Fort Gratiot County Park north of Port Huron bustles for a little more than three months of the year, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Large groups occupy the gazebos, families snatch up all the picnic tables, teens play Frisbee in the sand while kids rule a small playground, and the smell of cooking meat is inescapable. These are all fairly typical of Great Lakes shoreline parks.
What distinguishes the park is a memorial. It commemorates not a politician or general but 22 men who died for water, Lake Huron water specifically. While honoring the dead, it expresses ambivalence inherent in the fulfillment of an institutional dream that has unintended consequences.
The project that took the lives of the 22 men on December 11, 1971 had been a dream of the Detroit water department since the late 1800s. The water supplied by the utility’s intake in the Detroit River was adequate to meet the city’s needs, but even then, there was thought of population growth to the north. That would require more water. By virtue of both proximity and quality, Lake Huron was the choice for the new water source. A point five miles offshore from what is now the county park was chosen for the intake.
The memorial consists of three features: a plaza of bricks etched with the names of the loved ones who perished in the disaster and other individuals and groups who purchased and contributed them; the statue of a symbolic project worker; and a state historical marker. The last is especially noteworthy. It is literally two-faced. The two sides of the marker could not be more different in tone.
One side stresses the tragic human losses and the terrible power of the explosion: “… [A] shotgun-like blast claimed the lives of twenty-two men working on a water intake tunnel beneath the bed of Lake Huron. A pocket of methane trapped within a layer of ancient Antrim shale fueled the explosion. An exhaustive inquiry determined that drilling for a vertical ventilation shaft from the lake’s surface had released the trapped gas…The blast created a shock wave with a speed of 4,000 miles an hour and a force of 15,000 pounds per square inch. Witnesses reported seeing debris fly 200 feet in the air from the tunnel’s entrance.”
The other side emphasizes the project itself as a triumph of humankind: “In 1968, to serve the water needs of a growing population, the Detroit Metro Water Department began work on the Lake Huron Water Supply Project. This massive feat involved erecting a submerged intake crib connected to a six-mile intake tunnel beneath Lake Huron. The mechanical mole that dug the 16-foot wide tunnel bored through the bedrock beneath the lake at a rate of 150 feet a day. The project excavated more than one billion pounds of rock. The water treatment plant pumped clean water into an 82-mile system of water mains supplying Detroit and Flint. When finished in 1973, the $123 million system boasted a capacity of 400 million gallons a day.”
One has to wonder whether this mentality was partially culpable. Pride in a monumental public works project may have promoted hubris, or contributed to denial by the managers if someone pointed out the danger. Carelessness or ignorance may also have been to blame. Whatever the cause, 22 people tragically lost their lives in the public service of providing clean drinking water.
Natural forces always surprise us, be they large lakes or ancient methane.
The City of Flint, through its city council, just approved a deal to return to and stay on Detroit water, now managed and sold by the suburban Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). This decision must be viewed as the next step, not the final outcome. Even though the city and residents will get the benefit of federal dollars, they lost their autonomy in this process and were under the coercion of a court order and the “carrot” of essential federal funding.
But the city will be hit twice with water bills. Flint not only will buy water from the GLWA (formerly Detroit Board), but is also required to fulfill its $340 million obligation to the new KWA authority in Genesee County.
Flint bought water from what is now the GLWA for decades before the fast, hurried switch to Flint River water for short-term gain poisoned and endangered Flint residents, and the state and federal EPA dragged their feet to recognize or do anything about it for what looks like more than a year. Led by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, the city was under pressure to get off of Detroit water back in 2014, and to pick up and connect to the KWA for Flint water as soon as a massive pipeline from Lake Huron was completed.
Under the court order and Flint’s council vote approving purchase contract for GLWA (Detroit water), the residents of Flint now have to pay rates that pay for the $340 million obligation to KWA and for water from the GLWA! They can’t afford one obligation, let alone pay twice, but that’s basically what has happened. And what about their health, independent and continuous testing, monitoring, lead line replacement and abatement, medical services, and reparations to what residents suffered? This must be part of federal aid, but it is also the responsibility of the State and all of those who are responsible for this tragic fiasco of narrow self-interests gone awry.
But this doesn’t do it either. We have a huge disparity, inequity, and lack of public oversight and protection of water and health when it comes to Michigan’s water and Great Lakes and our water services to residents. It is time for Michigan to establish a comprehensive “Public Water, Public Infrastructure and Water Justice Act” for all our cities and rural communities and residents. This is what Christmas and Thanksgiving and New Year should be about.
Let’s remove the Grinch-like selfishness we have seen from government leaders over the past four years from our public water. It all comes from the single hydrological system of water in the Great Lakes basin. This water is held in public trust, that is the government, and everyone has a stewardship obligation to assure integrity of water and health for all of the people of Michigan, especially those least able to afford it.
FLOW was recently honored to be featured in an on-line and print magazine, the Boardman Review. It features travelogues, lifestyle profiles, literature, music and documentaries that showcase young and established creatives whose work and lives contribute to the Northern Michigan community. The magazine includes multi-media elements with each piece. We asked the founders and co-editors, Chris and Nick Loud, to discuss the link between FLOW's work and their mission.
Northern Michigan means something to us, but describing that something with eloquence can lead to a lot of clunky bumbling, often ending in a pedestrian “it’s just amazing” kind of statement. The non-local recipient of the statement might wonder if Northern Michigan is actually a real place, and not just a malfunction of memory caused by one too many early Spring ice water dips.
Our new publication, The Boardman Review, recognizes the difficulty of capturing the essence of Northern Michigan in just our words, but we are also sure the area is a story worth telling.
With that in mind, we’re employing as many storytelling media that we can muster. We’ll use film, photography, music, art, the written word, and anything else we haven’t thought of yet, in hopes of capturing an ounce of what Northern Michigan means to us, and to pass that meaning on to those familiar or unfamiliar.
We feature local artists, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, established and respected companies and organizations, and anything and anyone that we think might provide a piece to the vibe puzzle that is our beloved Up North.
We have been a part of this area our whole lives, but only recently have we set down true roots. In the short amount of time that we’ve been experimenting with this concept, we have encountered people who just simply knock us over with inspiration.
Organizations like FLOW, with a mission dear to everyone's heart, have spun into our radar in such a way that actually makes us think we may be right about something.
"For love of water"...that’s certainly a large piece of our something, if not the largest. It’s been an honor to work with FLOW, and we hope to do some more “just amazing” things together in the future.
We’ll leave you with a shameless promotion. Shameless, not because of the tactless segue, but simply because we are so psyched to do this, that we are shame free in promoting the %#&@ out of it.
In association with FLOW, our nonprofit partner, The Boardman Review is bringing The International Ocean Film Tour to City Opera House in Traverse City on December 6th, 2017.
The International Ocean Film Tour is 120 minutes packed with the most inspiring stories from the seven seas and the best water sports action of the year.
Jim Maturen of Reed City is a lifelong conservationist who looked personally into the concern that Nestle’s water withdrawals are affecting critical and sensitive trout streams. He did it the old-fashioned way – he went out in the streams. We asked him for his observations.
The controversy over Nestlé’s extraction of water in Osceola County has been fought in meeting rooms and offices. Is that why you went out in the field?
Yes. As a trout fisherman for 60 years and in law enforcement for 31 years, I decided to discover the facts.
Two trout streams begin from the spring that Nestlé has tapped for its water pumping. One is Chippewa Creek and the other is Twin Creek. It came to my attention that landowners on Chippewa Creek had dated photographs of a full flowing creek and then another of low water and mud flats after Nestlé began its operation. On July 17, John McLane and I began our research in the field. John is a registered surveyor who knows the area very well.
What did you find?
What I expected to find were full, fast running streams. What I found were still-flowing but extremely shallow streams. We were there to determine if there is sufficient temperature to support trout. As we worked downstream from the headwaters temperatures in the two streams varied from a low of 56° to a high of 65°, which is sufficient to retain trout.
What did you use as a baseline?
The fisheries division of the Michigan DNR conducted a research study on whirling disease in trout in both streams in July 2000. They started on Chippewa Creek 300 feet downstream from 90th Ave. in Osceola Township and went back to the culvert using shocking equipment to gather trout specimens. On July 31, John and I began stopping at sites in the DNR study to see if we could water depth sufficient to support trout. Our first stop was at Chippewa Creek at 90th Avenue, where the DNR study was conducted in 2000.
As I walked downstream from the culvert, the water was ankle deep. There was a lot of woody material in the creek, but no holes were found and no trout found. This is the exact spot where the DNR in 2000 found an abundant amount of trout, but no longer. Trout cannot survive in such shallow water.
That’s a big change.
Next stop was on Twin Creek at South Oak Street in Evart. This is the same area where the DNR collected 20 trout. We had difficulty accessing the same location but checked the cover just downstream. There were only about eight inches of water downstream.
Everywhere we checked, water was low. But we found Nestlé’s monitoring pipe and an additional measuring device downstream from several culverts – typically the deepest part of a stream. Was Nestle trying to distort the situation in the creeks, making the maximum depth appear to be average?
What’s your overall conclusion?
We spent a great deal of time examining the two creeks. It’s apparent that Nestlé’s operation is affecting the traditional flow of water to these creeks. By doing so, they have destroyed the fishery. How can Nestlé be allowed to take more water? They should be limited to 150 gallons per minute. If the streams don’t recover, then Nestlé’s operations must be terminated. I have brought these facts to the attention of the state Department of Environmental Quality. I hope they will give them the weight they deserve.
Any final thoughts?
Facts must be the basis of any decision making on Nestlé’s proposal to extract more water. Out in the real world where government decisions have their impact, Nestlé is already in the process of ruining sensitive and vital natural resources. They should not be allowed to do more damage.
Jim Maturen served with the Michigan State Police from 1957 until 1989, retiring as a sergeant. He served on the Osceola County Board of Commissioners from 1983 until 2002. He co-founded the first local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Michigan in 1983 and co-founded the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association in 1996.
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.
Deep beneath the Straits of Mackinac, where twin petroleum pipelines cross the lakebed, sunlight has difficulty penetrating. But there’s more illumination at that depth than there is on key information involving the safety of the pipelines, thanks to deplorable tactics of state agencies and the pipeline owner, Enbridge. The recent disclosure of state-company collusion to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) should concern all citizens.
The pipelines, part of the Line 5 route, qualify as a matter of significant public interest because they were laid down 64 years ago and have been poorly maintained by Enbridge. An August 30 underwater inspection of the pipelines revealed that the screw-anchors used to shore up the pipeline are themselves causing damage to the pipeline coating and creating bare metal gaps in the cathodic protection. Seven bare areas on the pipeline the size of dinner plates were identified. This is the latest in a long list of disclosures that reveal Enbridge to be cavalier in its stewardship responsibilities – and its most important duty – to prevent a catastrophic oil spill fouling a vast area of the Great Lakes.
Why, then, would state government agencies want to collaborate with Enbridge or the contractors hired with their money in eluding public scrutiny of information related to the pipeline risks? But that’s what they did.
Instead of obtaining copies of documents that citizens could request under FOIA, state officials accessed a website controlled by a private contractor, Det Norske Veritas, where they could view but not download the information. This was not pedestrian material. It included “figures depicting hypothetical migration of oil in the environment” from a spill. Michigan citizens, not just state officials, have every right to view that information.
This is not the first time the state has participated in a scheme to keep information about Line 5 from the public. In 2014, when Enbridge originally provided information to the state as part of the Line 5 review, the company set up a password protected portal for the state to review information but not to download. The logic was similar to that of the most recent subterfuge: that because the information was not downloaded, it was not in the possession of the state, and therefore not subject to FOIA. It took the state two years to release Enbridge’s information, in April 2016.
The state ultimately fired Det Norske Veritas for undisclosed conflicts of interest. But the firm’s effort to circumvent FOIA – and the state’s willing cooperation – were equally egregious. Access to information is one of the core tenets of government accountability.
Statutes like FOIA are nicknamed “sunshine laws.” They were written for a reason, to assure protection of the public’s right to know about matters like a potential oil spill affecting public waters. It’s time for the state to clearly and unhesitatingly affirm its commitment to letting the sun shine on everything pertaining to a grave threat to the Great Lakes.
Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director Cell: 570-872-4956
FLOW (For Love of Water) Email: [email protected]
Gary Street, Technical Advisor Phone: 231-944-1568
FLOW (For Love of Water)
Portions of the steel oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits may have lost half their wall thickness since installation in 1953 and become dangerously weakened due to hard-to-detect pitting corrosion, an engineering expert said today.
The independent analysis further strengthens the case for an immediate shutdown of Line 5 to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes, according to FLOW, a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. The full analysis can be found at www.FLOWforWater.org.
The possible damage stems from invasive zebra and quagga mussels that have covered portions of the dual underwater pipelines for years, inhibiting external inspection of Line 5 while possibly weakening the steel.
“The cause of their corrosiveness is the excrement from the mussels, which is acidic. An acidic deposit on bare steel leads to corrosion,” said Gary Street, MS, PE, the former director of engineering at Dow Environmental who conducted the analysis. Street notes that pipeline inspection tools called “smart pigs,” which Enbridge uses to detect corrosion, are not very accurate in detecting pitting corrosion.
The disturbing possibility of a significantly weakened Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits comes after recent acknowledgement by the pipeline owner and operator, Enbridge, that there are several large areas of the pipeline where the protective coating is missing. According to Enbridge, the bare steel on Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits was detected by Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge in 2014 when the company installed more supports, but not revealed to regulators until this summer.
“What else is Enbridge hiding from the public and state regulators?” asked Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW and an environmental lawyer. “Attorney General Bill Schuette must immediately enforce the laws protecting the Great Lakes and revoke the state easement that has allowed a private Canadian company conditional use of our public waters and bottomlands.”
Not all types of corrosion are equally harmful. Some forms are far worse than others. Pitting corrosion is a localized form of corrosion by which tiny cavities or “holes” are produced in the material. The National Association of Corrosion Engineers has stated, “While corrosion of bare steel can take many forms, the most insidious, is pitting corrosion.”
“The prudent scenario is to assume that damage originally occurred in 2003 when the first of the new supports was installed,” said Street, whose 35+ year career in industry and consulting has covered an extensive range of experience in environmental engineering, chemical process design, ethanol production processes, minimization of waste materials, project management, and engineering management. “That being the case, it is very possible that the Line 5 pipe wall has suffered serious pitting corrosion beginning at that time. Making the matter worse, pitting corrosion is very difficult to detect.”
Enbridge acknowledged the areas of external anti-corrosion coating loss in September. Several of the areas are larger than the “Band-Aid“-sized areas Enbridge initially described when the gaps were revealed. The largest patch of exposed pipeline metal is 16 inches long and 10 inches wide. Others are narrower but also exceed a foot in length.
Also detailed in the Enbridge reports is a “disturbed” coating area that’s more than 3 feet long, a “dislodged” coating area that’s 13 feet long and a mysterious 8-inch “white deposit” of unknown origin that Enbridge says “remains under investigation.”
FLOW (For Love of Water) and Esch Road Foods Join Forces to Encourage Great Lakes Stewardship and Expand “1% for the Great Lakes”
It’s called 1% for the Great Lakes, but it grows out of 100% enthusiasm for these majestic waters on the part of Timothy and Kathy Young, Founders of Esch Road Foods.
When Food For Thought launched Esch Road Foods, it was named after the founders’ favorite beach in the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Known as “Esch Beach” to locals, the beach held a special meaning for their family, and from the beginning, they committed to using Esch Road Foods to making a difference for the Great Lakes. One piece of that includes their commitment to donate 1% of sales to non-profit organizations that seek to protect and educate on the Great Lakes.
Taking inspiration from Patagonia’s 1% for the Planet campaign, the company launched “1% for the Great Lakes,” created a logo and displayed it proudly in hopes of inspiring both individuals and businesses to do the same. This year, Esch Road Foods devoted all of its 1% to FLOW (For Love of Water) for their inspiring legal and educational work around threats to the Great Lakes. FLOW and Esch Road Foods are partnering to expand the concept of “1% for the Great Lakes” and encourage other business owners and individuals to pledge to join the movement. “Business leaders like Timothy and Kathy Young are models of business environmental stewardship,” said Liz Kirkwood, the Executive Director of FLOW. “Their Great Lakes commitment runs deep.”
In the coming months, FLOW and Esch Road Foods plan to connect with additional Great Lakes Basin business owners to expand the dialogue about Great Lakes stewardship and encourage more people to commit to contributing “1% for the Great Lakes.” Timothy Young, founder of Esch Road Foods, said, “Ultimately, our vision is for ‘1% for the Great Lakes’ to become a movement open to businesses, individuals and other groups, pledging in a variety of ways. Our hope is that folks will use their imaginations and give what they can. Is it 1% of your tax return? 1% of your income? Or if you are a business owner, is it 1% of your sales? That’s up to you. It only matters that we make a commitment. No one can do that except you.”
To learn more, or to join the “1% for the Great Lakes” movement, email FLOW at [email protected].
About FLOW (For Love of Water):
Everything is reflected in the name: For Love of Water. FLOW’s mission is to empower people with public trust strategies that will protect the Great Lakes forever. Learn more at flowforwater.org.
About Esch Road Foods:
While founded in 2012, Esch Road Foods comes with a long history of award-winning specialty foods. In 1995, Timothy and Kathy Young founded Food For Thought on their organic farm adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northwest Michigan. Esch Road Foods is their newest line that represents what is great about the Great Lakes. This line is nothing but premium products that are all natural and made in small batches on the farm. 1% of all sales is donated to Great Lakes conservation. Learn more at eschroad.com.
“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)
Rob Case from Wellington Water Watchers of Ontario and Peggy Case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservationboth 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.
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.
What rights does the public have to access the shore? By deciding not to hear an appeal brought by a right-wing foundation on behalf of a coastal property owner, the U.S. Supreme Court has provided an answer, for now.
The Court of Appeals decision whose challenge the Supreme Court refused to hear upheld a local ordinance in North Carolina. The ordinance restricts a beach landowner’s rights to leave or place fixtures or equipment which have the effect of excluding the public along the public access/public trust beach area, below the ordinary mean high-water mark on the beach. Pacific Legal Foundation took up the landowner’s claim that the ordinance constituted a taking of their use of riparian beachfront.
The Court of Appeals noted that custom and law in North Carolina is that ocean beaches below vegetation and other evidence of the high mean water mark are open to the public under the public trust doctrine, and that public access needs to be kept open, especially for emergency vehicles that are necessary for the safety of the public’s use and enjoyment.
Pacific Legal petitioned the Supreme Court to hear an appeal. The Court’s rejection of the request signals that public trust and riparian landowner fights involve the property and public trust law of the states, and that a local ordinance protecting the public’s use of the foreshore of ocean beach within the public trust foreshow does not interfere with or take any property rights of those owning riparian land above the ordinary mean high-water mark.
So, now those of us in the Great Lakes region will wait for the Indiana Supreme Court to decide the fate of long-standing public trust uses below the ordinary high-water mark of Lake Michigan along Indiana’s nearly 50 miles of shoreline. Last week waterfront lot owners in the town of Long Beach, Indiana argued their claim to control and ownership down to the water’s edge in oral arguments to the Indiana Supreme Court. They claim a more than 100-year-old deed to the “low water mark” gives them the right to block public access and walking up and down the foreshore of Lake Michigan.
The attorney representing the residents of Long Beach who have used the beach almost as long argued that the original owner could not deed what he didn’t have. The attorney also argued that the riparian title to land ends at the ordinary high-water mark, and the riparian right to use the land below that goes to the water’s edge or low water mark, but is subject to the state’s and citizens’ access rights under the public trust below the ordinary high-water mark.
The Indiana Attorney General made similar arguments on behalf of the state DNR and public, and Jeff Hyman, the executive director of the Conservation Law Clinic at the University of Indiana Law School, argued that the state received when it joined the U.S., like all states, sovereign title to the waters and land of the Great Lakes below the ordinary high-water mark. All that waterfront lot owners have is a right to use, not own, and that right has always been subordinate to the rights of the state and the public in these sovereign lands under the public trust doctrine.
One can only hope the Indiana Supreme Court sees that centuries of law and tradition protect the public’s right to access the shore.