy at both universities.

Watch FLOW’s video homage to Dave Dempsey below:

Central to ensuring the ongoing impact of Jim’s and Dave’s achievements is the establishment of a special fund dedicated to securing the legacy of their leadership and the deepening influence of the public trust doctrine in environmental public policy. Gifts to the Olson-Dempsey Fund for Public Trust in the Great Lakes will support FLOW’s ongoing mission to educate about the power of public trust law, underscoring the rights and responsibilities of the public and public officials. By underwriting public presentations, communications initiatives, and engagement activities, the Fund will shine a light on the power of the public trust to inform law and science-based policy protecting the Great Lakes and will help to expand and sustain the application of the public trust doctrine as a key legal and policy instrument to protect the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

FLOW publicly announced the Olson-Dempsey Fund on September 21, 2021, at our 10th anniversary celebration. Donors may add to the Fund through gifts and grants of all levels. Multi-year pledges and structured/planned gifts are welcome. Contact Diane Dupuis at diane@flowforwater.org with questions about giving, or visit our online donation portal to make a gift now. 

FLOW and the residents of the Great Lakes Basin are forever indebted to the brilliance, dedication, and relentless efforts that Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey have made on behalf of public water, the public trust doctrine, and the well-being of future generations who will call the Great Lakes home.

FLOW Celebrates 10 Years, Honors Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey

Traverse City, Mich.—FLOW is celebrating our 10th anniversary of keeping the Great Lakes public and protected and kickstarting the next 10 years.

Founded in 2011 by Jim Olson and directed since 2012 by Liz Kirkwood, both environmental attorneys, FLOW is a nonprofit law and policy center based in Traverse City dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes, groundwater, and drinking water for all. Independent and nonpartisan, FLOW works with the public and decision-makers to hold the government accountable in protecting and providing access to public waters.

Notable highlights of our 10th anniversary year and celebration include:

  • Tuesday, September 21, from 7:00-8:00 pm EDT—“Confluence”—FLOW’s marquee 10th anniversary event, live-streamed and emceed by dynamic Traverse City talent Ben Whiting. Free and open to the public, the online event will include a special honor for FLOW luminaries Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey, and promises a fun and fast-paced frolic through FLOW’s history and heroes, with special guests, and prize-drawings for Patagonia gear! Register here.
  • The addition of FLOW’s first-ever full-time legal director, an achievement many years in the making. Environmental attorney Zach Welcker joined FLOW in July, after more than a decade representing Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest on water, fisheries, and other natural resource issues. Zach now carries the legal torch borne since 2011 on a part-time and volunteer basis by Jim Olson.
  • Video reflections by FLOW supporters, staff, and collaborators who have been instrumental to our work and shared successes over the past decade—meant to inspire everyone to join us in protecting freshwater for all. See the video series here.
  • Illustrated timeline of FLOW’s progress through the years in partnership with the public. See FLOW’s 10-year timeline here.
  • Webinars with FLOW staff and partners on Line 5, Great Lakes high water levels, groundwater threats, and artistic efforts to inspire the protection of freshwater. See the collection of recorded webinars here.
  • Release of a penetrating groundwater-protection reportDeep Threats to Our Sixth Great Lake: Spotlighting and Solving Michigan’s Groundwater Emergency—and fact sheet authored by Dave Dempsey and conveyed via webinar. See FLOW’s groundwater program page for more.