Tag: For Love of Water

Last Call: Army Corps on Oct. 6 to Hold Final ‘Scoping Meeting’ on Proposed Oil Tunnel in Great Lakes

Editor’s note: Learn more about FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 and stop the proposed oil pipeline tunnel on FLOW’s Line 5 program page and new Line 5 fact sheet.

The public will have a last chance on October 6 to comment orally to the leadership and staff of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, on the agency’s plans for a study of an oil tunnel proposed under the Great Lakes.

The Army Corps will hold an online meeting from 1-4 p.m. on Thursday to help set the scope of the agency’s environmental impact statement study of a proposal by Enbridge, Inc., of Canada, to build an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. The tunnel would house Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline, which has leaked dozens of times across Michigan and Wisconsin while carrying oil since 1953 from western Canada primarily to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. The Army Corps study is expected to continue through at least 2023.

In addition to the Oct. 6 meeting, the public can comment on the study of the tunnel proposal by October 14 by mail or the Army Corps project website. The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, of which FLOW is a founding steering committee member, also is collecting and forwarding comments to the Army Corps using an email template that suggests key points to make. FLOW’s preliminary tunnel comment also provides critical elements to convey.

Many Troubling Aspects of the Tunnel Proposal

Enbridge wants to bore and blast a 20-foot-in-diameter tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, just west of the Mackinac Bridge, to house a new Line 5 pipeline. The Canadian company’s stated goal is to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through Line 5 and State of Michigan public trust bottomlands where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, just west of the Mackinac Bridge.

FLOW and our partners have identified critical deficiencies in the project’s construction permit application, its legal authorization, and the review by State of Michigan environmental agencies of expected impacts to wetlands, bottomlands, and surface water, including from the daily discharge of millions of gallons of wastewater during construction. FLOW and our allies have expressed continuing concerns about the impact to the Great Lakes and lack of public necessity for the project, which would worsen climate change by adding greenhouse gas emissions each year equivalent to almost seven new coal-fired power plants or nearly 6 million new cars to the road, according to experts.

Enbridge also lacks adequate liability insurance, according to a report released by the Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office revealing that Enbridge’s subsidiaries, not its parent company, hold Line 5’s 1953 easement and signed the proposed tunnel agreement; the assets of the subsidiaries’ parent Enbridge are inadequate to cover the costs and economic damages in the event of a moderate spill.

At Prior Army Corps Hearing, a Strong Majority Rejected the Proposed Oil Tunnel

The Army Corps already has held a Sept. 1 online comment session to help scope its tunnel study and a Sept. 8 in-person hearing in St. Ignace, where more than 4 out of 5 people who spoke, from among a crowd of hundreds, said that an oil pipeline tunnel proposed under the Great Lakes was a dangerous idea that would rob future generations by threatening the most precious thing on earth—fresh water—and worsening the climate crisis. 

Hundreds of people attend a public comment session held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the oil pipeline tunnel proposed by Enbridge under the Straits of Mackinac, on Sept. 8, 2022, at Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace, Michigan. Photo by Kelly Thayer.

Most commenters at the seven-hour, St. Ignace hearing expressed deep concern for the harm that construction or a potential explosion or spill from the operation of an oil pipeline tunnel could have on their children and grandchildren’s future, local residents, the Great Lakes, drinking water, tourist economy, and jobs—as well as tribal rights, tribal member survival, cultural heritage, the fishery, ecology of the Straits of Mackinac, and the climate. (Read FLOW’s coverage here).

FLOW’s Position on the Scope of the Army Corps Tunnel Study

FLOW’s position, as expressed at the hearing in St. Ignace, is that the Army Corps’ environmental study of the tunnel proposal and alternatives must under the law include, at a minimum:

  1. A “no action” alternative that would use existing capacity in other pipelines and, if necessary, other transportations solutions—such as rail and truck transport of natural gas liquids—in lieu of building new pipeline infrastructure.
  2. An alternative to connect Enbridge’s Superior, Wisc., and Sarnia, Ontario, terminals without crossing the Great Lakes. (See FLOW’s fact sheet on alternatives).
  3. A tunnel alternative that fully eliminates the risk of oil intrusion into the Straits in the event of an explosion or similar event.

Army Corps Process to Continue through at Least 2023

Enbridge has applied for a Army Corps permit under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act, seeking federal approval to discharge dredged or fill materials into waters of the United States, as well as the construction of structures or work that may affect navigable waters. The Army Corps also will conduct an ethnographic/traditional cultural landscape study as part of the environmental impact statement under the National Historic Preservation Act. After considering public comment and issuing the draft EIS likely by fall 2023, the Army Corps will seek additional public feedback, release a final study, and then issue a “record of decision” regarding whether to issue, issue with modification, or deny the Department of the Army permit altogether—consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Army Corps, Detroit District, to date has identified general concerns in the following categories:

  • Potential direct effects to waters of the United States including wetlands; water and sediment quality; aquatic species and fisheries; threatened and endangered species;
  • Archaeological and cultural resources, including the Straits as a Traditional Cultural Landscape; Tribal treaty rights and interests;
  • Recreation and recreational resources; waste management; aesthetics; noise; air quality; climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions and the social cost of greenhouse gasses;
  • Public health and safety during construction and operations; navigation; erosion; invasive species; energy needs; environmental justice; needs and welfare of the people; and cumulative effects.

FLOW’s Legal Team and Allies Helped Spur the Army Corps’ Full Environmental Study

FLOW continues to be deeply engaged in every step of the Army Corps study and committed to shutting down Line 5 and stopping the oil tunnel. FLOW’s legal team and allies helped spur the Army Corps’ full Environmental Study through our legal research, analysis, and comment, including FLOW’s formal legal comments submitted to the agency in July 2020The legal team challenged the proposed tunnel in December 2020 by submitting comprehensive comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calling for an environmental impact statement on behalf of a dozen organizations: Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Clean Water Action—Michigan, FLOW, Groundwork Center, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, NMEAC, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and Environment, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, and TC 350. The comments demonstrated a serious gap in Enbridge’s evaluation of the presence of loose, unconsolidated rock and sediment in the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac that Enbridge has characterized as solid bedrock.

FLOW to Army Corps: Threat to Great Lakes and Lack of Public Need Should Sink Proposed Oil Tunnel

Editor’s note: Learn more about FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 and stop the proposed oil pipeline tunnel on FLOW’s Line 5 program page and new Line 5 fact sheet.

By Zach Welcker, FLOW Legal Director

For Love of Water (“FLOW”) submitted legal and technical comments before today’s deadline in response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Notice of Intent to Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Enbridge’s proposal to bore and blast a 20-foot-in-diameter tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, just west of the Mackinac Bridge, to house a new Line 5 oil pipeline for another 99 years.

Zack Welcker, FLOW Legal Director

The public can still comment on the proposed oil tunnel in the Great Lakes by 11:59 p.m. EDT today (Oct. 14, 2022) on the Army Corps’ project website.

The public can still comment on the proposed oil tunnel in the Great Lakes by 11:59 p.m. EDT today (Oct. 14, 2022) on the Army Corps’ project website. The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, of which FLOW is a founding steering committee member, also is collecting and forwarding comments to the Army Corps using an email template that suggests key points to make. FLOW’s tunnel comment also provides critical elements to convey.

FLOW urged the Army Corps to broaden the scope of its analysis to ensure that all regional alternatives are fully considered in an effort to meet regional fossil-fuel energy demands, which are forecasted to dwindle in the ongoing transition to clean energy, while maximizing protection of the Great Lakes and combating climate change.

Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil tunnel is not a viable alternative given the forecasted dwindling demand for fossil fuels and the need to maximize protection of the Great Lakes and combat climate change.

In FLOW’s view, Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil tunnel is not a viable alternative to meet these regional objectives when viewed in light of all relevant facts. FLOW anticipates that the manifold risks of the tunnel proposal will continue to grow as Enbridge begins to fill data gaps related to geologic conditions, construction challenges, and worker safety.

FLOW Raises Concerns about Risk to Great Lakes, Lack of Public Need, and Information Gaps

FLOW’s comments to the Army Corps include an emphasis on the:

  • Line 5 Pipeline Risk—FLOW opposes tethering the shutdown of the existing dual Line 5 pipelines to a tunnel project that will not resolve underlying the environmental and cultural concerns about siting a major oil pipeline in the middle of America’s greatest surface freshwater resource.

    A diver points to broken straps along an encrusted segment of Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

  • Lack of Information—The public is deeply concerned about the risk of a catastrophic tunnel explosion, the economic feasibility and environmental impacts of constructing the tunnel, and the long-term climate impacts of the tunnel proposal. The public needs more information than Enbridge has provided to understand the risks and benefits.

The public is deeply concerned about the risk of a catastrophic tunnel explosion, the economic feasibility and environmental impacts of constructing the tunnel, and the long-term climate impacts of the tunnel proposal.

  • Lack of Public Need—As Enbridge implicitly concedes, there is no long-term public need for the proposed tunnel from an energy standpoint, and it would undermine federal greenhouse-gas reduction policies. Enbridge’s own expert has determined that a Line 5 shutdown would have a de minimis impact on fuel prices.
  • Overly Narrow Focus—Regionalizing the Purpose and Need Statement in the Army Corps study is warranted because Enbridge’s 645-mile Line 5 pipeline is almost 70 years old and past the end of its projected operational life. As Line 5 would need a systemic makeover to keep operating for another 99 years, Enbridge’s proposed tunnel should not be segmented and evaluated in isolation from the entire operation.

Line 5 shown in red runs from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ont., as part of Enbridge’s larger pipeline network in yellow running from the Alberta, Canada, tar sands to Montreal.

Line 5 pipeline is almost 70 years old and past the end of its projected operational life.

  • Strong Public Interest in Great Lakes Protection—The Army Corps’ Purpose and Need Statement in the Notice of Intent is also deficient for lack of recognition of the public interest in protecting the Great Lakes in the face of global water shortages, chronic drought in the United States, and other costly impacts from climate change. Protection of the largest and most valuable surface freshwater system in the world is an economic and environmental imperative. The Great Lakes contain 84% of North America’s fresh surface water and are the cultural backbone for eight states, two provinces, and multiple tribes and First Nations.

FLOW cited lack of recognition of the public interest in protecting the Great Lakes in the face of global water shortages, chronic drought in the United States, and other costly impacts from climate change.

Army Corps Should Consider a Range of Reasonable Alternatives

In order to meet the objectives of a Purpose and Need Statement that focuses on the connection between Enbridge’s Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario, terminals and gives primacy to the public’s interest in maximizing protection of the Great Lakes, the Army Corps should, at a minimum, consider the following alternatives:

Tar sand oil production, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Environmental Defence Canada.

  1. An alternative to connect Enbridge’s Superior and Sarnia terminals without crossing the Great Lakes.
  2. An alternative to use existing capacity in other pipelines and, if necessary, other transportations solutions–such as rail and truck transport of natural gas liquids–in lieu of building new pipeline infrastructure.
  3. A tunnel alternative that fully eliminates the risk of oil intrusion into the Straits of Mackinac in the event of an explosion or similar event.
  4. A “no action” alternative.

Protection of the largest and most valuable surface freshwater system in the world is an economic and environmental imperative. The Great Lakes contain 84% of North America’s fresh surface water and are the cultural backbone for eight states, two provinces, and multiple tribes and First Nations.

The Army Corps’ analysis of “energy need” should result in a determination that Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is contrary to the public interest. The confluence of future demand-side constraints, including the electrification of transportation, disinvestment in Albertan oil production, North American and global prohibitions on the sale and use of internal combustion engine vehicles, and governmental efforts aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating the transition to a global clean energy economy. These forces driving change are being embraced by public and private interests and represent future trends that will bring measurable economic, environmental, and social benefits. The confluence of these market forces militates against future large-scale investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Editor’s note: Learn more about FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 and stop the proposed oil pipeline tunnel on FLOW’s Line 5 program page and new Line 5 fact sheet.

State should end discussion, take action on Line 5

When the police pulls a resident over for going 100 mph in a 55-mph zone, they don't cluck their tongues -- they click their ticket books.

But when Michigan’s state government catches Enbridge Energy putting the Great Lakes at risk by failing again to disclose dangerous conditions on its Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, the response is paralysis. The state has again caught Enbridge ignoring its legal obligation to be a proper steward of the submerged land that the state allows the company to occupy with its pipeline.

But all we're hearing out of Lansing, and particularly Attorney General Bill Schuette is an expression of disappointment.

The difference between strict enforcement of laws against individuals and giving an oil transport giant chance after chance to meet its fundamental responsibility not to harm public waters is as stark as the difference between a single speeding motorist and a catastrophic oil spill fouling the drinking water source for millions.

The accumulation of studies, evidence of pipeline delamination and bends in June, and now exposed metal with likely corrosion, signals a dangerously flawed and ultimately incurable pair of sunken pipelines.

It’s time for our state government to stop treating the 1963 Constitution, statutes, and common law that protect our lakes as nice but meaningless environmental policy statements and start treating them as the duty the people through the Constitution and our courts have mandated. More than ever, it’s time to shut down Line 5.

FLOW's senior advisor, Dave Dempsey, has 35 years experience in environmental policy. He served as environmental advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and as policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission.  He has also provided policy support to the Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action.  He has authored several books on the Great Lakes and water protection.

Friday Favorites – the Mackinac Bridge

Friday Favorites is our new series where we explore some of our favorite places in and around the Great Lakes.

The Mighty Mac, the Big Mac, the Mackinac Bridge.

One of the most iconic sights in the Great Lakes region, the Bridge has always been a source of wonder for me. My family took trips to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to go camping, and the best part of the car ride was the five miles over the Great Lakes. My brother and I would peer out the window down to see the water, then up to watch the enormous passing towers.

The structure itself amazed me, it still does today. Built just after the Line 5 pipelines in the Straits, the Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957. There is often work being done to maintain the bridge, and we would wave to the workers as we drove past. They never waved back, too immersed in their work.

Nayt Boyt, Office Manager

While camping is not permitted on the bridge, people can “hike” it. The Mackinac Bridge Walk every Labor Day allows people to walk the length of the bridge and witness the grandeur of the bridge and the surrounding Great Lakes. I have done so with my family several times.

Over the years, the Mackinac Bridge has served not only as a path toward camping along beautiful Lake Superior, but as a destination in itself, an impressive and beautiful bridge that I will always consider part of my home. 

The Forgotten Great Lake?

Photo credit: Dave Dempsey

The idea that Lake Huron is an overlooked or forgotten lake has even seeped into our government. A report issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality posed the question whether Huron is a victim of amnesia.

It’s not the biggest Great Lake, the dirtiest, the most populated or the purest. It’s just unlike any other lake on earth.

It’s probably most forgotten because relatively few people surround it and therefore are closely associated with it.  If there were such a statistic as person-hours of remembering, Huron would score low.

Even the most spectacular features of Huron can be easy to overlook.  Twenty years ago, I spent considerable time with a friend searching for the dwarf lake iris at Thompson’s Harbor State Park.  An exquisite miniature, the iris grows in all the world primarily on the shores of northern Lower Michigan and richly deserves its title as the official state wildflower.

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

It benefits from Huron and the cool, moist lakeshore air, and sand or thin soil over limestone-rich gravel or bedrock. Like any plant or animal whose prime habitat is the shoreline, the subtle dwarf lake iris is threatened.

More people should know Lake Huron, enjoy it and respect it.  It need not be the best kept secret in the Great Lakes.




Patagonia Supports FLOW

Each yeapatagoniar, Patagonia pledges 1% of their sales to the protection and restoration of the natural environment—regardless of the health of their sales or the economy. They call it the Earth Tax. This year, we identified 741 grassroots environmental groups in 18 countries and gave them $6.2 million in cash to do important work to restore rivers and forests, stop mines, protect endangered wildlife and habitat, and mitigate the effects of climate change. FLOW is proud to be among Patagonia’s grantees, and one of two Michigan nonprofits they recommend supporting. See the full breadth of their environmental and social efforts over the past year, including a list of all Patagonia grant recipients here.


FLOW is excited to be collaborating with Patagonia filmmakers on a new film about Line 5, coming in Spring of 2016.

Some Thoughts for the New Year: Common Home and Common Principles – Living and Working for the Common Good


Jim Olson FLOW Founder



By Jim Olson

President, FLOW For Love of Water, Traverse City

Attorney, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, P.C., Traverse City





When I look back over the past year, I can’t help but feel hope in the common goodness of people and communities.

I say this not without heart felt and serious concern about events in the world that point in the opposite direction – despair: increasing violence from guns, war, and sweeping droughts and floods, causing death and dislocation of millions of people and children, global warming and the push-back from unprecedented storms and extreme weather that compound drought, floods, landslides, which in turn destabilize countries like Syria fomenting conflict and conditions for ISIS. To paraphrase Circle of Blue senior journalist Keith Schneider, “The earth is angry and she’s fighting back.”

Closer to home, Detroit water shut-offs continue despite the devastating impact on the poor who can’t afford to pay a normal water bill, let alone the $100 a month or more claimed by the Detroit Water Board. State leaders finally stop denying the Flint water-crisis more than a year after residents demanded help, that its children and residents were exposed to high levels of lead from the city’s public water system. The problem is more endemic than Detroit or Flint, since both crises grew out of the unbridled power of Governor Snyder’s emergency manager law to usurp the power of city assets and revenues to pay debts regardless of the impacts to citizens. Flint’s emergency manager thought only of economic expediency in turning off water supplied from Detroit, and tapping into the filthy, polluted Flint River. Then there is the continual threat from the flow of oil in the aging, nearly 63-year old Line 5 pipeline under the Straits; the harm from a release or leak would be so catastrophic, the risk is unacceptable to everyone; yet the flow of oil continues without immediate temporary measures while state officials continue to study it as if it was an “issue,” and not the clear and imminent endangerment of the Great Lakes and the Straits of Mackinac – the fact is there is enough capacity within the pipeline system in the Great Lakes without Line 5 endangering the Straits.

So why the hope? Other events have happened this past year that point to a new way of understanding and, perhaps, solving many of the threats that we face in the world and our communities.

First, Pope Francis issued his encyclical on climate change and the environment, connecting the reality of our excessive consumptive materialism, global inequality, poverty, ecological and community devastation, and violence that follows. He carefully documented that our way of seeing and doing, our post-modern god of the law of free markets and legally justified greed, our fragmented attempts at dishing out money to help the poor are not working. He says this because we are living a material, market place illusion, and not in harmony with the reality that the earth is our “common home,” and that if we do not share its gifts and respect its inherent natural limits, earth’s water, weather, soil, and the biological diversity on which all life depends will continue to worsen to even greater extremes. He points to a new paradigm, a framework in which we work and live with the understanding that a body of water, whether ocean, Grand Traverse Bay, or Lake Chad, are a commons, part of the gift of earth as commons to all. If we do this, not only with water, but the ridge lines and forests, the beauty and land that are home to our relationships, our cities, the neighborhoods within our towns, the soils beneath our feet, the air we breathe, then we will begin to reshape our life around truth and the given limits of nature, and this will guide our living, our way of life, or economy, full and rich with newly directed creative and sustainable opportunities and entrepreneur ship.

Second, amidst a world of conflicts, from Syria to the Ukraine, from our own cities, to Nigeria, Sudan, and Afghanistan, and in the aftermath of the mass murders from extreme terrorists in Parrs, the nations of the world cooperated: leaders of large and small, developed and developing, or undeveloped countries, recognized the responsibility to each other, agreed to something, the world temperature will not rise more 2 degrees, and maybe less. While it is not law yet, if taken implemented, it will help stave off global calamity greater than two world wars last century, by reducing the irreparable damage we face from climate change and global warming. There is hope in the agreement that we stop denying and see the mounting harm and set a goal that through hard-work and common sacrifice offers a way out of an unthinkable alternative for people everywhere.

Third, we witnessed the bridging of differences by our Supreme Court in precedent setting cases that demand human dignity for marriage between two people, human rights to housing and water for the poor without access, as wells as the genuine search for a common goal to address wasteful and harmful water rights in the middle of the historical California droughts.

Fourth, our political debate heating up even before the 2016 presidential election has pointed to something more than the old, increasingly polarized beliefs in market economy, through money at wars and problems, rather than considering the root of the problem might be the way we are looking at them. Regardless of my own or others’ political persuasion, there is a fresh voice in Bernie Sanders, laying out the case for a community based on sharing of wealth, taking care of neighbors, and our neighborhood, what Pope Francis calls our “common home,” and at the same time helping with services to the poor, respecting and honoring diversity, and encouraging new business innovation. We have been trapped in this country in a red and blue, right and left, straight-jacket of false ideology, rather than identifying those things that are essential to every one of us and providing for them as principle of our country—the common good.

Fifth, then Michael Moore comes out with his latest film Where to Invade Next? Good God, here we have the message that we here in the USA had the idea, come up with the ideas, of common good, yet go in the opposite direction of individualized competition based on a law of the jungle called free markets. Everything is about profit and money and bottom line. The world is not a corporation, it is a commons in which corporations organizations are simply a means, not an end.

Do we really have a choice? Our common home and communities are simultaneously local and global. It’s not just act locally, think globally, or act globally, think locally. It’s all of this and more. If we don’t act, for example, on climate change, or understand that climate change is not just an energy issue but about water and food, if we don’t move toward a renewable economy within a few years, small island countries will literally disappear, rainforests and biodiversity will disappear, coastal cities and other areas will increasingly flood and fail from even more extreme storm events or the day-to-day failure to change, adapt and embrace resilient cooperation—the common good. All one has to do is read through “4 Degrees Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” a report published by renown scientists and even sponsored by the more conservative World Bank. The picture is not pretty, and it would it is ignorant, even immoral, at this time in history not to act, even out of self-interest, for this common good.

So I end this year and start the next with hope. At FLOW, the Great Lakes and Water Policy Center, here in Traverse City, and other organizations throughout the region, we have chosen as a mission and goal to protect the waters of the Great Lakes basin as a commons with principles, known as the public trust doctrine, that require government as trustee and people as beneficiaries, to work together to respect and protect water and community that depend on it from impairment. Private control of public waters and other public commons has always been prohibited; this is because some things essential to all of us are common to all of us. If we don’t protect the commons, we undermine the air, water, community and neighborhoods where we live. To work and live toward the common good is to work for the commons and at the same time work for yourself, family and friends. To not work for the common good, is to continue the long, slow, or perhaps not so slow, disintegration that leads to destruction of the earth, water, air, community, people, and leads to a world violent and unsafe.

It is hopeful and reassuring to see positive events pointing toward this new way of seeing, understanding and doing – living and working for the protection and sustainability of our common home and the common good. They are one and the same. Here’s to another hopeful New Year.




Great Lakes groups band together to challenge Nestlé and water crises in Flint and beyond

“My grandson that’s not here tonight, that’s twelve years old, he was to be an academic ambassador to go to Washington in the year 2014 and 2015. Well he was an A-B student but by the time the lead began to corrode his brain, he was no longer an A-B student. He was a D-E-F student,” said Bishop Bernadel Jefferson of her grandson, one of the thousands of children affected by the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. Bishop Jefferson, who is with the Flint group CAUTION, was one of the speakers on the Friday night panel of the Water is Life: Strengthening our Great Lakes Commons this past weekend.

Bishop Jefferson has been a pastor for 27 years and an activist for 25 years. She is married with ten children and ten grandchildren. She was one of the first signers of the emergency manager lawsuitagainst Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in 2013. Her passionate talk brought tears to many eyes of the 200 people gathered at Woodside Church for the summit. At the same time her talk energized the audience. Her message of doing this work for all children and the importance of coming together reverberated among the crowd. Bishop Jefferson said of the gathering, “Tonight we make history. We did something they didn’t want us to do and that was to come together.”

Water justice for Great Lakes communities

Maude Barlow gave an important keynote speech on Friday night on water justice struggles around the world and her work with other water warriors to have the UN recognize the human rights to water and sanitation. Jim Olson from FLOW gave an impassioned talk about Nestle in Michigan and the importance of the public trust. Indigenous lawyer Holly Bird talked about her work with the legal team for Standing Rock, water law from an Indigenous perspective, that governments need to honor the relationships that Indigenous people have with the water and how that can be done without someone controlling or owning water.

(Photo above by Story of Stuff: Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians)

Lila Cabbil from the Detroit People’s Water Board, who many affectionately call Mama Lila, talked about how the water fights are racialized in Michigan. “The fight we have in Michigan is very much racialized. We need to understand that truth and we need to speak that truth. Because what is happening even as we speak in terms of how Flint and Detroit is being treated would not happen if it was a white community.” She pointed out how the crises are being condoned by the silence of white people. She took a moment to remember late activist Charity Hicks who was a leader in the fight against the shutoffs and who encouraged people to “wage love”.

(Photo right: Lila Cabbil from the Detroit People’s Water Board)

In Canada, the lack of clean water is also often racialized. There are routinely more than 100 drinking water advisories in First Nations, some of which have been in place for nearly two decades. At the start of her talk on Saturday, Sylvia Plain from Aamjiwnaang First Nation taught the audience how to say “aanii” which is “hello” in Anishinaabe. The Great Lakes region is predominantly Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatami). She talked about how Aamjiwnaang First Nation has had methylmercury in the sediments in their river for a couple of decades. Plain also talked about how the Anishinaabe have cared for the waters and land for thousands of years.

Wearing a Flint Lives Matter t-shirt, Saturday’s keynote speaker (starts at 23:00) Claire McClinton from Flint Democracy Defense League, further described the water crisis in Flint. She pointed out, “In Flint Michigan, you can buy a gallon of lead free gas, or a gallon of lead free paint, but you can’t get a gallon of lead free water from your own tap.”

(Photo above by Story of Stuff: Claire McClinton of Flint Democracy Defense League)

Marian Kramer of Highland Park Human Rights Coalition and Michigan Welfare Rights Organizationtold Saturday’s audience about her work to fight the shutoffs in Highland Park, a city within Metro Detroit where at one point half of the homes had their water shut off.

Nestle’s bottled water takings

Rob Case from Wellington Water Watchers of Ontario and Peggy Case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation both talked about their grassroots organizations and the local resistance to Nestle’s bottling operations. Peggy Case pointed to the larger issue of the privatization and the commodification of water. “The dots have to be connected. We can’t just look at bottled water. The right to water is being challenged everywhere. The privatization of water is a key piece of what’s going on in Flint,” she explained. The state of Michigan is suing the city of FLint for refusing to sign a 30-year agreement that requires the city to pay for a private pipeline to Detroit that will not be used by residents. 

In Evart, Michigan, two hours northwest from Flint, Nestlé pumps more than 130 million gallons (492 million litres) of water a year from the town to bottle and sell to consumers across the state and country. Last year, the corporation applied to increase its pumping by 60 percent. Nestlé’s current pumping and proposed expansion threatens surrounding wetlands and wildlife in the region, which at the same time violates an 181-year-old treaty that requires Michigan state to protect the habitat for the Grand Traverse Band and Saginaw Chippewa tribal use.

Nestlé continues pumping up to 4.7 million litres (1.2 million gallons) a day in southern Ontario despite the fact that both of its permits have expired – one permit expired in August and the other expired more than a year ago. The Ontario government is required to consult with communities on Nestlé’s bottled water applications but still has not done so. The Ontario government recently made some changes to the bottled water permitting system including a two-year moratorium on bottled water takings and increased bottled water taking fees (from $3.71 to 503.71 per million litres) but local groups and residents want more. They are calling for a phase out of bottled water takings to protect drinking water. The Council of Canadians is calling Nestle’s and other bottled water takings to be an election issue in next year’s Ontario election.

Summit speakers and participants were outraged that governments allow Nestlé and other water companies to take, control and sell water for a profit while failing to secure clean water for residents in Flint, Detroit, and many Indigenous nations.

Days before the summit, the Guardian reported that Nestle only pays an administrative fee of $200 in Michigan while Detroit resident Nicole Hill, a mother of three, has her water shut off every few months and has to pay “more than $200 a month” for water.

During the summit, participants took a pledge to boycott Nestle and single-use bottles of water. Immediately after the summit, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation announced the organization was joining the boycott. To join the boycott, click here.

NAFTA and the commodification of water

Trade agreements like NAFTA perpetuate and entrench the commodification and privatization of water. Water is defined as a “tradeable good,” “service” and “investment” in NAFTA. Water must be removed as a tradeable good, service or investment in any renegotiated NAFTA deal.

As a tradeable good, NAFTA dramatically limits a government’s ability to stop provinces and states from selling water and renders government powerless to turn off the tap. Removing water as a “service” would help protect water as an essential public service. When services are provided by private corporations, NAFTA provisions limit the involvement of the public sector. Removing water as an “investment” and excluding NAFTA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to sue governments for laws or policies that protect water. Canada has already been sued for millions of dollars for laws protecting water.

A vow to end to Nestlé water takings

Over the weekend, participants of the summit listened to these moving and inspiring presentations and participated in workshops on Blue Communities, challenging the corporate control of water, the colonial enclosure of water and more. The gathering included local and Great Lakes residents as well as water justice, Great Lakes and grassroots organizations including our Guelph and Centre-Wellington Chapters of the Council of Canadians.

One thing was clear at the end of the summit: participants were ready to take action to end to Nestlé’s bottled water takings in Great Lakes, work to have the human right to water implemented and bring water justice to all who live around the lakes.
To watch the videos from the summit, visit FLOW’s Facebook page.

Emma Lui's picture
Emma Lui is a FLOW board member and Water Campaigner for the Council of Canadians. To learn more about her and her work, please visit the Council of Canadians website.

Name the Five Great Lakes: Summer Internship

My name is Eliza Somsel and I am currently an intern here at FLOW. I am from Grand Rapids, MI originally, but after I graduated high school in 2011, my parents moved to Traverse City. While I have not lived here long, I have always enjoyed Crystal Lake, Lake Michigan and the rest of Northern Michigan at my grandparent’s home in Beulah. I am a rising junior at the College of Wooster in Ohio, studying Communication and Environmental Studies.

As FLOW’s summer Grassroots Outreach Intern, I wear numerous hats. I write press releases, assist in event planning and advertising, and work on expanding our Great Lakes Society. My favorite work, however, is finding new ways to expand FLOW’s presence in the greater Grand Traverse community and Great Lakes Basin.

Here I am (left), with Allison Voglesong (center), and Justin Sterk (right), showing off our "Wheel of Water" at Green Day

Here I am (left), with Allison Voglesong (center), and Justin Sterk (right), showing off our “Wheel of Water” at Green Day

On Friday, July 5th, FLOW participated in the National Cherry Festival’s DTE Energy Green Day with our newly invented “Wheel of Water.” Along with FLOW staff and volunteers, I developed a Great Lakes trivia game and constructed a spinning game wheel to draw the attention of festivalgoers. My goal was to get people thinking about the importance of the Great Lakes and the work that FLOW does to protect the waters both now and for future generations. The wheel was divided into four colors that aligned with a category of questions: science, geography, people/economy, and history/politics. The process of creating the game was enjoyable itself, but I was absolutely in my element when interacting with kids and adults alike who share my passion and interest in the Great Lakes. I even got my picture in the Record Eagle!

For the kids, I asked a preliminary question before playing the game. “Can you name the five Great Lakes?” I was fortunate enough to have a variety of entertaining answers throughout the day. Some kids blew me away by naming them off without a blink of an eye, while others could only name one or two at best. I often heard that Crystal Lake, Torch Lake, Silver Lake, or whichever lake they loved was considered to be a Great Lake in their opinion. While by definition this may not be true, I must agree that any lake is a pretty “great” lake and worth protecting.

This is me showing a boy from Missouri what the Great Lakes are!

This is me showing a boy from Missouri what the Great Lakes are!

Like many of you, I have always loved the Great Lakes and want my future (way in the future) children and grandchildren to get to experience them as I have. FLOW strives to ensure this through the public trust. While a seemingly complex concept at first, I have come to understand the public trust as the best way to protect our waters. The public trust doctrine essentially says that water is shared and owned by the public and therefore cannot be privately owned. Uses of the waters have to be balanced in such a way that protected uses, like swimming and fishing, are maintained. FLOW works to ensure these rights are not forgotten or ignored. Activities or projects such as the Enbridge pipeline expansion across the Straits of Mackinac—which will transport tar sands through the Great Lakes—is a violation of the public trust. Using this principle is, to me, the most obvious solution to many similar threats to the Great Lakes. For this issue in particular, I am attending Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes this Sunday, July 14th.

Also, join me on Friday, August 9th in downtown Traverse City during Friday Night Live to test your knowledge of the Great Lakes and spin the “Wheel of Water!”

Why I Volunteer for FLOW

Hello Great Lakes lovers.

Here I am (at top center) helping out on the Great Lakes Society campaign along with Mattias Johnson (bottom right) Allison Voglesong (center) and Eliza Somsel (left)

Here I am (at top center) helping out on the Great Lakes Society campaign along with Mattias Johnson (bottom right) Allison Voglesong (center) and Eliza Somsel (left)

My name is Justin Sterk and I have recently begun volunteering at FLOW, in downtown Traverse City, Michigan.  As a native of Traverse City, the Great Lakes hold special importance to me and my family, and it is a great thrill for me to be able to begin contributing to the protection of our region’s greatest resource.

As for me, I graduated from Traverse City Central High School in 2007, the University of Michigan in 2012 and am currently serving a year-long AmeriCorps term in Traverse City before starting law school at Wayne State University in August.  I am very interested in legal strategies that can be used to conserve and protect our planet’s natural resources.  My plan is to make a career out of the type of work FLOW does, which is another great benefit of being around the office, learning from FLOW’s incredible staff.

I’ve been here for about a month and a half and have been working on a couple different projects.  One has been the early stages of a program that complements the work of Council of Canadians, a partner of FLOW, and their Blue Communities Program.  A Council of Canadians Blue Community is one that adopts resolutions that

  1. Recognize water as a human right,
  2. Ban bottled water in public places and at municipal events, and
  3. Promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

A blue community is one that makes a commitment to sustainable water use and resists the ever increasing trend of water privatization.  It is our hope that a Blue Communities type of program can be implemented as part of a package of pragmatic water conservation best practices to assist communities in conserving water in many different areas.

The other research I have just recently begun working on relates to the connection between food production and water health.  FLOW’s goal is to provide information about water’s inextricable linkage to food production, especially as it relates to phosphorous runoff—a major cause of harmful algal blooms—which affected Lake Erie on a massive scale in 2011.  Further, we hope to promote awareness of how climate change increases the impacts on this food and water linkage.

I will try to update everyone on the work I am doing throughout the summer and to provide insight into the kind of work a FLOW volunteer can do.  Have a great day and enjoy our beautiful Great Lakes region.