Tag: Dave Dempsey

Virtual book talk with environmental novelist Maryann Lesert

On February 15, FLOW presented an “Art Meets Water” virtual event with Maryann Lesert, novelist and author of the book, Land Marks. FLOW senior policy advisor Dave Dempsey hosted the talk via Zoom, which is now available to watch on YouTube.

And, when you pre-order Land Marks from Bookshop.org in February, the proceeds will benefit FLOW!

From Maryann Lesert, author of Land Marks:

When fracking came to Michigan’s state forests in the early to mid-2010s, I set out to learn as much as I could about drilling and fracking, the science behind the risks, and what it was like to live next to a frack well site. I learned a novel’s worth during my two years of “boots-on-well-sites” research, and I was deeply inspired by the people and groups who came together to protect water, land, and air—each bringing their own gifts. 

FLOW was one of the “first responders.” Jim Olson and Liz Kirkwood showed up often to advocate for the Great Lakes and our right to protect water based on the doctrine of public trust. 

To honor FLOW’s work, all proceeds from Bookshop.org pre-orders of Land Marks during the month of February will benefit FLOW. 

To pre-order Land Marks, use this Bookshop.org link: Buy on Bookshop

This “Buy on Bookshop” link will take you to Bookshop.org, where you can pre-order (purchase) Land Marks. When you check out, make sure you see “Maryann Lesert” in the upper left-hand corner of your screen to ensure that proceeds go to FLOW.

Note: pre-orders from other online book sellers are not set up to benefit FLOW.


About Bookshop.org:
Bookshop.org donates 10% of its proceeds to local, independent bookstores.
By purchasing from Bookshop, you will support local bookstores and FLOW.

The Great Lakes: Fact or Fake | A new book by FLOW senior advisor Dave Dempsey

In this new book by author and FLOW senior advisor Dave Dempsey, learn the true stories beneath the surface of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem.

Everybody who looks at the Great Lakes knows they’re big, but why are they Great? From sea serpents to sunken ships, from lonely lighthouses to fish on Prozac, this book engages the reader in a quest to find what’s beneath the surface.

Download and enjoy this complimentary excerpt:
The Great Lakes: Fact or Fake (PDF)


You can find The Great Lakes: Fact or Fake in Traverse City at Brilliant Books, Horizon Books, and in Suttons Bay at Bay Books.

Dave Dempsey is the author of 12 books on the environment and other topics. He has worked in environmental policy for the Governor of Michigan, the International Joint Commission and various nonprofit organizations since 1982. A graduate of Michigan State University, Dave lives in Traverse City, Michigan.

Gov. Whitmer signs “No Stricter Than Federal” roll-back: Why it matters

Michigan is once again free to enact environmental protections critical to the health of our environment and residents.

Updated July 31, 2023

On July 27, 2023, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 14, which passed the State House of Representatives on June 28 by a 56-52 vote. With her signature, the 2018 state statute that barred the state from adopting environmental standards stronger than those in federal law is now undone.

For more than five decades, Michigan has been a leader among the states in shutting down toxic chemicals, protecting sensitive habitats, and safeguarding children’s environmental health. The 2018 “no stricter than federal” law is inconsistent with Michigan’s 1969 ban on DDT, 1977 phosphorus detergent standard, and 1980 wetlands protection act.

The 2018 law was enacted during the last hours of that year’s lame-duck legislative session and the last days of Governor Rick Snyder’s administration, giving the public no chance to weigh in with comments on the bill.

Ironically, if the law had passed earlier in the session, it would have prevented one of Snyder’s own initiatives. After mishandling the contamination of the Flint water supply due to lead pipes, the former Governor supported a new, strict state action level of 12 parts per billion of lead, compared to the-then federal standard of 15 parts per billion, and boasted that it was the toughest in the nation.

Had the law remained in effect, it could also have prevented the state from setting stricter-than-federal drinking water standards for seven toxic chemicals from the PFAS class. Exposure to the so-called “forever “chemicals has been linked to numerous human health effects. Governor Whitmer directed EGLE to promulgate PFAS drinking water standards in 2019. The agency did so, but PFAS manufacturers sued to stop them from taking effect. Meanwhile, U.S. EPA has proposed PFAS drinking water standards that are in some cases less strict than the Michigan standards.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 14, State Senator Sean McCann of Kalamazoo, said “federal standards across the board are usually set to the lowest common denominator. Michigan, because of its unique place nestled in the heart of the Great Lakes, needs the authority to set higher standards for the protection of our natural resources, especially water.”

Congress passed federal environmental laws in the 1960s and 970s to set a national floor of protection below which no state law could fall, while leaving room for individual states to go farther in protecting their environment. But, says FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood, the 2018 law made the national floor the state’s ceiling.

“Michigan must be free to protect our rivers and air, wetlands and drinking water, to meet Michigan’s needs,” she said.

Read our previous analysis of “no stricter than federal” >>


Dave Dempsey Reflects on Lessons Learned after 40 Years of Environmental Advocacy

Above: Appreciating the water cycle and all the many forms it takes, including snowflakes and rainbows over Lake Michigan. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)

By Dave Dempsey

Last month marked the end of my 40th year of environmental advocacy. Looking ahead to 2022 in 1982, I may have thought humans would have colonized the moon by now—or better yet, humans would have become such good stewards of the Earth that professional environmental advocates would be out of jobs.

Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor

I never thought my career would span four decades, but now that it has, looking back—as well as forward—seems fitting. My lens has smudges and blind spots, so consider that as you read. Here are a few lessons of 40 years.

We need laws that consider the whole—and require reduction in pollution in air, water, and land from a single source. Or better yet, laws that prevent pollution in the first place. 

Lessons Learned

As long as we regard the environment in pieces, we will not achieve a healthy and lush Earth. Perhaps in 1970 it made political sense to treat air, water, and land as separate spheres.  But even then we knew—and it is ever clearer now—that we live in a world where all of these are connected. Laws that clean up industrial processes by sending hazardous wastes to landfills or incinerators merely transfer a problem to another medium. Said John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

We need laws that consider the whole—and require reduction in pollution in air, water, and land from a single source. Or better yet, laws that prevent pollution in the first place. 

Our understanding of economic growth is childish, and clinging to it will delay or prevent the environmental recovery we must have. I’ve heard the tiresome refrain from business lobbyists since the day I began working at the Michigan Environmental Council in November 1982: “You can’t have a healthy economy and a healthy environment at the same time.” There was hope that this false dichotomy would change after the release of a United Nations report in 1987 that spoke for the first time of sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

We can no longer operate on the premise that constantly increasing Gross Domestic Product, in a world of exhaustible resources, is the goal of public policy and personal conduct.

But ask anyone on the street what “sustainable development” means, and you will mostly be met by puzzled faces. We can no longer operate on the premise that constantly increasing Gross Domestic Product, in a world of exhaustible resources, is the goal of public policy and personal conduct.

The people lead, and the leaders follow. It’s been said a multitude of times by a multitude of people—if you wait around for presidents, Congress, governors, state legislatures, or your local board of trustees to take the lead on environmental protection, your hair will turn gray before you get action. The Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972 did not happen because of enlightened, futuristic politicians—instead, those politicians were responding to public outrage about waters that were unsafe for swimming and air that was unsafe to breathe.

The business of making laws is not pretty, but it is always better when citizens are driving it and monitoring it.

The business of making laws is not pretty, but it is always better when citizens are driving it and monitoring it.

Future Generations

What about the future? Where should Michigan go now in light of these lessons?

Bold transformative changes are necessary to meet the interconnected challenges of water stewardship and climate change.

First, now is not the time for half measures or tweaking. Michigan has a rare opportunity in 2023 to show national leadership on the environment. That has not been true since the early 1980s, the last time that Democrats in Michigan—who often favor more environmental protections than state Republicans do—held the governor’s office and both chambers in the state legislature. We cannot keep tinkering with the old laws and making minor changes. Bold transformative changes are necessary to meet the interconnected challenges of water stewardship and climate change.

It is just plain wrong that Michigan has 25,000 groundwater contamination sites, rivers and streams don’t meet health and/or water quality standards, and scores of communities whose sewage or drinking water treatment systems are old and underfunded.

Second, clean water must get more than lip service. The public wants clean water, and the state’s residents must communicate that to Governor Whitmer and the legislature. These elected officials, in turn, have the responsibility to enact measures that provide the billions of dollars in state and federal funding needed to make the promise of Pure Michigan real. It is just plain wrong that Michigan has 25,000 groundwater contamination sites, hundreds of places where rivers and streams don’t meet health and/or water quality standards, and scores of communities whose sewage or drinking water treatment systems are old and underfunded.

On such issues as climate change, we have a duty to take decisive action to make the world habitable for our descendants.

Third, Michigan must think more often about its air, water, land and other resources through the lens of 2062 rather than 2022. Elected officials need a vision that goes beyond the next election cycle. This has happened before in Michigan. The forestry pioneers of the late 1800s and early 1900s took the millions of acres of land clearcut and abandoned by the lumber barons and shaped it into a 3.9 million acre state forest system.  None of them lived to see their work come to full fruition. They cared about us. We must do the same for our descendants. On such issues as climate change, we have a duty to take decisive action to make their world habitable.

Will Michigan do this? I have my doubts. Forty years of cynicism are hard to shrug off. But the people of Michigan have shown leadership before, and we can do it again if we choose to do so. Our children and their children are counting on us.

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?