Political Winds Threaten the Mackinac Bridge on Its 61st Birthday

Photo credit: Nancy May

Happy Birthday to the Mackinac Bridge!

Today marks its 61st birthday. The Mighty Mac, as it is affectionately known, opened to traffic on November 1, 1957. Perhaps no other piece of public infrastructure in Michigan evokes the same pride and sense of majesty as does the Mackinac Bridge. It draws tens of thousands of people each year from across Michigan and far beyond to stride across its five miles on the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day. And perhaps at no other time in its history has the future of the bridge been so threatened by political winds.

Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing by year’s end to bind the Mackinac Bridge Authority for least 99 years to owning and overseeing not just the bridge, but also Snyder’s proposed oil tunnel under the Mackinac Straits for use by Enbridge, a private Canadian oil pipeline company with a terrible track record of oil spills and damage across Michigan. Barbara Brown, vice chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, is urging the public and elected officials to protect the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge. Ms. Brown is an extremely well-informed voice, having served on the bridge authority since 2005. Public service on behalf of the bridge is part of her family’s legacy. Her grandfather Prentiss Brown (see accompanying photo) was the first chairman of the bridge authority’s board, on which he served from 1950 to 1973, including several years before and during construction of the Mighty Mac.

Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation. November 1, 1957 (left to right) State Highway Commissioner John Mackie, bridge designer David Steinman, Governor G. Mennen Williams, Prentiss Brown, former governor Murray Van Wagoner, Sault Ste. Marie businessman George Osborn, William Cochran and Lawrence Rubin.

Photo credit: Nancy May

A few facts about the Mackinac Bridge
(from the Mackinac Bridge Authority):

  • The Mackinac Bridge is 5 miles long (26,372 ft)
  • The main towers stand 552 ft above the water
  • The towers reach 210 ft below the water
  • There are 42,000 miles of wire in the cables
  • The bridge weighs 1,024,500 Tons
  • It took 85,000 blueprints to fully design the bridge
  • Construction began: May 7, 1954
  • The Mackinac Bridge was open to traffic: November 1, 1957


Small Group Wins Big Victory on the AuSable River, Urges Nov. 6 Vote for Water

The Anglers of the Au Sable in late September reached a successful legal settlement with the Harrietta Hills Fish Farm in Grayling that by January 1 will permanently close the commercial fish farm. Harrietta Hills will vacate the premises, and the Anglers will assume the lease with Crawford County and take over the facility. Plans are to return the hatchery to its former status as a tourist attraction, and to upgrade its educational and recreational offerings.

This victory was a long time in coming, but it was worth it. Six years ago, we learned that an industrial scale aquaculture facility was planned for the old, obsolete state fish hatchery in Grayling. It was located on the East Branch of the Au Sable River, just upstream from the fabled “Holy Waters,” the premier trout fishing destination east of the Mississippi. Production was slated to increase from under 20,000 pounds of fish per year to over 300,000 pounds per year. This would increase pollution in the form of phosphorous and suspended solids (feces and uneaten fish food), according to our expert studies. As a result, algae growth would increase, dissolved oxygen would decrease, and the aquatic insects on which trout feed would be diminished. There would be an increased risk of fish diseases, including whirling disease, which is deadly to trout. The fishery and related tourism would decline.

The Snyder Administration bent over backwards to facilitate this absurd project. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources waived statutory and deed restrictions limiting use of the facility to historical and recreational purposes. (A court later ruled this action was illegal, but that the Anglers did not have standing to raise the claim.) The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued a pollution discharge permit based on faulty data (or by ignoring data altogether), which was woefully insufficient to protect the river. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development pushed hard to permit this project, notwithstanding the illegalities and environmental threats involved. The Michigan Farm Bureau, the Michigan Aquaculture Association, the MSU Extension Service, and the Sea Grant Institute at the University of Michigan all supported the project in spite of the facts.

This was the biggest threat to water quality and the fishery of the Au Sable River in the 30-plus years of the Anglers’ existence. So the group mobilized its membership, formed a team, and got to work. Environmental attorneys were retained. Expert witnesses were hired in environmental engineering, aquaculture, fish biology, and resource economics. A volunteer team was formed involving specialists in communications, finance, fundraising, and coalition building. The word got out, the membership got involved, and large donors began to emerge.

The Anglers used a two-pronged legal attack. First, the group appealed the pollution discharge permit was internally within the MDEQ. An 18-day administrative hearing was held. As expected, the initial ruling by the MDEQ Director was in favor of the fish farm, so the Anglers filed an appeal. In addition, the Anglers filed an independent lawsuit in Crawford County Circuit Court, alleging breach of the statutory and deed restrictions, and also claiming violations of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. After some initial skirmishes, the case was submitted to facilitative mediation where it was settled.

Two lessons can be taken from this near-debacle. First, it is possible for the conservation and environmental communities to take on industry and big government and win. But it takes time, determination, and money. Good will, strongly held convictions, and perseverance are necessary but not sufficient. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but that leads to the second lesson.

Politics matters. So, elections matter. As long as voters fail to make concerns about our environment a priority, we are doomed to continue making the same mistakes. The governmental officials charged with protecting our environment and natural resources should have blocked this entire project, but they did not. Corporate interests and the almighty dollar prevailed until organized citizens rose up to enforce the law when the state would not.

In the end, that is why efforts to educate the public about our resources, especially water, are so important. It is not immediately apparent to the public that a fish farm will pollute a river, or that an oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac threatens the Great Lakes, or that our groundwater is in danger of overuse, exploitation, and pollution. A broad, deep, and sustained process is needed to raise the consciousness of people to the point that water becomes an issue of such importance that they will consider it in casting their vote.

This work is being done by groups like the Anglers, FLOW, and others to educate and empower the public to uphold their public trust rights and the law. On November 6, it’s time for Michigan’s educated electorate to choose leadership that will protect our water, and with it, our heritage and future prosperity. 

Tom Baird, who serves on FLOW’s board of directors, is past president of the Anglers of the Au Sable and chair of the group’s legal and governmental relations committees. Reach him at tbairdo@aol.com.


Read about FLOW’s aquaculture efforts here.

What the Water Says

Photo: Charles Brackett

Inspired by FLOW’s Campaign for Fresh Water
by Jaimien Delp

Maybe there was a specific moment when it happened: the first time you saw a kiteboarder on the bay, or the evening you dipped a paddle to the surface of an inland lake so smooth you felt a part of something surreal when you looked down and found the sky and your own gaze reflected back to you. Maybe the feeling struck you quite suddenly, say, on a fall color hike along the shores of Lake Michigan, or the afternoon you held your palm flush to the current of the Boardman River and recognized for the first time a seamlessness between yourself and something wild and elemental.  

Or maybe your love of water began years before you even realized it.  Like time, maybe water is a thing that has shaped your life quietly, a presence you’ve grown towards so steadily and naturally you’ve hardly felt the need to name it.  Suppose your childhood is one long story of rivers and streams, summer days adrift in a rowboat, a montage of Great Lakes waves and pools and rivulets that have buoyed you into adulthood, always present in the backdrop of memory or the moment, easy as breath.  

Easy as forgetting what water truly means to life when it has always surrounded you, softly and in such abundance, and without asking anything in return.  

Photo: Charles Brackett

My own love story with Northern Michigan’s water began well before any memory of it and reaffirms itself over and over again in moments.  I love watching the sun melt into waves at secret beaches in summer. I love standing in a river’s current. I love the sound of water, the smell of it, the sensation of slipping in and giving over whatever heaviness I might have been wearing.  

I often wonder, though, where does the heaviness go?  What do the lakes and rivers do with it? How much of our mess can we dump into these watersheds, and how much of its beauty and wealth can we take for ourselves, or have stolen from us, before it’s all gone?  

These are questions of feeling, yes, but they have taken on very tangible meaning in recent decades within the Great Lakes states.  We are living in an era of mounting urgency when it comes to matters of clean, safe and affordable water for all; of correcting the failures of our leaders to abide by their Constitutional and common law duties to protect the invaluable resource of our watersheds from pollution, privatization and the desecration that follows; of the most fundamental principles of water justice, equality and people over profit.  

We are all familiar with the headlines about the Flint water crisis, the ongoing water shutoffs to households in Detroit, with oil spills and lead poisoning and PFAS, with the risks to resources and society that corporations like Nestlé and Enbridge hang their hats on.  We know, on the most basic human level, that our watersheds are threatened.  That our streams cannot sustain such giants coming in with taps and pumps to bottle and sell away our water, and virtually for free.  That we, by virtue of our elected leaders, are allowing for the destruction of a resource absolutely vital to the survival of our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren…

Photo: Charles Brackett

The magnitude of the problem is vast, and often illusive to the naked eye.  You see, our water is so lovely to look upon, so vibrant and seemingly endless when you stand at the peak of Pyramid Point, or when you cross the Mackinac Bridge, that it’s difficult to believe a rusted pair of pipelines are pumping crude oil just below, threatening to burst. Or that not far away, a corporate giant is sucking the landscape dry.  

Photos of Enbridge’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River (the birds black as ink, the men in masks, the utter mess of it) seem almost implausible, impossibly far away from what you know of beauty when you breathe in such a contrary scene. Not to mention those bottles of Nestlé water lining the shelves of grocery stores, gas stations, your friend’s refrigerator… that couldn’t really be from your watershed, could it?

What can be done? The question resonates. I am small, and the problem is massive, complex, far-reaching, so much larger than me… How do I protect the water I love?  The question dissipates in the air above one of the river pools you go to for answers, seems to grow a bit lost…

But the truth is, there are solutions to ensure clean, safe, affordable water for all, and FLOW is leading the way towards this opportunity for actualized, real change.  FLOW president and renowned water attorney Jim Olson, Executive Director and water law expert Liz Kirkwood, and their team of highly specialized lawyers, scientists and staff have been working tirelessly to shape and launch the Campaign for Fresh Water. The campaign offers an in-depth, comprehensive and innovative look at emerging threats to our groundwater, details the most current analysis of Line 5, exposes loopholes in the Great Lakes Compact, and ultimately, unveils new hope for the future of Michigan’s water – and so the future of public health – in the Public Water, Public Justice Act.  This model legislation, pioneered by Jim alongside FLOW’s team, and with input from experts across the state, brings the intertwined water and health crisis in Michigan under one comprehensive legal framework, and reprioritizes protecting our public water for the health of generations to come.  

Sometimes when I sit by the water, I think about her voice, what she is saying in those moments of strong current, or purling waves, or when the oil spills, or when the Nestlé pumps appear.  Recently in New Zealand, after over 140 years of negotiation, the Whanganui River was granted the same legal rights as a human being.  The Māori tribe was finally able to have the river legally recognized as an ancestor, with two individuals elected as guardians to speak on the river’s behalf.  What do they know that we are still learning, here in this part of the world, in this country, in this state?  Perhaps that where the water thrives, the people will thrive. That the health of one directly informs the health of the other, and that there is no separating the two, not for anything.  I’m grateful to organizations like FLOW, to campaigns like the Campaign for Fresh Water, and to those unwavering, sure voices who show us the way to a brighter, healthier, sustainable future.  

About the Author: Jaimien Delp is a long-time friend of FLOW and an award-winning writer and lecturer who divides her time between Ann Arbor, where she teaches in the English Department at the University of Michigan, and all the watery places in Northern Michigan.  She earned her MFA in creative writing from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, where she was the recipient of a Zell Postgraduate Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Orion, Mid-American Review, Bridge Magazine, Dunes Review, Traverse Magazine, and The Smoking Poet.  Most recently, she has a piece in ELEMENTAL, Wayne State University Press’ forthcoming anthology of nonfiction, and has joined the editorial team at Mission Point Press.


Spending a Night Under the Stars along the Straits of Mackinac

This week’s Friday Favorite was written by Julius Moss, one of our summer interns who has since returned to Vermont Law School.

To me, the Mackinac Bridge is not just a bridge. It is also a portal. Every time I head north from my home in Traverse City, MI and cross the bridge, it feels like I have been transported to a simpler place. A place of boundless natural beauty, full of sandy beaches, clear blue water, dense pine forests, and mesmerizing sandstone cliffs. A welcoming place that is connected to the wild around it, embracing all four seasons mother nature has to offer. A place that is simply called the Yoop!

On one of my recent adventures to the Upper Peninsula, I headed north for a weekend bike trip in Marquette, MI. I was unable to leave Traverse City until that Friday evening, and did not want to drive late into the night. Although I had previously spent evenings on Mackinac Island, I found this to be the perfect opportunity to camp somewhere near the Straits for the first time.

After a short drive up US-31 and across the Mighty Mack, I set up camp in the Straits State Park on the North shore of the Straits. I was fortunate to claim a campsite just off the water, and was able to spend the evening walking the shores of the Straits. While listening to the water lap against the beach, I could only stop and wonder why we have a rusty 65-year old oil pipeline perched along the shifting bottom of the Straits, and why in the world would we continue to risk our precious natural resources by delaying the decommissioning of Line 5 for the construction of a tunnel.

The Straits of Mackinac are the heartbeat of the Great Lakes. In fact, more water flows through the Straits than over Niagara Falls on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Straits are home to the majority of the Lake Michigan commercial whitefish industry, allowing the Michigan Tribes to pass down their cultural connection to the water. The Straits are also home to destinations such as Mackinac Island, a place allows visitors from across the globe to venture back to a time before the automobile.

Julius Moss

It is crucial we as Michiganders do all we can do to protect the Straits. I encourage you all to contact your local representatives, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, and the governor and Attorney General’s office to express your concerns about Line 5 and the possibility of a utility tunnel. I also encourage you all to become informed voters this November and understand where candidates stand on Line 5 and protecting the Great Lakes. The Straits must continue to be a place that transports water, people, and culture. To do that – we must stop the transportation of oil in the straits and decommission Line 5 once and for all.


A Warm Welcome to Our New Deputy Director, Kelly Thayer

It brings me great pleasure to announce that Kelly Thayer has joined the FLOW team as our new Deputy Director. Kelly will play a lead role in strategic communications and overall program development and implementation. We have dreamed about this day for a long time.  

Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director

Kelly is a familiar face and name to many already, as he has worked with FLOW since 2014 as a communications consultant. Among other things, he has coordinated and supported FLOW’s involvement in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign to shut down the aging, cracked, and corroded Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet.  

There’s no doubt about it, but Kelly has a way with words. And that’s not surprising, given his Master of Arts in Journalism and Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Michigan, followed by his early newspaper career here in Michigan and Wisconsin.

In addition to being a gifted writer, Kelly is a wonderful communicator, researcher, and community organizer. His leadership has enabled him to work successfully on a diverse array of local, state, and national environmental campaigns. He served as volunteer co-chair of successful election campaigns to launch a countywide public bus transit system in 2006 and to renew its funding by a 3-1 margin in 2011 in Benzie County. Kelly also helped to build and co-direct state and local coalitions to advance people-centered transportation policies and projects in Michigan from 1998-2005 while working with the Michigan Land Use Institute (now Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities).  

Since 2005, Kelly has worked as a consultant at The Resource for Great Programs, a national firm working to strengthen foundations that support, and nonprofit law firms that provide, free civil legal aid to people in poverty across the nation.

What else? Kelly and his wife Carolyn also volunteered in the U.S. Peace Corps in Tanzania prior to starting their family. They have two amazing boys: Alex (18), who just started the engineering program at University of Michigan, and Quincy (15), who loves fishing, cross-country running, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding.

Make sure you get a chance to meet Kelly. He loves these Great Lakes as much as you do.  


-Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

Friday Favorite: Grand Traverse Commons

Though not the flashiest or most spectacular, this week’s Friday favorite is my regular place to hike. It is less of a handsome tuxedo and more of a favorite autumn sweater. One summer in Traverse City, I hiked somewhere in this network of trails every day. I am talking about the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, nestled in the old State Hospital grounds.

A perfect place to walk a dog, meet a friend, or test your new mountain bike, the Commons is just that – a common area for everyone to enjoy.

Revisiting my old familiar grounds this week, I stomped up a hill to a place I had forgotten about. Tucked back in the trails is a freshwater spring sprouting out of the dirt and spilling down the rocks and roots nearby. It carried more weight this week because we just released our report, The Sixth Great Lake: The Emergency Threatening Michigan’s Overlooked Groundwater Resource.

Nayt Boyt, Office Manager

The sixth Great Lake – the groundwater that exists beneath our feet – is the unsung and unseen hero. We rely on groundwater for much of our daily use yet do not often see it, but every so often, we see it emerge as a spring.


Can you find this spring in the Commons?


The Campaign for Fresh Water

FLOW Releases Model Legislation to Protect Michigan’s Public Waters and the Rights of the People Who Depend on Them from Unauthorized Privatization

We’re writing today to invite you to join us in an exciting and critical new venture, the launch of The Campaign for Fresh Water, FLOW’s comprehensive and solutions-based response to the current water crises in Michigan. Over the coming months, we’ll be unveiling several sub-campaigns, each central to the overall goal of The Campaign for Fresh Water. Here, you will find groundbreaking reports, model legislation, FLOW’s response to the most current and critical water issues, and opportunities to participate.

FLOW’s mission has always been clear: public access to clean, safe, affordable water for all. Still, mounting threats to the quality and quantity of our waters, and the issues of social justice surrounding both, have reached a level of incredible urgency. Here at FLOW, we recognize that such urgency calls for organized, all-encompassing and grand scale action. In response, we have been hard at work identifying key threats, the science and law governing each, and developing the achievable, sustainable action necessary to put an end to the profound water injustice, toxic water quality and water privatization trends we have seen occurring throughout the Great Lakes Region.

Yesterday’s release of model legislation, Public Water, Public Justice, is part of a larger effort to address the great inequity between bottled water companies like Nestlé and the great suffering of residents in Detroit, Flint, and increasingly beyond as the PFAS-contaminated groundwater crisis threatens drinking water supplies across Michigan.

FLOW is calling on Michigan and the seven other Great Lakes states to pass this model legislation in order to:

  • Affirm public ownership over water.
  • Protect sensitive water resources.
  • Prohibit the sale of water except for authorized bottled water by a licensing and royalty system.
  • Recoup for public purposes royalties derived from these bottled water sales. This model law places royalties into a public water, health and justice trust fund to serve people and communities for specific dedicated public purposes, such as replacing lead service lines or creating water affordability plans for disadvantaged people in cities and rural communities.

Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and president, water rights attorney, and a principal author of the model legislation said, “For over two decades, citizens have witnessed government leaders and elected officials retreat from their paramount constitutional and common law duty to protect public water, health, and the common good above all else. This has resulted in a culture of indifference in which water, people, and health are last, and political agendas and economic interests are first, an indifference that led to the water shutoffs in Detroit, the Flint water crisis, and free sovereign water for a highly profitable bottled water industry, with nothing in return for the needs of the people of Michigan. It is time to right the ship, and restore the public trust and paramount common good on which water governance is founded.”

“My mother, Edna Leak, who passed away just shy of celebrating her 101st birthday was a compassionate water protector,” said Lila Cabbil from the People’s Water Board. “She used to say, ‘You know you can be fined for not giving a dog water, there should be a fine for not giving humans water. It’s not right!’ As her daughter, I too have seen firsthand in Detroit countless times how losing access to water takes a dreadful toll on health and human dignity. This model legislation – Public Water, Public Justice – counters water privatization, protects our water as a commons and human right, and works for water equity and justice. Let the tragedies of Flint and Detroit shape our future so that the people of Michigan never have to worry about access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water.”

“This legislation affirms Michigan’s duty as steward of the Great Lakes for the public trust and its commitment to the people of the state that water is a human right. It is based on the historic principle that water is for the public and cannot be owned or sold. The legislation in this way codifies century-old Supreme Court rulings,” said Noah Hall, Professor of Law, Wayne State University Law School, Founder and Scholarship Director, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. “And it advances human rights, recognizing that water is our most basic physical need. In this regard the legislation is a step forward where American law has been falling behind, as the human right to water has already been recognized by over 100 other countries. The Great Lakes and the people of Michigan deserve this legislation.”

“Public Water, Public Justice,” is available to the public here and, in addition to the model legislation, includes a two-page bill summary, legal primer, and full report presenting the legal and socio-economic context of water rights and water crises in Michigan.

The work ahead is sure to be challenging and will require fierce commitment, but if these solutions are approached together, our belief in a thriving future for Michigan’s water is unwavering. With your help, change is entirely within reach. We thank you for your support and resilience and look forward to sharing this important work with you as we unite to restore water justice, water quality, and water for all.


PFAS in the Huron River: Every Mile, Every Fish, Every Day

As usual, our 15-year-old son Quincy had fishing on his mind.

It was the steamy Friday afternoon start of Labor Day weekend in Ann Arbor. We had just moved Quincy’s brother Alex into a University of Michigan dorm room, and taken my wife to Detroit Metropolitan Airport to visit her parents in Florida. Now it was time for our own adventure.

We drove to Gallup Park, an east-side city oasis stretching along the Huron River that hosts a popular canoe livery and attracts locals as well as international students and families who often picnic and play there. Pulling our fishing gear from the Subaru, we stepped toward the wide tan waters of the slow-moving stretch of river.

My family & friends relaxing on the Huron River near the Argo Canoe Livery in Ann Arbor before heading downstream through the Cascades, U of M Nichols Arboretum, ending up at Gallup Park.

Quincy and I smiled as we joined the bicyclists, joggers, and other park-goers, and laughed at the chances of catching any fish in the full sun of late afternoon. We cast our lines and twitched our rubber worms as we chatted with two members of a family from Jordan also hoping to hook into something.

Finding no bites, just weeds, we moved to another shore, and Quincy hatched a plan: “If I can get through this brush and step into the water, I could cast along the shore where there’s a little shade.” Boom! The plan worked, and I heard thrashing in the water as Quincy hauling in a hefty, 17-inch largemouth bass. Quincy landed another nice bass before we left, and we returned the next morning to kayak the Huron with my sister who lives in Ann Arbor and my U of M college buddy and his son.

Water Everywhere and Not a Fish to Eat

Quincy Thayer with his catch-and-release largemouth bass at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor.

Friday night I posted a Facebook photo of a smiling Quincy displaying his prized bass, and my friend Bill quickly shared this link with me: Michigan says PFAS makes all fish in Huron River unsafe to eat. I thanked him, and replied in frustration, “A river too toxic to eat a single damn fish.”

I had seen a prior state warning not to eat any Huron River fish in parts of three counties because of chemical pollution, specifically by PFOS, which is a type of PFAS, a term that represents a group of water-repellent chemicals known as per- and poly-fluorinated compounds.

Now the toxic PFAS advisory had been extended to all 130 miles of the Huron River in southeast Michigan, which emerges from a swamp in northern Oakland County and flows into Lake Erie on the boundary between Wayne and Monroe counties. The river and its toxins wind through thirteen parks, game areas, and recreation areas, and the cities of Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Belleville, Flat Rock, and Rockwood. It is the only state-designated Country-Scenic Natural River in southeast Michigan, according to Wikipedia, which includes 27.5 miles of the mainstream, plus an additional 10.5 miles of three tributaries.

It’s deeply troubling because PFAS have links to cancer, liver damage, birth defects and autoimmune diseases. The state says that touching the fish or water, and swimming in these water bodies, is not considered a health concern as PFAS do not move easily through the skin.

PFAS have been used in cosmetics, products including Scotchgard and Teflon, fire-retardant sprays, and some food packaging such as pizza boxes and microwave-popcorn bags. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t biodegrade.

Finding One PFAS Source, With Thousands More to Go

A few days later, I eagerly clicked on this headline: Metro Detroit auto supplier is a source of PFAS pollution in Huron River. But I didn’t feel the relief or sense of justice I sought in reading about one suspected polluter among many in the PFAS crisis washing over all of Michigan. Stretches of the Kalamazoo River and Flint River are contaminated with PFAS too. Michigan officials estimate that PFAS might contaminate more than 11,000 sites statewide.

Michiganders are drinking PFAS too. Veterans and their families and co-workers for years likely drank PFAS at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. The state of Michigan has found the chemical concoction in the drinking water of 1.5 million Michiganders so far, with statewide testing only about halfway complete in late August. The list of public water supply systems with known PFAS levels currently include major systems that draw water from the Great Lakes such as Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Wyoming, as well as groundwater systems such as Kalamazoo, and surface water systems as in Ann Arbor, which draws primarily from the Huron River.

The state of Michigan and the federal government both lack a legally enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS, with state decision-making based on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) that is not protective of public health, particularly for children and pregnant women, and is 70 times higher than the limit of 1 ppt recommended in a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.

Starting with the Truth

On a personal level, it makes me sick that every fish in this wide river winding through my childhood hometown of Ann Arbor is too toxic to consume. I also wonder how the fish themselves are faring, along with everything else in the river and all birds and other wildlife that also eat the fish. Are they getting any warnings?

How do I really explain the handing off of this legacy to Quincy? I decide to start with the truth and text Quincy the article that Bill shared with me. We talk about it and commiserate a little. We like to eat fish, but mostly don’t for health concerns related to mercury, PCBs, and dioxin, and now PFAS.

I think about all those local and international families who do eat the fish they catch at Gallup Park. I call the park and reach a staffer who assures me that the city has erected signs and posters warning people along the Huron River not to eat the fish. He said the city also sent out a text alert about the PFAS pollution too.  I feel somewhat assured, but also know that plenty of people along the river’s 130-mile run might not hear or heed the health warnings. 

Kelly Thayer, FLOW Contributor

I recall reports that state officials ignored and suppressed a major warning in 2012 about Michigan’s emerging PFAS crisis. I reflect on the recent reporting by FLOW’s executive director Liz Kirkwood that “every year, chemical manufacturers release some 10,000 untested chemicals into the environment in the United States.” And I remind myself that fighting for what’s right and for the future is always the right thing to do, especially when the fight grows larger and seems overwhelming.

The heat is rising on the Michigan legislature to enact an enforceable PFAS drinking water standard and conduct a full investigation into the state’s PFAS crisis, and how an MDEQ report exposing it six years ago was ignored. Michiganders deserve the truth, the protection of their health, and an outdoors and drinking water supply that are not toxic.

Additional sources of information on PFAS contamination in Michigan:


Friday Favorite: A subtle gem in Traverse City

When it comes to beautiful places, the Grand Traverse region has an embarrassment of riches. I hope to live to 100, so I can visit them all. One I have come to know well may be one of the most subtle. It’s practically in my back yard beside the Munson medical complex on the west side of Traverse City.

photos by The Watershed Center

Completed in 2013, it’s part of a much larger restoration project coordinated by The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. Directly across the street to the east from the Cowell Family Cancer Center, the Kids Creek Healing Garden has been fashioned from what was formerly asphalt and a strait-jacketed stretch of a tributary of Kids Creek. Built in cooperation with Munson Medical Center, it features native plantings, riffles and pools, a winding stream bed and the perpetual, reassuring sound of flowing water. A stretch of the Kids Creek trail meanders through the pocket park.

The environmental benefit is a major contribution to restoring a four-mile stretch of Kids Creek that is officially listed as impaired under provisions of the Clean Water Act. Along with other features, the restored stream area will reduce flood hazards, filter polluted runoff, and provide habitat for aquatic life.

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

The human benefit is the preservation and restoration of emotional and spiritual peace, an oasis in an urban world of traffic, noise, and profound stresses. Furnished with benches, it invites the visitor to sit, listen, watch, and contemplate.

The project proves that the abstract idea of “environmental compliance” can be addressed creatively, in a way that is cost-effective while beautifying not just the appearance, but the soul of a community.

Paddle Protests & Water Celebration: Weekend Wrap-Up

Saturday, September 1 was a day of action for citizens of Michigan. The fourth annual Pipe Out Paddle Protest was held in the Straits of Mackinac, followed by the inaugural Water Is Life Festival. Organized by Jannan Cornstalk, both events drew participants from all over the mitten, coming together to protect our waters. The family friendly Water Is Life Festival featured musicians, panels, and celebrations of water.

“The 2018 Paddle Protest and Water is Life Festival were a powerful showing of our collective commitment to protecting our Great Lakes and decommissioning Line 5,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, who participated in the event. “The voices of our Indigenous leaders with sovereign treaty rights were bold and clear: water is sacred and the Great Lakes should not continue as an oil corridor for Enbridge corporate profit.”

In addition to the events at Mackinaw City, the first sister paddle protest was held in Traverse City, MI. Paddling together down the Boardman River, participants “spilled” into West Bay, and joined into a flotilla to protest the continued operation of Line 5.

Co-organizer of the TC paddle Karen Bunting said, “We were thrilled with the community turnout for the sister Pipe Out Paddle Protest! We left the Union Dam area cleaner than we found it, paddled together down the Boardman River, and raised awareness about the dangers of Line 5. Other paddlers joined us in West Bay, and we formed a flotilla of about 50 water protectors to demand that Line 5 be decommissioned before it’s too late.”  She added,“Our most sincere appreciation to all those who showed up for this important event and our sponsors: FLOW, The River Outfitters, Paddle TC, Oryana, Image360 and Tee See Tee. We made a difference on Saturday and couldn’t have done it without all of you!”

All three events highlighted concerns about Line 5, elevating local voices and putting forth a unified effort and belief that protecting our Great Lakes is more important than preserving a risky 65-year-old pipeline.