Above: FLOW Board Chair Mike Vickery and Executive Director Liz Kirkwood gather with FLOW staff and board at The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City to celebrate Liz and her family before their planned journey in early January 2020. (Photo by Jacob Wheeler)
By Mike Vickery, FLOW Board Chair
While visiting my grandchildren during the holidays, I went with them to see Frozen 2. In the movie, Princess Anna confronts a moment of frightening and overwhelming uncertainty and sings her resolve not to give up, but to, “Just do the next right thing.”
“Do the next right thing” keeps coming back to me as I reflect on FLOW’s work in 2019 and on the challenges of this New Year.
Our staff, board, supporters, and partners all know well that FLOW has done more things in the last 12 months than an organization our size should even be able to imagine, much less accomplish. But we are all intensely aware that the challenges we face and the threats to fresh water in the Great Lakes basin are persistent and daunting. Many, many things will need to be done next and done right if we are to be successful stewards and become good ancestors.
As an organization, FLOW is now the living result of the right thing that founder Jim Olson did eight years ago when he got environmental attorney Liz Kirkwood to bring her singular talents and passion to bear on the task of building FLOW’s capacity to influence water policy through application of the public trust doctrine.
As FLOW’s Executive Director, Liz demonstrates the rightness of Jim’s decision every day. She is a courageous advocate for public water and the public trust, a champion of water justice and water literacy, and a valued counselor to many other professionals and organizations. Liz has earned every accolade and deserves every expression of respect and admiration that comes her way.
Nowhere has Liz’s masterful leadership been more clearly demonstrated than in all the “right things” she has done to assemble and catalyze the talents and passions of an utterly extraordinary professional staff of five full-time and four part-time employees.
FLOW’s capacity, productivity, and influence are the result of many right things done every day by an organization of extraordinarily talented and passionate professionals who are also simply excellent human beings. Kelly Thayer, our Deputy Director, along with Jim Olson, Dave Dempsey, Diane Dupuis, Nayt Boyt, Lauren Hucek, Jacob Wheeler, and Janet Meissner Pritchard will not miss a beat during Liz’s sabbatical. We are profoundly grateful for FLOW’s amazing staff and for all of the dedicated supporters who make their work possible.
We enter this consequential year of 2020 with a deep appreciation for your support as we confront the significant challenges ahead and a profound sense of earned confidence in FLOW’s capacity to meet those challenges. My mantra for the 2020, no matter what it brings, is “just do the next right thing”… for the love of water.
Mike Vickery serves as chair of FLOW’s Board of Directors and as an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity-building. He is an emeritus Professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College, where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.
Above: Nature Change’s Joe VanderMeulen and FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood welcome attendees to the Michigan Septic Summit on Nov. 6, 2019, at Northwestern Michigan College’s Hagerty Center in Traverse City. All photos by Rick Kane.
We really didn’t know what the level of public interest would be when FLOW started working with Joe VanderMeulen of Nature Change—as well as a variety of expert presenters, co-sponsors, and community partners—to develop a day-long summit devoted to Michigan’s septic dilemma.
Would people show up for a whole day to talk about old and failing septic systems? And sit still through an intestinal-bacteria presentation during lunch? Was our estimate of 150 registrants realistic?
Those questions were answered with a resounding “yes” on Wednesday, at our first-ever Michigan Septic Summit, which overflowed with more than 160 attendees and interest in:
Exploring the latest septic system research on the human health and environmental risks,
Learning about local and regional programs and regulations adopted in response to surface water and groundwater quality threats, and
Fostering dialogue toward more effective and geographically extensive efforts to reduce risks from septic system waste.
More than 160 people from around Michigan turned out and tuned in to presentations, panel discussions, and peer-to-peer conversations around regulating Michigan’s septic waste.
On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that delved into septic tanks, Michiganders demonstrated we care about public health and water that’s safe for drinking, bathing, swimming, fishing, boating, and beachcombing. We care about finding equitable solutions to one of humankind’s oldest problems in communal living—disposing of human waste safely in Michigan, the only state that lacks a uniform sanitary code requiring periodic inspection and maintenance of septic systems—even though 30% of Michiganders rely on such systems.
Scott Kendzierski, Director of Environmental Health Services at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, in his presentation on “Construction and Maintenance of Septic Systems,” identified an emerging issue in septic management: the seasonal rental scenario, in which a three-bedroom home with a septic system designed and permitted in the 1970s for perhaps six occupants is now accommodating more than three times that many people as vacationers, overtaxing an aging or possibly failed system.
Scott Kendzierski presents at the Michigan Septic Summit on construction and maintenance of old and new septic systems in Michigan.
A slide from the presentation by Scott Kendzierski at the Michigan Septic Summit.
Dr. Mark Borchardt, a research microbiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Marshfield, Wisconsin, detailed a fascinating story of forensic detection in the case of disease outbreak in a Wisconsin restaurant with a new septic system that failed and contaminated the restaurant’s well and customers.
An audience member asked Borchardt about how high water levels affect septic-system effectiveness in deterring the spread of pathogens. He responded that ideally a system would put maximum distance between a septic drainfield and groundwater level; the higher the water table, the shorter the distance for microbes to travel from wastewater to drinking and surface water.
Jon Beard of Public Sector Consultants, a non-partisan public policy firm in Lansing, revealed perhaps the worst canine job in the world: Source-tracking bacterial contamination. He also shared a startling mid-Michigan survey result: 30% of residents with a septic system did not know they had one. And even more alarmingly, later presenters judged this figure to be too low.
A Michigan Septic Summit participant ponders suggestions from attendees regarding potential solutions for Michigan’s poorly regulated, old and failing septic systems.
Afternoon panels increased our understanding of the complexities facing local communities, all of which are united in the desire to protect groundwater from contamination. Rob Karner, watershed biologist at the Glen Lakes Association in Leelanau County, offered, “I have yet to find anybody who says, ‘I want to pollute the water. I want to drink contaminated water.’ It all comes down to this: Loving the water.”
FLOW’s Executive Director Liz Kirkwood echoed, “We’re having these conversations because we love the Great Lakes. Michigan is the Great Lakes State, and despite our infrastructure crisis, Michiganders really care about clean water. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, we’re here because we love these waters.”
In reflecting on the success of the Septic Summit, FLOW’s founder and famed environmental attorney Jim Olson, summed up the summit this way: “The need to come together never ends. A conference on an important matter concerning our water and the common good goes beyond the adoption of a particular septic system law or code.”
“It brings together a wide spectrum of people, diverse speakers with diverse backgrounds and something to say, and demonstrates the value of education, bringing people together—people who not only care about groundwater and the tens of thousands of failing septic systems, but also about the world and the water, environment, and quality of life in which they live,” Olson said. “I drove home in wonder over the conference and the inspiring feeling from being in a room of people who authentically care, share, and listen at a critical time for our communities and the world.”
FLOW’s Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey facilitates the Michigan Septic Summit’s closing panel discussing, Where Do We Go from Here?
What’s next in the wake of the Septic Summit? Stay tuned as FLOW and allies from around the state, including Michigan Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, and many others, intend to support more local and regional education and build backing for legislative action to develop and pass a statewide septic code.
Photo: FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer speaks to the Grand Traverse County Board in opposition to a pro-oil tunnel resolution.
By Kelly Thayer
Confronted at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday by a full audience passionately and unanimously against a proposed Line 5 oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners voted today to temporarily table a misguided and error-filled resolution supporting the oil tunnel. (Click here to view a video of the meeting, once posted by the county).
Some commissioners also could be heard chatting among themselves before the meeting about the voluminous amount of emailed comments against the oil tunnel that they also received in the hours leading up to the session, as local citizen groups spread the word of the pending vote.
While the outcome was received as a temporary victory in the moment by many in attendance, vigilance still is required.The resolution, which had been expected to gain quick approval, will likely come back for reconsideration — perhaps at a tentatively scheduled 8 a.m., August 14, study session — and then a possible vote at the Grand Traverse County Board’s next regular meeting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, August 21, at the Governmental Center at 400 Boardman Ave. in Traverse City.
“I was elected to work for the public interest and the people of Grand Traverse County, not the bottom line of a foreign oil company with a troubling safety record and equally troubling transparency practices,” said Commissioner Betsy Coffia after the meeting, who was prepared to oppose the symbolic resolution. “Enbridge pays a lot of lobbyists and lawyers to carry water for them. I don’t think it’s the job of the Grand Traverse County Commission to do that work for them.”
Only one county in Michigan—Dickinson in the Upper Peninsula—to date has approved the model resolution that bears close resemblance to talking points that Line 5-owner Enbridge has circulated for many months. The resolution tabled by Grand Traverse County Commissioners proposes to send “this resolution to all counties of Michigan as an invitation to join in expressing support” for the oil tunnel owned by Canadian-based Enbridge.
Dozens of people representing themselves, families, Indian tribes, businesses, environmental groups, and others attended and many spoke up against the oil tunnel and for protection of the Great Lakes, drinking water, public trust and tribal rights, and the Pure Michigan tourist economy.
FLOW and its team of lawyers, scientists, engineers, and an international risk expert since 2013 have studied the increasing threat from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and, more recently, the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.
FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer read a statement calling on the county board to reject the oil tunnel resolution, which in its first sentence, incorrectly states the age of the decaying pipeline and claims an admirable safety record that is at odds with the reality that Line 5 has leaked at least 33 times, spilling a total of 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin.
“It is critical for the Grand Traverse Board of County Commissioners to understand that—with the proposed resolution in your packet—the Board is being asked to interfere in ongoing litigation between the State of Michigan and Enbridge,” Thayer said. “In addition, there are at least four other active lawsuits against Enbridge and Line 5. Therefore, this type of resolution is misguided and not in Grand Traverse County’s, nor the public, interest.”
In March, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel found that the tunnel bill that became law was unconstitutional.In early June, Enbridge sued the State of Michigan to resuscitate the tunnel legislation. And in late June, the State of Michigan sued Enbridge to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorized Enbridge to pump oil through the twin pipelines.
Attorney General Nessel’s lawsuit alleges that Enbridge’s continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits violates the Public Trust Doctrine, is a common law public nuisance, and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act based on potential pollution, impairment, and destruction of water and other natural resources.
“Why would the current Grand Traverse County Board, which—to our knowledge—has never studied nor discussed the threat from Line 5, take a leap of faith in supporting a Canadian oil pipeline company’s alternative that diverts attention from the real problem—the bent, cracked, and encrusted oil pipelines in the Straits?,” Thayer asked.
Enbridge wants the right to bore a tunnel in the next 5-10 years for Line 5 through State of Michigan public trust bottomlands under the Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
Enbridge also wants to keep pumping up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the decaying, 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits during tunnel feasibility studies and construction. An oil tunnel also would fail to address the risk posed by Line 5’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and would conflict with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to combat climate change.
The City of Mackinac Island, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Straits of Mackinac Alliance citizen group also have filed a contested case challenging Enbridge’s claim that installing hundreds of anchor supports to shore up the decaying Line 5 is mere maintenance, rather than a major redesign requiring an application and alternatives analysis under the 1955 Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and public trust law that apply to the soils and waters of the Great Lakes. Line 5-related lawsuits against the U.S. Coast Guard and against Enbridge in Wisconsin also continue.
FLOW and other Great Lakes advocates have long called for shutting down Line 5, which primarily serves Canada’s, not Michigan’s, needs and threatens the Great Lakes. FLOW research shows that viable alternatives exist to deliver propane to Michigan and oil to regional refineries, and Gov. Whitmer has formed an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force to identify energy supply options. The system can adjust with smart planning.
A standing-room only crowd in excess of 200 people—the largest on the IJC tour so far—voiced its concerns for threats to the Great Lakes: Enbridge Line 5, nuclear waste storage, invasive species, bottled water, plastics and privatization, and harmful algal blooms.But the most threatening concern, one that drives or is exacerbated by the others, was the elephant in the room: the unprecedented record high water levels, which are causing havoc throughout the Great Lakes region.
To get to the IJC listening session, I decided to walk from my office, a normally direct path along East Front Street to the steps leading down through the memorial to Dr. Jim Hall and his son Dr. Tom Hall’s memorial—fitting given their constant work and passion for water and conservation—to the walkway along the Boardman River and under Grandview Parkway.It’s typically a 5-minute jaunt to the resort.But on this day an orange warning sign stopped me: The river overflowed the walkway with more than six inches of water. So I backtracked and dodged the rush hour traffic on the Parkway to the opposite side, and made my way to the meeting.
Photo: The Boardman River washes over the boardwalk in downtown Traverse City in July 2019.
Historical water level records for the Great Lakes show a general span of around 30 years from a significant low-level to high-level period.This year’s swing to a record high-water level in June from a record low-water level in 2013 took only six years.This year’s precipitation in Traverse City is trending 10-percent above the average rainfall so far. Farm fields, homes, businesses, and coastal communities are flooded.Shorelines are gone or shrinking, while erosion, more sediments, and high-water levels have destroyed homes and public beaches or infrastructure. Recent reports on the climate change impacts in the Great Lakes Basin project a 30-percent increase in precipitation, or an increase of nine inches a year or a total of 43 to 44 inches annually in Traverse City.If the current record high 10-percent increase is already wreaking havoc, what will happen when the increase is tripled?
Climate Change already impacting the Great Lakes system
The startling hydrological effects of climate change already are causing significant impacts to the Great Lakes, tributaries, their shores, and communities.These effects and impacts only will worsen as the water balance and quality begin to change because of the changes in the hydrologic cycle and watersheds, threatening massive destruction of natural resources and human habitats. It will amount to billions, if not trillions, of dollars in damage—perhaps the closure of Chicago’s fabled lakeshore trail and other waterfronts, the closure of water-dependent nuclear power plants, wetlands-turned-lakes, floodplains-turned-wetlands, flooded farmlands useless for crops, overwhelmed public water and sewer infrastructure. The list goes on and on—shoreline property damage, loss of beaches for swimming, health threats from flooded sewage, failed stormwater and erosion infrastructure, damage to state park and other public harbor and shoreline facilities, and runoff from contaminated properties all flowing into the Great Lakes.
How will people, communities, businesses, and natural systems cope with these water flows, levels, and loss of coastline, property, infrastructures, and public and private uses?All I had to do to make the meeting was dodge through traffic on Grand View Parkway.No big deal, right?Will the affected interests simply accept the loss and adjust, paying the millions or billions to adapt infrastructure and facilities or private homes? Will the governments fund adaptation programs to move or redesign harbor and waterfront facilities and other infrastructure?Will governments here and across the world revisit the Paris Climate accord, and finally reduce greenhouse gases along with massive expenditures to adapt and become resilient, necessary because reduction of greenhouse gases will only mitigate not prevent the oncoming damage?According to the most recent October 2018 Report from the UN International Panel on Climate Change, nations, states, and people have only a decade to take every possible action to stem and reduce the inevitable effects and impacts of climate change.
Climate Change pushing legal and policy frameworks to the limit
In addition to the oncoming harm and untold damage, the legal and policy regimes that protect the Great Lakes, and which all of us in the Basin and beyond support, are threatened—pressed to their limits is more like it. These include the Boundary Waters Treaty that set up the IJC in 1909 to protect water levels and prevent pollution of the Great Lakes; the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that safeguards ecosystems, water quality, health, and recreation; and the Great Lakes Compact and a parallel agreement among the Great Lakes states and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
For example, the 1909 Treaty prohibits diversions out of four of the five Great Lakes that affect water levels without a rigorous review and approval by the IJC commissioners (Lake Michigan is not an international water even though, hydrologically, Lakes Huron and Michigan are one lake).We think of “diversions” as human-made transfers of water into or from a river or lake (sometimes groundwater) system from a dam, reversal of a river, a pipeline, or a drainage canal–such as the Chicago diversion out of Lake Michigan waters to the Mississippi River, or the Long Lac and Ogaki-Lake Nipigon diversions into Lake Superior that would otherwise flow to Hudson Bay, or Erie Canal out of Lake Erie across New York to the east coast. In each instance, the IJC, guided by water-level study boards, determines the effect on the levels of the Great Lakes to prevent adverse impacts to ecosystems, harbors, shipping, fisheries, public infrastructure, hydroelectric dams, recreation, and riparian public and private property.
But extreme changes in climate from the failure to reduce greenhouse gases now threaten to remove water into or out of the Basin far beyond what the IJC typically controls. Climate change or the Anthropocene was not on anyone’s mind when the Treaty was signed in 1909.The drought and record low levels 6 years ago diverted more water out of the lakes and this year’s increasing precipitation and record high levels are as much of a diversion affecting levels as a dam, canal, or pipeline. Unlike proposals to divert water on one side of the international boundary, these extreme weather events whipsaw the lakes and their ecosystems, causing serious ecological, infrastructure, property and economic damage on both sides of the border.
Climate Change is a diversion of water
For another example, the Great Lakes Compact bans human-made diversions of surface and groundwater outside the Great Lakes surface divide or boundary. The purpose of the ban is to protect the waters to assure a sustained quality of life and economy within the Basin.There are only a few narrow exceptions—diversions necessary for public water supplies in communities or counties that straddle the Basin with the requirement of treated return flow, emergency and humanitarian single-objective proposals, and the so-called “bottled-water loophole.”The Compact defines a diversion as a “withdrawal of water by human or mechanical means that is transferred from the waters in the Basin to a watershed outside of the Basin”—including the attempt of the Nova Group in 1999 to ship 156 million gallons of lake water a year in a tanker transport to China, the failed attempt several decades ago to divert water from Lake Michigan to the coal fields of Wyoming, or the oft-feared pipeline or diversion down the Mississippi River to save the Southwest or Ogallala Aquifer from overuse and drought.
But what is the difference if human-made mechanical means or uses heat up the atmosphere, which increase evaporation and precipitation, affects the jet stream, and whiplashes areas of the planet between drought and deluge? If we look at the water cycle as a single hydrologic system, which it is, the Great Lakes are an arc of the whole water cycle. We life in a hydrosphere. What happens to one arc of the cycle affects the water levels in the other arcs.Climate change is as much a diversion of water into and out of the Great Lakes Basin as any other human conduct.
Fortunately, both the IJC in its charge to protect water levels and prevent pollution under the Treaty of 1909 and the Council of Great Lakes Governors and Regional Body (governors of eight Great Lakes states and premiers of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec) are aware of the effects and impacts of the climate crisis, and have at least advisory, quite possibly regulatory, authority to address the threats of climate change to the Great Lakes.It would be irresponsible and impossible for any of these governing boards to ignore the effects of climate change on water level or water quality decisions that affect the waters of the Great Lakes Basin in the future. The IJC already has issued a report and warning on the coming effects from extreme weather; sections of the Compact require that direct and cumulative effects from climate change be taken into account, including authority to modify interpretations and application of the principles and standards.
The ban and narrow restrictions on diversions are premised on the fact that the Great Lakes and tributary waters are essentially non-renewable; that is, based on the historic normal ranges of highs and low levels of the Great Lakes, there is really no water to spare for diversions elsewhere.While this may hold true for the normal range of flows and levels in the Basin and its watersheds, it will not hold true for unprecedented increases in flows and levels, such as the highs experienced this year. Strangely, there is suddenly too much water, and it is directly attributable to climate change.If the Compact is designed to keep water in the Basin from demands from regions experiencing drought or water scarcity outside the Basin, what happens when the effects and impacts of climate change push water levels above normal flows and levels and cause or threatens devastating ecological, economic, infrastructure, and public health impacts and losses?Should water be diverted or in-flows reduced or reversed on an emergency basis? If so, on what terms, when, and for how long?
In short, there is not only an ecological crisis, but also a law and policy crisis, and there is an urgent need for action.
The Boundary Water Treaty of 1909
The Boundary Water Treaty vests authority in the IJC to regulate and take other actions, such as reviewing actions that affect water levels and preparing and publishing references, reports, and guidelines to protect and manage Great Lakes water flows and levels (quantity) and pollution (quality); the Treaty prohibits any diversion “affecting the natural level or flow” of water unless authorized by both countries and through the IJC. The Treaty also specifically recognizes that our international boundary waters are a shared commons to be kept and managed for navigation, travel, fishing, hydropower, and other public and private uses and enjoyment for public and private purposes consistent with the principles of the Treaty and laws of both countries.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972, 1978, 1987, and 2012
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) charges both countries—Canada and the United States—with a responsibility to protect the water quality of the Great Lakes from substances caused by human activity that adversely affect aquatic life; prevent debris, oil, scum and other substances that impair water quality and uses; and protect these waters and ecosystems against nuisance and toxic substances. The GLWQA also has established a protocol to address the existing and emerging effects from water flows and levels, including the significant increases in flows and levels from climate change. According to a former Senior Policy Advisor to the IJC, “this is critical because the IJC’s mandate is the only place where both water quantity and water quality come together in the Great Lakes Basin.”
The U.S. Common Law Public Trust Doctrine or Canada’s Right of Navigation and Fishing Doctrine
The legal regimes of both countries recognize a government obligation based on trust principles to protect navigation, boating, fishing, drinking water and sustenance, and related uses of the navigable waters within their countries and states or provinces. This trust protects these uses from interference or impairment, now and for future generations. The public trust doctrine provides a practical tool to evaluate and guide decision-making based on the existing and emerging effects from hydrogeological and land use watershed systems. The public trust standards that protect the waters and public and private uses from impairment provide the legal framework and process to embrace complex scientific evidence and to craft transboundary policy solutions that contemplate dynamic climate effects and various climate scenarios.
Over the past five years, the IJC has recognized and recommended implementation and application of the public trust doctrine as a framework or “backstop” set of principles to address the growing harms and threatened impact and impairment to the waters, ecosystem, and human use and enjoyment of the Great Lakes. These include the IJC’s 2014 Lake Erie report on Lake Erie algal blooms, the 2015 IJC 15-Year Review on Protection of the Great Lakes, and the 2017 Triennial Assessment of Progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.All three reports warn us of the “looming” threat to water quality, water resources, health, and quality of life in the Basin. And the Compact declares that the “waters of the Basin are precious public natural resources held in trust,” and are part of an “interconnected single hydrologic system.”
Click here to read FLOW’s full proposal formally submitted today to the International Joint Commission calling for an emergency pilot study. Click here to read a summary.
The excitement when packing for a trip to the beach is palpable; we select our favorite sun hats, towels and snacks while our children gleefully nestle toys and buckets for sand castles into the day bag. We hope that the sun will shine bright and Lake Michigan not be too frigid or choppy; and we expect that the beach where we recreate and relax will be clean and safe for our families.
The reality is that many of our Michigan beaches are sullied by refuse and littered with food wrappers, soggy cigarette butts, and small plastic pieces of mysterious origin. In an extreme case, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore staff found thousands of pieces of broken glass deliberately spread in April on the Lake Michigan beach near the Good Harbor picnic area.
Whether littered on-site or carried from elsewhere in the watershed, unsanitary garbage on our coasts puts-off beach-goers and infringes upon the public’s right to enjoy the shoreline—a great Michigan summertime tradition that’s protected by the public trust doctrine.
Upon entering a body of water, these bottle caps, balloon fragments and straws tangled in summer berms pose another danger to the health of wildlife and people, threatening public trust uses as waves, wind and sun break down materials into small pieces called “microplastics”. Microplastics are known to be harmful to wildlife and are present in Great Lakes drinking water. The prevalence of plastics on our shorelines and in our waters has prompted local beach cleanup efforts.
Microplastics Present in the Great Lakes
The general awareness of plastic pollution in earth’s oceans (and scientific study of the issue) currently exceeds the awareness and scientific understanding of the effects of microplastics (including microfibers) in the freshwaters of the Great Lakes. As USGS put it, “the microplastics story is large and complex”.
But we do know that microplastics are present in our waters.
A United States Geological Survey (USGS) page based on a 2016 study emphasized that one plastic particle per gallon of water was found in Great Lakes Tributary Water; 1,285 particles were found per square foot in river sediment. 112,000 particles were found per square mile of Great Lakes water. Since 2016, plastics have continued to accumulate in the Great Lakes.
Microplastics and Wildlife, Human Health
The Great Lakes support a multitude of wildlife; aquatic insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds; and provide drinking water for approximately 40 million people human and non-human species alike, we all need water to survive; our health is interconnected within the hydrosphere.
Freshwater and marine aquatic wildlife have displayed ill effects from ingesting microplastics. According to National Geographic, “Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: they block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.”
Chemical harm from ingesting microplastic causes further concern. Heavy metals, flame retardants and antimicrobials which adhere to plastic surfaces have been associated with endocrine disruption in humans and cancer (via National Geographic).
Since the composition of plastic materials varies greatly, estimating toxicity of plastic is difficult, as is predicting toxicity as chemicals move up, through the food web; and eventually to us, through consumption of wildlife (via National Public Radio).
We who drink Great Lakes water are ingesting microplastics through our taps. So miniscule in size, microplastics pass through water treatment facilities and into our cups. Microplastics are even turning up in beer brewed from Great Lakes water.
Opting for bottled water may not decrease the risk of ingesting microplastics; in fact, total microplastics in bottled water are evidenced to exceed microplastics in tap water.
Performing beach cleanups supports our community’s right to enjoy our shorelines and can prevent the introduction of some plastics into the Great Lakes. Alliance for the Great Lakes reports that every year, through its “Adopt-a-Beach” program, “15,000 volunteers hit the beach and remove about 18 tons of trash.”
Seefried and Depauw collected a total 24.36 pounds of trash during their June 1 cleanup at Bryant Park in Traverse City. Local organizations supported the initiative; collection buckets were provided by the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Center. Volunteers, equipped with gloves and data sheets, combed the shoreline public park and, over an approximate area of 550 feet, removed 707 cigarette filters, 236 foam pieces, and 459 plastic pieces. “When you’re actually on the ground picking it up, there’s kind of a ‘wow’ factor—of how much is actually there,” said Seefried.
A June 29 cleanup performed at Sunset Park yielded 387 cigarette butts, 227 pieces of small foam, and 253 small plastic pieces. Seventy-five food wrappers were also picked up over the area of 261 feet. At the end of the process, 11.7 pounds of trash no longer littered the park—an immediate benefit to the community.
FLOW can equip you with beach cleanup kits (containing items such as gloves, pencils, clipboards, data sheets, trash bags, and buckets) to use independently. FLOW’s Lauren Hucek encourages anyone interested to rally their friends, families, and coworkers to host their own beach cleanups. Please choose sites that offer public waste receptacles or prepare to dispose of trash privately; recycle when possible. Email Lauren Hucek with questions and requests for kits, or call the FLOW office at 231-944-1568.
Plastic is so ingrained and pervasive in our systems, can the independent effort of individuals cleaning beaches make any difference? Are beach cleanups effective?
“Honestly, I think we take the beaches in our area for granted a little bit,” said Seefried. “The point of this work is to clean the beach—but also to raise awareness.”
We know that plastics are in our water—and in our bodies. We know that microplastics are harmful to wildlife, and that it is not understood how they may be harmful to people. But there’s something about actually picking through the refuse on our beaches that sticks with us; we wonder, will a fiber of this cigarette butt; this lost sock; this disposable diaper; one day slip down someone’s throat via a glass of drinking water?
Performing beach cleanups prompts us to consider our own choices and to get involved with the overarching threat to Great Lakes water, wildlife, and our own health—plastics.
In celebration of the Traverse City Cherry Festival and the warm days ahead, we wanted to highlight one of our favorite summer activities. For many, picnicking in a park or near Lake Michigan is a summer tradition. In keeping with our #getoffthebottle campaign and dedication to reducing our single-use plastic footprint, we've made some easy swaps to make your family's picnic zero waste.
Zero waste picnic
Before: sandwich, chips, pear, carrots, fruit salad, cookies, water
Before: sandwich, chips, pear, carrots, fruit salad, cookies, water
After: Tupperware, reusable water bottle, cloth napkins, metal silverware
After: plastic wrappers, single-use plastic bags, single use-plastic water bottle, plastic silverware, paper napkins
We were really surprised at how much trash we generated from what we thought would be a pretty low-impact picnic. Some of these items can be recycled (bottle, some of the plastic containers), but it's not always easy to find a recycling bin, and often these items end up in the trash. We hope that these images make us think twice about our plastic footprint.
Tips for a zero waste picnic:
Plan out foods that don’t need a lot of waste.
Finger foods make great picnic fare! Sandwiches, crackers, cheese and meats, whole fruit and vegetables, cookies.
Bring an apple and an orange instead of a pre-cut fruit salad that you would eat with a fork.
If you do want a salad (greens, potato, pasta, etc), put it in a tupperware and bring your own reusable forks and spoons.
Be creative in packaging like putting chips or crackers in a tupperware container (versus a single use plastic bag), or wrapping items in a cloth.
Bring your own water bottle filled with water or a summer drink, like lemonade or tea.
As the time for the State of Michigan to take action on Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac approaches, an increasingly desperate Enbridge is enlisting allies to engage in what can only be deemed a deceitful Chicken Little campaign. Behold, for example, Enbridge’s full-page advertisement Wednesday in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, which wildly alleges that “Shutting down Line 5, even temporarily, would mean lost union jobs, refinery closures, gas price spikes and greater harm to the regional economy every year.”
The campaign is designed to scare officials into giving the company what it wants — a 99-year lease to use the people’s waters and lakebed to transport dirty tar sands oil from western Canada primarily to Sarnia, Ontario.
The latest and one of the most outrageous fabrications regarding the impact of a Line 5 shutdown emerged last week from management of the PBF refinery in Toledo, Ohio. No doubt at Enbridge’s behest, PBF warned of a refinery shutdown and loss of a thousand jobs if the supply provided by Line 5 is no longer available. The Toledo refinery, PBF suggested, has no other source of petroleum.
This assertion is absurd on its face — What kind of refinery management would leave itself vulnerable by receiving crude from only one source? — but also directly contradicts statements PBF says in its own investor filings, as well as reports from market analysts. They emphasize the PBF refinery has several sources of supply and can adjust them depending on market conditions.
“The [PBF] refinery only processes light/medium and sweet crude and gets most of its WTI crude through pipeline from Canada, the mid-Continent, the Bakken region and the U.S. Gulf Coast,” an analyst says. Another credits PBF with using “its complex crude processing capacity to source the lowest cost input.”PBF says in its 2016 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that crude is delivered to its facility through three primary pipelines, Line 5 from the north, Capline from the south, and Mid-Valley from the south.Crude is also delivered to a nearby terminal by rail and from local sources by a truck to truck unloading facility in the refinery property.
The fact is that multiple alternative pipelines, rail and truck sources are and will be available to enable PBF to continue refining petroleum as it is today. No evidence points to job loss in Toledo from a Line 5 shutdown. And PBF itself said in a September 2017 news story challenging EPA regulations because of alleged job losses that the Toledo refinery employed 550, not 1,000 workers.
Exploiting worker and community fears with bogus claims is the latest in a series of unconscionable tactics deployed by Enbridge to pressure Michigan officials into letting the company occupy the Straits with its current antiquated pipeline and later, a tunnel under the lakebed.
In another last-gasp attempt to distort decision-making and alarm the public, PBF claims the (nonexistent) Toledo refinery shutdown will seriously impinge on the supply of jet fuel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, driving up fares or reducing flights, or both. The claim is that 40% of the jet fuel used at the airport comes from refined Line 5 petroleum. But PBF and the Marathon Detroit refineries appear to supply only about 9% of the jet fuel used at the airport each day, and again alternative pipeline sources can more than make that up.
It is worth noting that impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Metro Airport jet fuel have never before been raised as an issue in the Line 5 debate or when Line 6B ruptured and was closed down in 2010. Its introduction at the 11th hour after more than five years of controversy over the fate of Line 5 is a transparent effort to alarm the public with false information and bring pressure on state officials.
Enbridge has a track record of misleading the public and governments about its performance, and its recent efforts are consistent with the company’s apparent philosophy of saying anything to keep Line 5 petroleum — and profits — flowing.
Key Facts, in a Nutshell
Jobs, let’s talk jobs!
Continuing to operate the decaying Line 5 risks jobs. Many jobs. Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan’s tourism economy.
According to a FLOW report in May 2018, direct spending by tourists supports approximately 221,420 jobs, and the total tourism economy in 2016, including direct, indirect and induced impacts, supported 337,490 jobs—approximately 6.1% of total employment in Michigan.
Toledo PBF Refinery
Enbridge’s and fossil-fuel industry allies have a track record of false and unsubstantiated claims and lack of transparency.
The numbers are inflated:
Enbridge and refineries and some politicians are misleading the public. They falsely claim that the 2 Toledo refineries and 1 Detroit refinery, and by extension the jobs there, are fully and wholly dependent on Line 5, including a large number of jobs at these refineries.The refineries supposedly affected are: Marathon – Detroit; BP-Husky-Toledo – which carries no Line 5 feedstock because it’s a tar sands refinery that takes feedstock from Line 78 (formerly Line 6B), and PBF-Toledo.PBF states in its 2018 annual report for stockholders that it “processes a slate of light crude oils from Canada, the Mid-continent and the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
The refineries rely on multiple pipelines and suppliers, and they say so in writing.
Marathon refinery primarily uses dilbit, which Line 5 doesn’t currently carry.
Detroit Metro Airport
In a letter to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine claimed, “our refineries supply the majority of aviation fuels to Detroit Metro Airport” and asserted shutdown of Line 5 would lead to airline schedule disruptions.
But 2020 jet fuel consumption at Detroit Metro will total 1,658,000 gallons per day, according to a 2010 estimate by the airport. Based on numbers published by PBF, BP Husky and Marathon Refineries, Line 5 appears to supply only about 10% of the jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport, not 40% as claimed by Ohio Gov. DeWine. Both Marathon and PBF have other crude oil sources, and therefore other pipelines could provide feedstock to satisfy regional jet fuel needs. Alternatively, other nearby refineries in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio could make up this shortfall.
Bottom line: Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs. A Line 5 shutdown would not significantly impact jobs at Toledo refineries. There is absolutely no evidence that a shutdown would impair operations at Detroit Metro Airport.
Mike Vickery recently became Chair of the Board of Directors at FLOW (For Love of Water), the nonprofit Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. Vickery is an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity building. He is an Emeritus professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College, where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.
Vickery holds a PhD in Communication. His graduate work focused on public discourse and controversies related to technical and social value-conflicts. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. His areas of teaching, consulting, and applied scholarship include environmental rhetoric, risk communication, public health communication, and organizational communication.
“We are excited by Mike Vickery’s ascension to serving as FLOW’s Board Chair, where his well-honed skills in strategic communications, public engagement, and capacity building are sure to strengthen our reach and influence,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW. “Our future is bright with Mike at the helm, guided by his deep commitment to the Great Lakes and safe drinking water for all.”
Lisa Wyatt Knowlton
Lisa Wyatt Knowlton has joined FLOW’s Board of Directors. Wyatt Knowlton’s Education Doctorate includes specialties in management and policy. She holds a Masters of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. Twice she has served as CEO; with a trade association and a foundation. Additionally, her work history includes extensive assignments as senior counsel for a broad range of management and leadership issues in the private and public sectors. Past clients have included the Gates, W.K. Kellogg, Ford, and Ball foundations, as well as renowned associations, non-governmental organizations, and network charities such as Feeding America.
Wyatt Knowlton has managed complex change initiatives and has served as a strategic planner, facilitator, and trusted advisor. As a Kellogg Leadership Fellow, she worked in Central America, Europe, and Asia focused on microenterprise. Her areas of specialization include organization effectiveness, leadership, change management, systems thinking, and strategy. Wyatt Knowlton is a learning leader. She speaks Spanish, is an adjunct university faculty (Notre Dame and Grand Valley State University), and authored a text on logic models used by Harvard University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Bank, Packard Foundations, and leading development institutions worldwide. Wyatt Knowlton is managing principal for Wyatt Advisors, a resource for effective people and organizations. She is an advocate for adoption, Great Lakes protection, and an avid cyclist. Wyatt Knowlton is a board member with a refugee-serving collaborative. Recently, she established an education fund for girls in Peru.
“Lisa Wyatt Knowlton is an extraordinary agent for change,” said Kirkwood. “As FLOW enters a period of growth and opportunity, Lisa is just the leader we need to help us tackle complex problems, identify systemic solutions, and maximize our impact in protecting the Great Lakes and the public’s right to clean water.”
Actress Amy Smart and comic book writer, screenwriter, and film and television producer Geoff Johns urge Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to protect our Great Lakes and shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
Amy: Hi, I’m Amy Smart.
Geoff: Hi, I’m Geoff Johns.
Amy: And we’re here to urge you, Governor Whitmer. We’re so excited that you are the governor of Michigan, and we’re so excited that you believe in the Great Lakes and keeping them clean. We both grew up — you grew up in Michigan.
Geoff: I grew up in Michigan. I have a lot of family still in Michigan. I love Michigan, and Michigan is known for its lakes. It’s the Great Lakes State, and there is nothing more important than those lakes to the whole state and the people in it.
Amy:Yes, nothing more important. I now am a resident of Michigan, and we really need your leadership more than anything to shut down Pipeline 5. It’s way too risky, and it would be completely catastrophic if anything happened, so it’s urgent right now that you do that. We also would highly recommend not letting Enbridge build a tunnel because we don’t need any oil problems in our lakes at all.
Geoff:We don’t want to risk it, and we know you’re in a really tough situation right now, but we ask you to please use your judgment and make the right call. Thank you!
Above: FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood speaking in opposition to a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, during a November 8, 2018, hearing in St. Ignace.
In the world of public relations, there are facts, exaggerations, and untruths. Right now, Enbridge is bombarding the people of Michigan with hazy PR claims that it has safely operated the Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac for the last 66 years.
The Canadian energy pipeline giant, however, conveniently fails to tell the public that it has allowed the pipelines to deteriorate badly, bending and grinding on the lake bottom in the fierce currents. Enbridge also neglects to mention that on April Fools’ Day 2018, Line 5 threatened to dump its oil into the Great Lakes when a tugboat anchor struck, and risked breaching, the underwater pipelines.
Rather than seizing on this near-disaster to decommission the decaying pipeline infrastructure built in 1953, the Snyder administration instead spent its final eight months in office cementing a private pact with Enbridge. The backroom deal would leave Line 5 vulnerable to another anchor strike or rupture for up to a decade while Enbridge explores the feasibility of building an oil tunnel under the Straits.
Michigan’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, in late March correctly determined that the tunnel law passed hastily in the waning days of the 2018 lame-duck legislature was unconstitutional. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer later that same day directed all state departments to halt work on tunnel permitting. But Gov. Whitmer’s recent opening of negotiations with Enbridge seeking to speed up the stalled tunnel process contradicts her own directive and circumvents a transparent public process.
Trying to hasten a bad idea won’t make it any better. While seeking to revive Snyder’s 99-year tunnel deal with Enbridge risks undermining Gov. Whitmer’s own goal to combat climate change risks and impacts.
And Enbridge and the former Snyder administration’s claims that the proposed oil tunnel would serve a public purpose by also housing electrical and other utilities is a ruse that masks an enormous risk of explosion, as experts advising FLOW determined in prior research.
Just today, in fact, an electrical supplier to the Upper Peninsula – American Transmission Company or “ATC” – issued a letter indicating that it has no intention of running its 138,000-volt electric lines through the proposed oil tunnel. “A tunnel of uncertain timing, later in the decade, does not serve the public,” the letter stated. “ATC does not believe that installing high voltage electric lines in close proximity to high pressure oil or gas lines is a good idea.”
It’s never been clearer that Enbridge is pretending there’s a public purpose to their private oil tunnel in order to gain access to the public waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act requires there be a “public purpose,” no impairment or interference with fishing and other public trust uses and rights of citizens and communities, and a showing of no feasible and prudent alternative for transporting Canadian oil back to Canada. The state of Michigan must restore the rule of law and transparency by requiring Enbridge to apply to build a tunnel in the Straits under the law, not negotiate occupancy of public bottomlands behind closed doors.
The real solution to the Line 5 threat must protect the Great Lakes, which define Michigan, drive our economy, and provide drinking water to half the state’s population. Gov. Whitmer must heed her campaign promise to shut down Line 5, while implementing a common-sense backup plan for propane transport in the Upper Peninsula using truck, train, or a small new pipe that doesn’t cross the Straits of Mackinac.
Let’s cut through Enbridge’s PR-fog and get the facts straight. Line 5 is not vital energy infrastructure for Michigan. More than 90 percent of the oil in Line 5 comes from and flows back to Canada.
Enbridge’s dismal track record is underscored by its 2010 Line 6B Kalamazoo River disaster – known as the largest inland tar sands oil spill in U.S. history – and extends to Line 5, which has leaked in total over a million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin from at least 33 known spills since 1968.
Infrastructure needs abound in Michigan – ranging from our failing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to the aging Soo Locks and a long-term clean energy plan for the U.P and the state as a whole. Let’s shut down Line 5 and create jobs focused on those real needs, instead of protecting Enbridge’s private interest in our public waters.