Tag: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Water and the Environment are on the 2020 Ballot

Photo courtesy of PxFuel.com, used under Creative Commons license

Voting season has already begun in an election that will have much to do with protection of our water in Michigan and the nation. FLOW does not take positions on individual candidates, but we do remind voters to exercise their power in order to protect water and the environment generally.

In-person voting takes place Tuesday, November 3, but Michigan registered voters can vote at any time before then by obtaining an absentee ballot from their city or township clerks. See the Michigan Voter Information Center for details. And voters in any of the states in the Great Lakes basin can visit the non-partisan 2020 Civic Engagement Guide for information on registration, absentee ballots, and polling places. 

A statewide ballot proposal in Michigan, a Great Lakes agenda for the winner of the presidential election, and races for the Michigan House of Representatives all have clear environmental implications.

Proposal 1 – Summary as It Appears on the Michigan Ballot:

This proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Allow the State Parks Endowment Fund to continue receiving money from sales of oil and gas from state-owned lands to improve, maintain and purchase land for State parks, and for Fund administration, until its balance reaches $800 million.
  • Require subsequent oil and gas revenue from state-owned lands to go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
  • Require at least 20% of Endowment Fund annual spending go toward State park improvements.
  • Require at least 25% of Trust Fund annual spending go toward parks and public recreation areas and at least 25% toward land conservation.”

Proposal 20-1 alters the use of oil and gas revenue from drilling on state-owned lands in several fundamental ways. Most importantly, it:

  • Increases the amount of money from the state Natural Resources Trust Fund that can be allocated to development, renovation, and redevelopment of public recreation facilities from a maximum of 25% to a minimum of 25%.
  • Removes the cap on revenue that can go to the Fund, increasing its purchasing power. The Fund has reached its current cap.

Supporters of the proposal argue that the increase in funding for public recreation facilities will allow the flexibility needed to fund and update trails, playgrounds, accessible boat launches, and more in communities across the state. Many local governments, particularly in core urban areas, don’t have adequate funding to maintain and develop their parks and trails. Among groups supporting the proposal are The Nature Conservancy, DTE Energy, and the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Opponents of the proposal include the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and the Green Party of Michigan. The Sierra Club argues that “shifting prioritization of money from the MNRTF [Trust Fund] away from purchasing land and towards the development of facilities is shortsighted. Requiring revenue from a non-renewable source to go to ongoing, increasing funding needs creates financial problems, it doesn’t solve them.”

A list of the more than 1,000 projects the Natural Resources Trust Fund has supported since 1976 is here.

Great Lakes Protection and the Presidency

The Healing Our Waters (HOW) Coalition has called on Presidential candidates to commit to a Great Lakes agenda that would:

  • Support $475 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
  • Triple funding to fix drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • Uphold and enforce clean water protections.
  • Reduce harmful algal blooms across the region.
  • Prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes.

The HOW Coalition says, “It’s time to put an end to drinking water restrictions, fish consumption advisories, and closed beaches. We have manageable solutions that will help provide safe, clean and affordable water to all of the people who call the region home. It is time for the next President of the United States to use them.”

Michigan House of Representatives

The choice of candidates for the State House will have much to do with the future of clean water in Michigan. Issues that the House could face in the 2021-2022 session include state funding for water programs, protection of the Great Lakes from catastrophic oil spills, the privatization of public waters and water infrastructure, water affordability for all, and groundwater protection, including the lack of a statewide code to curb septic system pollution.

Patience Required

FLOW recognizes that our civil rights, public health, jobs, and environment depend on the health of our democracy. We encourage everyone who is eligible to vote during this election season. And we encourage collective patience because during these extraordinary times, securing a healthy democracy means we take the time to count every vote.

Breaking the Cycle of Great Lakes Ruin and Recovery

Above photo: Jane Corwin, US Commissioner/Chair of the International Joint Commission, speaks at a public hearing in Traverse City on July 24, 2019. Photo by Rick Kane.

By Liz Kirkwood

Editor’s note: FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood was recently appointed to be a member of the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board.

Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director

My colleague and mentor, Dave Dempsey, knows almost everything there is to know about the Great Lakes.  He’s encyclopedic, you could say. He’s authored over 10 books, including a classic one entitled Ruin and Recovery (University of Michigan Press, 2001).  

It’s the cycle we here in the Great Lakes are all too familiar with.  

The book tells a story of Michigan’s environmental ruin that began to worsen in the early 1900s, followed by the recovery that began in the 1970s as the public clamored for a clean environment.

It is amazing to imagine that over one hundred years ago, as lax water pollution standards led to the fouling of the Great Lakes, the US and Canadian governments had the vision and foresight to craft an international treaty to address boundary water management and disputes. Known as the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, this pact established the International Joint Commission (IJC) to serve as the advisor to both governments in preventing, arbitrating, and navigating water conflicts.  Of the nine major water basins shared by the US and Canada, the Great Lakes is the largest and has global significance because it contains 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water.    

In 1972, with increasing international water pollution, the US and Canada entered into the seminal Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA).  The Agreement called for binational action by the governments to reduce phosphorus pollution and meet water quality goals. It also set up the Great Lakes Water Quality Board (WQB) to assist the IJC in watchdogging Great Lakes cleanup.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the IJC was considered the moral authority on Great Lakes issues, candidly assessing progress and problems. Thanks in part to the Water Quality Board, the commission made a lasting contribution to Great Lakes cleanup by defining 43 “areas of concern” (AOCs)—bays, harbors, and rivers with severe legacy contamination—that needed sustained commitment to be cleaned up. Over 30 years later, work continues on the AOCs, along with congressional funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

The work of the Water Quality Board continues, too. The 28-member board provides advice to the IJC for the benefit of the 40 million people who rely on the lakes for drinking water, sustenance, and way of life.  The IJC recently appointed me to serve on the Board.

The Board represents the crossroads of the Great Lakes, bringing together diverse viewpoints from tribal leaders like Frank Ettawageshik and water affordability advocates like Monica Lewis-Patrick. It is a pleasure to serve with them and to problem solve how we can bring the Great Lakes community together to respond to old and new problems in the Basin. This work depends on developing key priorities and scientific goals to measure progress, coordinating strong and committed implementation among federal, state, and provincial environmental agencies, building stronger and new partnerships and alliances across these lakes, lifting up silenced voices to ensure water justice for all, and educating and empowering all peoples about the vital importance of protecting the health of our common waters.

It’s been almost 50 years since the two nations entered into the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and during this time, we have watched rust-belt contaminated urban cores rebound and polluted ecosystems revived. But we also have witnessed a rollback of major federal environmental regulations and laws, the Flint lead crisis, Detroit water shutoffs, lack of investment and crumbling regional water infrastructure, lack of safe, affordable drinking water, wetland destruction, water privatization, legacy and emerging pollutants like PFAS, and unprecedented climate change impacts.

Our challenge in this new century, then, is to break the constant cycle of ruin and recovery, and replace it with sustained protection and prosperity. This is critical in the context of the climate crisis where we are testing the capacity of our ecosystems to rebound. Instead, we must imagine the future we want, where natural and human ecosystems can thrive and prosper together.

To do this, we must challenge traditional assumptions and ways of thinking. We must draw not only on science but also on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is a relational process for indigenous peoples that is built through experience and relationships that are difficult to incorporate into non-indigenous information systems and decision frameworks. We must design and enact bold policies that acknowledge the interconnectedness of human health, economic prosperity, and ecosystems.

With public trust doctrine protection, we can steward our waters as a shared public resource from one generation to the next and ensure multigenerational equity. Healthy economies and communities depend on healthy ecosystems. It’s as simple as that. The future of the Great Lakes depends on a vision and plan based on a water-economy that embraces a new water ethic at its center.

I am honored to serve on the Water Quality Board for the IJC and it is my great hope that we can work together to develop recommendations thattranslate into meaningful bi-national actions designed to protect the long-term health of the Great Lakes.

Trump Administration: Importance of Great Lakes Cleanup Equal to Hosting a Military Parade

The Trump Administration on February 14 revealed that President Donald Trump’s proposed military parade, inspired by his attendance at the Bastille Day celebration last July in Paris, would cost taxpayers as much as $30 million.

While there’s been broad criticism of the appropriateness of such a display by the world’s sole military superpower, particularly in the context of federal budget deficits, it was the $30 million figure that stuck with me.

That’s because just two days earlier, the administration released its proposed $4.4 trillion fiscal year 2019 budget, which would severely cut core Great Lakes programs as well as funding for the federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with implementing them.

Of key concern to FLOW and other Great Lakes policy groups is the proposed 90% cut from fiscal year 2017 budget levels to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which helps communities clean up toxic pollution, reduce polluted runoff, fight invasive species such as Asian carp, and restore fish and wildlife habitat. Funding for the GLRI would be slashed from $300 million down to just… $30 million.

Thus, in the course of two days, the administration had equated the importance of restoring and protecting the world’s largest surface freshwater system with hosting a one-time military display.

Thankfully, proposed cuts have drawn bipartisan scorn from Michigan’s congressional delegation, which successfully protected the GLRI from elimination in last year’s budget. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, released a statement saying, “Michigan deserves better than this. The health of our Great Lakes must be a higher priority.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who co-authored the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2010, pointed to the critical role that clean water plays in our economy, with more than 700,000 Michigan jobs – fully 1-in-5 jobs in the state – tied to water resources. Michigan projects have received more than $600 million in funding from the initiative since its start.

It’s the same success story across the watershed, where the Great Lakes generate more than 1.5 million jobs and $60 billion in wages annually, support a $7 billion fishing economy, and provide drinking water to more than 40 million people.

Kelly Thayer

Communities across the Great Lakes region are benefiting from economic recovery and re-investment thanks to the GLRI. Full implementation of the initiative is projected to generate $50 billion in long-term economic benefits for the region and a 2:1 return on investment, according to the Great Lakes Commission.

Visionary leaders are calling for a continued Midwest transformation from Rust Belt to Water Belt. Getting there requires steady, long-term investment and oversight – just the opposite of short-term grandstanding at a parade.