Tag: great lakes

How Are We Using Great Lakes Water and Groundwater?

Above: Watershed art by Glenn Wolff.


By Bob Otwell, FLOW Board member

A Great Lakes water use report recently released by the Great Lakes Commission provides an important snapshot of the kinds and volumes of water withdrawals in the region.

Annual Report of the Great Lakes Regional Water Use Database – 2021 data-Jan 2023

The report found that an average 37.5 billion gallons of water per day were withdrawn from the Great Lakes Basin in 2021. Most of this water (71%) was utilized for cooling of power plants. The next highest use was 14% for public water supply. The primary source for both of these two categories is Great Lakes surface water.

The report found that an average 37.5 billion gallons of water per day were withdrawn from the Great Lakes Basin in 2021. Most of this water (71%) was utilized for cooling of power plants.

The report included water use data from eight Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec).

Water use was presented from three sources; Great Lakes surface water, other surface water (rivers and lakes), and groundwater. Levels in the Great Lakes have ranged from an all-time low to all-time high over the past decade. Our societal usage of Great Lakes surface water has negligible effect on their levels. Levels in the Great Lakes are primarily influenced by precipitation and evaporation.

Water use was presented from three sources; Great Lakes surface water, other surface water (rivers and lakes), and groundwater.

Groundwater levels have been dropping in some parts of Michigan in recent decades due to overuse. Groundwater was only about 3% of total basin water use. Groundwater withdrawals occurred mostly in three categories: public water supply (41%), industrial (26%), and irrigation (23%). Of these three, irrigation had by far the highest consumptive use (88%) of total use, whereas public water supply and industrial consumptive use comprised just over 10% of total use. Consumptive use refers to the portion of the water withdrawn or withheld from the basin that is lost, or otherwise not returned, to the basin due to evaporation, incorporation into products, or other processes.

Groundwater levels have been dropping in some parts of Michigan in recent decades due to overuse.

Ontario has the largest land area in the basin, and the largest total withdrawal of the 10 jurisdictions. Michigan has the second largest land area but has the largest groundwater withdrawal volume of all states and provinces, 44% of the total. In Michigan, 39% of all groundwater withdrawal is for irrigation.

There are areas in Michigan, like Ottawa County, where groundwater demands exceed sustainable groundwater supply. In Southwest Michigan, the acreage irrigated for agricutlure has increased over the past decade. As we start to use more groundwater in Michigan, care should be taken to improve monitoring and reporting of groundwater levels, along with groundwater usage, on an annual basis.

There are areas in Michigan, like Ottawa County, where groundwater demands exceed sustainable groundwater supply.

The state legislature has recently approved funding for some of this work. The funding provides an educational program to increase agricultural water use efficiency. In addition, a database is being created to help with hydrogeologic data collection and modeling and increasing the availability of existing data in a common format. In 2022, the Michigan Groundwater Table convened by FLOW unanimously approved and encouraged the legislature to embrace these recommendations.


About the Author: Bob Otwell, who has served on FLOW’s Board of Directors since 2013, is a hydrologist, civil engineer, and founder of Otwell Mawby engineering in Traverse City, Michigan. 

What U.S. and Canada Won’t Say in the ‘State of the Great Lakes’ Reports

Above: The cover of the State of the Great Lakes Report 2022 published by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Office of the Great Lakes.


Reading the two State of the Great Lakes reports published last year— one by the Canadian and U.S. governments and one by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Office of the Great Lakes—you are left with the impression of earnest, caring, scientifically grounded public servants working toward a globally significant success story.

It’s an accurate impression. Most public servants involved in Great Lakes restoration and protection care deeply about their mission. Stories tucked into the Michigan report about cleanup of toxic hotspots, improvements in Great Lakes literacy, and creation of an electric boat charging network are encouraging testimony that many people are mobilized to guard these shared waters. 

It’s jarring to read that the overall condition of the Great Lakes is “fair and unchanging,”

It’s jarring, then, to read in the same reports that the overall condition of the Great Lakes is “fair and unchanging,” that only two of the lakes—Lake Superior and Lake Huron—are considered in good condition, Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario are in fair condition, and that Lake Erie in poor shape.

How can this be when so many human resources are being poured into Great Lakes rehabilitation each year? 

That’s where governmental State of the Great Lakes reports fall down. It is not that governments don’t know what’s going wrong. They just won’t talk about it.

That’s where governmental State of the Great Lakes reports fall down. It is not that governments don’t know what’s going wrong. They just won’t talk about it.

An example is the Lake Erie classification. “Despite a productive walleye fishery, elevated nutrient concentrations and algal problems are persistent problems.” 

Translation: Too much farm animal waste and fertilizer is washing into tributaries of western Lake Erie, fueling the algal blooms. Factory farms are the primary culprit.

Translation: Too much farm animal waste and fertilizer is washing into tributaries of western Lake Erie, fueling the algal blooms. Factory farms are the primary culprit.

Anyone close to Lake Erie work knows this. But putting this inconvenient fact in a State of the Great Lakes report will generate backlash. The farm lobby, on those rare occasions it admits to being part of the problem, says hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies are needed to reward farmers to do the right thing.

What does it say about the economic model of agriculture today that it is bound to degrade our waters unless taxpayers shoulder the cost?

What does it say about the economic model of agriculture today that it is bound to degrade our waters unless taxpayers shoulder the cost?

This is exactly the kind of adult conversation that State of the Great Lakes reports should foster. Instead, due to political sensitivities, the casual reader is left perplexed. 

Perhaps it’s time for citizens of the United States and Canada to publish their own State of the Great Lakes reports that speak truth to power.

If the governments won’t state frankly what is wrong and what needs to be done about it, perhaps it’s time for citizens of the United States and Canada to publish their own State of the Great Lakes reports that speak truth to power.

Keep Michigan’s Water Affordable and in Public Hands

Photo: Liz Kirkwood is Executive Director of FLOW (For Love Of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, Michigan. Reach her at liz@flowforwater.org.

Editor’s note: The following op-ed originally appeared Jan. 17, 2023, in Bridge Michigan.


Michigan is a water wonderland — think Great Lakes, 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, groundwater that supplies 45 percent of our state with drinking water, and more than 6 million acres of wetlands.

But these waters face a daunting array of challenges, everything from microplastics to toxic “forever chemicals,” inadequate infrastructure funding to the stresses of climate change. The impact on residents includes soaring water bills, water shutoffs and widespread concern about lead and chemical contamination.

In 2023, Michigan needs an inspiring vision for Michigan’s water. I urge Gov. Whitmer in her Jan. 25 State of the State message to declare 2023 the Year of Keeping Water Public and Protected for All in Michigan.

In 2023, Michigan needs an inspiring vision, championed from the highest places inside our government and out. In her State of the State message set for Jan. 25, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has a chance to show the way by articulating bold proposals for Michigan’s water. I urge her to declare 2023 the Year of Keeping Water Public and Protected for All in Michigan.

Our water fares best when it remains in public control.

Privatization of water and sewer services elsewhere has led to inferior maintenance and higher costs to customers. Allowing private interests to commodify groundwater drains a vital public resource without benefit to the public. The future of our water is too important to leave to short-sighted, profit-seeking private interests.

Michigan should ban residential water shutoffs, impose royalties on water bottlers who take waters owned by the State of Michigan at practically no cost, and maintain public control on water services.

Here are a few steps Michigan must take to keep our water public and protected:

Secure Affordable Rates and Public Control

  • Water affordability and access: Water is essential to sanitation, health and life itself. No Michigander should be denied public water service because of inability to pay. Michigan should enact legislation to ban residential water shutoffs, fix the affordability crisis and address water injustices.
  • Public water legislation: The state should enact legislation imposing royalties on bottlers who commodify waters owned by the State of Michigan at practically no cost and reap extraordinary profit on the resale. The royalties should make up a clean water trust fund to serve Michigan residents and communities for dedicated public purposes, including ending water shutoffs and helping people whose wells are contaminated.
  • Keep municipal water utilities public: Michigan must draw a clear line against any plan to privatize public water services, which weakens local control and can ratchet up rates while maintenance lags.

Protect Drinking Water and Public Health

Michigan should dedicated more funds to the cleanup of toxic sites and prevention of groundwater contamination, develop new long-term funding sources for our water infrastructure, and require chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals before they can be authorized for sale.

We have made considerable progress in dealing with the kind of pollution the 1972 Clean Water Act targeted, but new threats continually emerge for which our laws are ill-prepared. The governor should call for actions to address not only these threats but also the mistakes of the past:

  • Groundwater: These vital but largely invisible waters are contaminated in over 15,000 localities. Another $50 million a year should be dedicated to the cleanup of toxic sites and prevention of groundwater contamination.
  • Climate resilience and water infrastructure funding: Climate change is putting unprecedented stress on already-faltering water systems. Despite a one-time infusion of federal funds last year, our water infrastructure faces a multi-billion dollar investment gap. We need long-term funding sources, and new water projects must be designed for an era of intensifying storms.
  • A new approach to chemical contamination: We can no longer deal with chemicals like PFAS one-by-one and after they have done environmental harm. Instead, the precautionary principle should be the foundation of our chemical policy, requiring chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals before they can be authorized for commerce.

Our actions now will define and shape the future of the Great Lakes. This future demands a new relationship with water, and recognizes, in the words of Jacques Cousteau, that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

Imagine a future where we place water at the center of all decision-making. And imagine the profoundly positive impacts that result in energy choices, food systems, the transportation and housing sectors, urban development, manufacturing and more.

Safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value and, keeping our water public and protected for all can help secure Michigan’s future.

Safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value and, despite daily indications of bitter polarization in our politics, this important area of common ground bridges political divides. Prudently conceived and boldly implemented, keeping our water public and protected for all can help secure Michigan’s future.

2022 Year in Review: FLOW Makes Advances along the Waterfront

Above: A burst of sunshine and Lake Michigan’s power at the shore in Frankfort, Michigan. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)


Michigan’s water bounty is vast—touching four of the five Great Lakes, more than 10,000 inland lakes, 36,000 river miles, 6 million acres of wetlands, and groundwater that is the drinking water source for more than 4 million Michiganders.

At FLOW, we envision a future where healthy waters sustain healthy communities in the Great Lakes Basin, and together with our supporters and partners, we are bringing that vision to life.

Such an abundant heritage requires protection from a host of threats, and creative thinking about opportunities to keep water public and protected. These, in turn, require vision. At FLOW, we envision a future where healthy waters sustain healthy communities in the Great Lakes Basin, and together with our supporters and partners in 2022, we are bringing that vision to life.

The clear waters of Great Sand Bay on Lake Superior north of Eagle River, Michigan, on the Keweenaw Peninsula. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)

The view Michiganders enjoy of expansive, seemingly infinite Great Lakes waters is mirrored in our work, which spans all of Michigan’s public waters and includes all beings who depend on them. FLOW protects the Great Lakes—and our public trust rights to access, swim, drink, fish, and navigate these magnificent fresh waters—from threats that include climate change and the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, while strengthening protection of our vital groundwater and securing clean water for all.

FLOW protects the Great Lakes and our public trust rights, while strengthening protection of our vital groundwater and securing clean water for all.

In 2022, FLOW’s sustained efforts to ensure safe, clean, affordable, and public water for all resulted in measurable, immediate achievements, as well as in steps toward long-term goals. Here’s a summary of the impact, as well as hope for an even better 2023 in the fight to protect 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water and a way of life for all of us who depend on it for our well being.

Line 5: Preventing a Petroleum Disaster in the Great Lakes

The continued presence of Enbridge’s nearly 70-year-old Line 5 petroleum pipelines crossing in the Straits of Mackinac is a navigational hazard and a clear danger to the Great Lakes, communities, tribes, and businesses. The dented and decaying pipeline is owned and operated by Enbridge, the same Canadian corporation responsible for the 2010 spill of more than 1.2 million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall, Michigan.

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

The nearly 70-year-old Line 5 petroleum pipeline crossing in the Straits of Mackinac is a navigational hazard and a clear danger to the Great Lakes, communities, tribes, and businesses.

Acting on the public trust doctrine legal principles articulated by FLOW, Attorney General Nessel filed a lawsuit to shut down LIne 5 in 2019. In 2020, Governor Whitmer revoked and terminated the 1953 easement Enbridge relied upon to operate Line 5, while recognizing that alternatives to Line 5 exist for supplying oil and propane.

The State of Michigan and the public, however, must remain vigilant until the oil stops flowing for good because Enbridge is defying the shutdown order, and Line 5 remains exposed to exceptionally strong currents, lakebed scouring, new anchor and cable strikes, and corrosion. At the same time, Enbridge is seeking permission to locate a tunnel to carry the petroleum under the Straits, posing another set of unacceptable risks.

 In 2022, to shut down Line 5 and stop the ill-advised oil tunnel, FLOW:

  • Spurred Public Engagement & Comment—Spurred, as a founding steering committee member of Oil & Water Don’t Mix, vigorous public engagement and public comment last fall as part of  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review of the proposed oil tunnel; and FLOW also prepared final comments submitted to the federal agency on October 14.
  • Helped Reopen the Record on Proposed Tunnel—Helped persuade the Michigan Public Service Commission in July to reopen the record to receive more safety details on the tunnel proposal and Line 5 pipelines.
  • Hosted a Line 5 Livestream—Co-hosted, in partnership with Oil & Water Don’t Mix and the Bay Mills Indian Community, a July livestream event on the status of the Line 5 struggle that drew nearly 600 registrants and reached thousands more people through social media and our e-newsletter.
  • Released a New Fact Sheet—Published a new Line 5 fact sheet.

    Groundwater: Strengthening Protection of Our Sixth Great Lake

    FLOW’s 2022 reportBuilding Consensus: Securing Protection of Michigan’s Groundwater.

    The volume of groundwater in the Great Lakes Basin is comparable to the volume of Lake Huron—in essence, it’s the sixth Great Lake. Groundwater supports industry and agriculture, recharges our streams and the Great Lakes, and provides drinking water to millions of people.

    But because it is out of sight, and therefore often out of mind, groundwater is the least protected arc of that cycle. Limited protections and underinvestment in monitoring have allowed contamination to plague groundwater in tens of thousands of locations in Michigan. Since 2018, FLOW has advanced groundwater as a top priority, bringing new attention and momentum to its stewardship.

    Since 2018, FLOW has advanced groundwater as a top priority, bringing new attention and momentum to its stewardship.

    One of the biggest threats to Michigan’s groundwater is 130,000 failing septic systems. They pollute groundwater with pathogens and household toxic materials, yet Michigan is the only state lacking statewide requirements for inspection, maintenance, and replacement of failing septic systems. FLOW and our partners are striving to remedy that unacceptable fact. 

    In 2022, to protect groundwater, FLOW helped lead the way with these actions:

    • Helped Pass a Countywide Septic Ordinance—Helped in August to persuade the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners, in northwest Michigan, to enact a countywide ordinance preventing and defending against septic system pollution of groundwater.
    • Published a New Groundwater Report—Released in June, as the culmination of 15 months of work, our report, Building Consensus: Securing Protection of Michigan’s Groundwater, and accompanying story map. The report expresses the consensus of multiple stakeholders critical to the state policy process that the state must do more to gather and analyze data fostering an understanding of the condition of groundwater. Key recommendations from the report have helped to form FLOW’s 2023 groundwater policy agenda.

      FLOW’s immersive Groundwater story map.

    • Hosted a Groundwater Livestream—Hosted a livestream in March featuring FLOW staff and five partners, including State Rep. Padma Kuppa and experts on groundwater from academia, the scientific community, and the state. In all, 180 people registered for the event, which offered perspectives on the critical importance of our groundwater resources and the work of the Michigan Groundwater Table convened by FLOW.
    • Collaborated on a World Water Day Resolution—Worked with Rep. Kuppa on a World Water Day resolution that was adopted by Michigan’s State House of Representatives.
    • Guided Water Infrastructure Funding—Engaged last spring with national, regional, state, and local partners, to determine the most impactful policy interventions to ensure the equitable distribution of state and federal funds for water infrastructure, including a $35 million appropriation to help address failing septic systems.

    Clean Water for All: Keeping Water Public and Protected

    Access to clean water for all is a human right and even more vital during emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, household water shutoffs in Detroit and elsewhere, and the Flint lead-tainted water crisis. The cost of inaction and the failure to fund public water infrastructure continues to result in water insecurity, flooding, pollution, and costly patchwork repair.

    Access to clean water for all is a human right and even more vital during emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, household water shutoffs in Detroit and elsewhere, and the Flint lead-tainted water crisis.

    In 2022, to ensure equitable funding for public water systems and to prioritize water access and affordability, FLOW:

    • Helped Advance Public Water, Public Justice in New York—Worked with New York State lawmakers in support of the newly introduced  Public Water Justice Act, based on FLOW’s groundbreaking 2018 model legislation to extend public trust protection to groundwater, establish a royalty and public justice trust fund from bottled water companies, and pay for water infrastructure priorities.
    • Supported Equity in Water Infrastructure Funding—Engaged statewide with Michigan lawmakers and the Whitmer administration on legislative and other proposals to equitably distribute an historic, short-term increase in federal funds for water infrastructure.
    • Participated in an Environmental Justice Livestream—Presented at an Environmental Justice livestream event hosted by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative in March.
    • Celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act—Published original insights and perspectives throughout the year about keeping water protected and in public hands, including a series of articles in October on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and its importance, and asked in November, What Do the Election Results Mean for the Great Lakes State?
    • Hosted a Livestream with Maude Barlow—Hosted a livestream event in June with lifelong and world-renowned champion of water, Maude Barlow, who has written a memoir built on her career of activism. Its title, appropriately, is Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. In the book, Barlow vividly details her work on many issues, perhaps most importantly her successful advocacy of water as a human right.

    In March, FLOW supported the introduction of three related public trust bills on groundwater, bottled water, and natural resources. 

    • Supported Public Trust Bills in Michigan—Supported in March the introduction of three related public trust bills to expand public trust protections to groundwater, end the bottled water loophole of the Great Lakes Compact in Michigan, and direct the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to be strong public trustee stewards. 
    • Collaborated on a Public Trust Resolution—Worked with state lawmakers to declare water as a public trust in a World Water Day resolution.  
    • Upheld the Human Right to Water & Sanitation—Continued our efforts to build upon the successful passage of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation Resolution in Traverse City. Promoted statewide and regional engagement on this resolution work with We the People, Michigan Municipal League (MML), Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.
    • Drafted a Model Ordinance on Green Infrastructure—Drafted a model green infrastructure ordinance that would require municipalities to evaluate the economic and environmental effectiveness of green infrastructure alternatives—assisted by MML, SEMCOG, and City of Grand Rapids.
    • Advanced Green Infrastructure in Communities—Continued to work with Traverse City and Marquette on advancing green infrastructure as part of their new master plans to benefit the environment and save taxpayer dollars.

    FLOW’s Commitment: Lifting Up Young Leaders on Water Protection

    FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

    Too often we hear that members of Generation Z, those born between 1997-2012, mistrust government, worry about the future of democracies, and feel overwhelmed by the weighty burden of climate change they are inheriting. But from the depths rise the leaders of tomorrow—our beacon of hope.

    “Protecting our precious waters is a multigenerational mission,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

    “Protecting our precious waters is a multigenerational mission,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “We put that mission into practice not only by pursuing solutions to water problems that will pay off for generations to come, but also by engaging young people who will carry forward the work as part of a rising generation.”

    In 2022, to lift up the youth water movement, FLOW was proud to engage with:

    Lucy Jones enjoys a Lake Michigan sunset.

    • Water&—Bebe Schaefer and Rachel Roberts, two students at American University in Washington, D.C., recently launched the nonprofit organization Water&, on a “constant journey of collective action.” We at FLOW were thrilled to join hands with Water& and other young adult-led organizations in the Great Lakes Basin, and in our nation’s capital, to expand hope and leadership in the protection of our public waters.
    • Mackenzie Joseph—Our highly productive summer 2022 Milliken Intern for Communications was Mackenzie Joseph, a native of Johnstown, Ohio, and rising senior at Ohio University in Athens, who is majoring in Communication Studies with minors in History, English, Writing, and Political Communication. 
    • Mary Basso and Irene Namae—Our ambitious and talented summer 2022 Milliken Interns for Law and Policy were Mary Basso and Irene Namae. Irene was born in Uganda; after finishing a Bachelor of Law there from Makerere University, she served as a magistrate judge. She currently is pursuing her PhD in law at the University of Arizona, focusing on Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy.  Mary Basso is from Owosso, Michigan. After finishing a bachelor’s degree, Mary moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to study law at Vanderbilt University Law School.
    • Lucy Jones—When FLOW first wrote about Lucy Jones—the inspiring Traverse City teen who creates and sells jewelry to benefit the Great Lakes—last February, our supporters were moved by her environmental ethic and enterprising spirit. So we thought it was fitting to catch up with Lucy at year’s end with her holiday sales in full swing. FLOW thrives on these creative collaborations with teens and young adults—the Next Generation—who take action and lead the way to protect fresh water.

    Looking to 2023: Abundant Opportunity to Protect Fresh Water for All

    Now comes the next phase of the work that we all must do together: Hold our elected officials accountable to ensure the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are healthy, public, and protected for all. As the Great Lakes State, Michigan must lead on every imaginable freshwater policy to protect this fragile, water-rich ecosystem and to secure safe, affordable drinking water for all.

    “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

    “Michigan must seize this window of opportunity to think about systemic changes needed and make the greatest gains we can to protect fresh water, the environment, Pure Michigan economy, and our way of life in the face of impacts from unrelenting climate change and a water-scarce world,” said Kirkwood. “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it.”


    P.S.—Your Inside Look at FLOW with Liz Kirkwood Starts Now. Take an exclusive look behind the scenes at FLOW’s work, made possible by our generous supporters:


     

    Catching Up with Environmental Entrepreneur Lucy Jones at Year’s End

    Above: Lucy Jones photographs stickers featuring her original designs for advertising on her Up North Jewelry website and social media. (All photos courtesy of Lucy Jones)


    When FLOW first wrote about Lucy Jones—the inspiring Traverse City teen who creates and sells jewelry to benefit the Great Lakes—last February, our supporters were moved by her environmental ethic and enterprising spirit. So we thought it was fitting to catch up with Lucy at year’s end with her holiday sales in full swing.

    An Up North Jewelry bracelet by Lucy Jones displayed on the beach.

    Lucy, a ninth grader turning 15 later this month, donates a portion of proceeds from sales of her beaded bracelets, waterproof stickers, and other items to FLOW, which is working with you to keep the Great Lakes public and protected for all. She markets her wares at venues primarily in Traverse City, as well as online, with the slogan, “Protecting the Great Lakes Never Looked So Good.”

    Up North Jewelry’s slogan: “Protecting the Great Lakes Never Looked So Good.”

     Check out Lucy’s self-designed Up North Jewelry website, as well as her Facebook and Instagram, for all the offerings. Be sure to note that the last day to order in time for Christmas is December 15, and then after a break, Lucy will resume filling orders on December 22 for post-Christmas delivery.

    FLOW thrives on these creative collaborations with teens and young adults—the Next Generation—who take action and lead the way to protect fresh water. We spoke recently with Lucy about her current activities and plans, her passion for the Great Lakes and other social issues, and her personal inspirations. She also offers some sage advice to people of all ages about diving creatively into social activism.

    FLOW thrives on these creative collaborations with teens and young adults—the Next Generation—who take action and lead the way to protect fresh water.

    FLOW: Please bring us up to date. What have you been up to lately with Up North Jewelry and in your life as a teenager and student?

    The process of making earrings, one of Lucy Jones’ most popular items.

    Lucy: Recently I have participated in two shows, one at Crooked Tree Art Center in Traverse City and one at the Starry Starry Night downtown sale in Grand Marais in the Upper Peninsula, selling my jewelry. My most popular items are my smiley face earrings and the wildflower bracelet set, though recently at shows people have enjoyed creating their own sets by combining different color bracelets. I also keep busy with piano, Key Club, debate class, tennis, photography, and downhill skiing.

    FLOW: What’s happening during the holiday season, and what’s next?

    Lucy: I always have my jewelry and stickers available online at my website. (Note: The last day to order in time for Christmas is December 15, and then after a break, Lucy will resume filling orders on December 22 for post-Christmas delivery). Along with that, I have three art show dates coming up at Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City, on January 7, February 11, and March 4. I have just started to make some new bracelets and hopefully begin to work on new stickers.

    FLOW: What do you love about the Great Lakes?

    Lucy: The Great Lakes are beautiful! I love to explore new trails and beaches near the Great Lakes. Every year my family goes to the Upper Peninsula to camp.

    The Great Lakes are beautiful! I love to explore new trails and beaches near the Great Lakes.

    Lucy Jones enjoys a Lake Michigan sunset.

    This year I went to Marquette, and one of my favorite places was Presque Isle. Near this was the Black Rocks, which were so much fun to jump from into Lake Superior! 

    FLOW: What do you hear from customers and others about the Great Lakes?

    Lucy: When I am talking to customers, family, and friends, many express worries about the Great Lakes. I hear “thank you” a lot, and many people tell me they know about FLOW. I also hear a lot of customers talking to me about Line 5 and their concerns about that. I definitely think that is my biggest concern right now is Line 5 leaking crude oil and natural gas liquids into Lake Michigan (which has several tributaries crossed by Enbridge’s nearly 70-year-old pipeline). 

    When I am talking to customers, many express worries about the Great Lakes. I hear “thank you” a lot, and many people tell me they know about FLOW. I also hear a lot of customers talking to me about Line 5 and their concerns about that.

    Usually I am the youngest person at the event. I actually think it’s beneficial to me to learn from other people with more experience, and people are so helpful and welcoming.

    FLOW: What do you enjoy about being an environmental entrepreneur? What’s hard about it?

    I love setting things up at the booth, creating new stickers when I have time, engaging people through social media, and learning how to create a website. I’ve gained experience communicating with all types of people through my shows. 

    It can be stressful, though, when I need to create a lot of items before a show when I’m busy with school and clubs and sports.

    My Grandmother is one of my big inspirations. She is a social activist, and since I was little, it has been instilled in me how important it is to protect the Great Lakes and our environment.

    FLOW: Who inspires you to be active socially? And how did you learn about FLOW?

    Sticker display featuring original designs by Lucy Jones at a recent show at the Crooked Tree Art Center Show in Traverse City.

    Lucy: My Grandmother is one of my big inspirations. She is a social activist, and since I was little, it has been instilled in me how important it is to protect the Great Lakes and our environment. When I was little, my grandmother would take me on walks, and I would hug the trees. This was not something that I had thought of on my own.

    Living in Traverse City and being just a walk from the beach my entire life has created a love for the water and the Great Lakes. This motivated me to donate to an organization working to protect the lakes. My family also knew about FLOW before I did, and that awareness led me to choosing FLOW.

    FLOW: What other causes are you passionate about? The colorful stickers you create speak to love, music, and even solidarity with Ukraine.

    I am very passionate about many other causes, including reproductive rights, that everyone should be able to love whomever they want to love, and everyone should be seen as equal regardless of their age, sex, religion, or skin color. People like that I have an opinion even if they don’t agree.

    Lucy: I am very passionate about many other causes. I have strong opinions on reproductive rights and that a woman should be able to choose what she does with her body. I believe that everyone should be able to love whomever they want to love, and everyone should be seen as equal regardless of their age, sex, religion, or skin color. I really like making a difference, even if it’s not a huge difference, and talking to people about their different views. People like that I have an opinion even if they don’t agree.

    I’ve also have learned that the more that I do with these causes, the more interested I am and the more I want to learn about them. I have the basic background, but when I listen to the news, I am more interested in the latest information.

    Bracelets by Lucy Jones set up for the recent Crooked Tree Art Center show in Traverse City.

    FLOW: What’s your advice to other young people—and people of all ages—about making social change?

    The advice I would give to anyone is to use your passion and skill to motivate you. If you are passionate enough about something, you can do great things with it.

    Lucy: The advice I would give to anyone is to use your passion and skill to motivate you. If you are passionate enough about something, you can do great things with it. The combination of passion and skill is so powerful. Harriet Tubman said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.”


    Editor’s note: FLOW invites other young leaders to send us their ideas for protecting the Great Lakes. Reach us at info@flowforwater.org.

    Dave Dempsey Reflects on Lessons Learned after 40 Years of Environmental Advocacy

    Above: Appreciating the water cycle and all the many forms it takes, including snowflakes and rainbows over Lake Michigan. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)


    By Dave Dempsey

    Last month marked the end of my 40th year of environmental advocacy. Looking ahead to 2022 in 1982, I may have thought humans would have colonized the moon by now—or better yet, humans would have become such good stewards of the Earth that professional environmental advocates would be out of jobs.

    Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor

    I never thought my career would span four decades, but now that it has, looking back—as well as forward—seems fitting. My lens has smudges and blind spots, so consider that as you read. Here are a few lessons of 40 years.

    We need laws that consider the whole—and require reduction in pollution in air, water, and land from a single source. Or better yet, laws that prevent pollution in the first place. 

    Lessons Learned

    As long as we regard the environment in pieces, we will not achieve a healthy and lush Earth. Perhaps in 1970 it made political sense to treat air, water, and land as separate spheres.  But even then we knew—and it is ever clearer now—that we live in a world where all of these are connected. Laws that clean up industrial processes by sending hazardous wastes to landfills or incinerators merely transfer a problem to another medium. Said John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

    We need laws that consider the whole—and require reduction in pollution in air, water, and land from a single source. Or better yet, laws that prevent pollution in the first place. 

    Our understanding of economic growth is childish, and clinging to it will delay or prevent the environmental recovery we must have. I’ve heard the tiresome refrain from business lobbyists since the day I began working at the Michigan Environmental Council in November 1982: “You can’t have a healthy economy and a healthy environment at the same time.” There was hope that this false dichotomy would change after the release of a United Nations report in 1987 that spoke for the first time of sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

    We can no longer operate on the premise that constantly increasing Gross Domestic Product, in a world of exhaustible resources, is the goal of public policy and personal conduct.

    But ask anyone on the street what “sustainable development” means, and you will mostly be met by puzzled faces. We can no longer operate on the premise that constantly increasing Gross Domestic Product, in a world of exhaustible resources, is the goal of public policy and personal conduct.

    The people lead, and the leaders follow. It’s been said a multitude of times by a multitude of people—if you wait around for presidents, Congress, governors, state legislatures, or your local board of trustees to take the lead on environmental protection, your hair will turn gray before you get action. The Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972 did not happen because of enlightened, futuristic politicians—instead, those politicians were responding to public outrage about waters that were unsafe for swimming and air that was unsafe to breathe.

    The business of making laws is not pretty, but it is always better when citizens are driving it and monitoring it.

    The business of making laws is not pretty, but it is always better when citizens are driving it and monitoring it.

    Future Generations

    What about the future? Where should Michigan go now in light of these lessons?

    Bold transformative changes are necessary to meet the interconnected challenges of water stewardship and climate change.

    First, now is not the time for half measures or tweaking. Michigan has a rare opportunity in 2023 to show national leadership on the environment. That has not been true since the early 1980s, the last time that Democrats in Michigan—who often favor more environmental protections than state Republicans do—held the governor’s office and both chambers in the state legislature. We cannot keep tinkering with the old laws and making minor changes. Bold transformative changes are necessary to meet the interconnected challenges of water stewardship and climate change.

    It is just plain wrong that Michigan has 25,000 groundwater contamination sites, rivers and streams don’t meet health and/or water quality standards, and scores of communities whose sewage or drinking water treatment systems are old and underfunded.

    Second, clean water must get more than lip service. The public wants clean water, and the state’s residents must communicate that to Governor Whitmer and the legislature. These elected officials, in turn, have the responsibility to enact measures that provide the billions of dollars in state and federal funding needed to make the promise of Pure Michigan real. It is just plain wrong that Michigan has 25,000 groundwater contamination sites, hundreds of places where rivers and streams don’t meet health and/or water quality standards, and scores of communities whose sewage or drinking water treatment systems are old and underfunded.

    On such issues as climate change, we have a duty to take decisive action to make the world habitable for our descendants.

    Third, Michigan must think more often about its air, water, land and other resources through the lens of 2062 rather than 2022. Elected officials need a vision that goes beyond the next election cycle. This has happened before in Michigan. The forestry pioneers of the late 1800s and early 1900s took the millions of acres of land clearcut and abandoned by the lumber barons and shaped it into a 3.9 million acre state forest system.  None of them lived to see their work come to full fruition. They cared about us. We must do the same for our descendants. On such issues as climate change, we have a duty to take decisive action to make their world habitable.

    Will Michigan do this? I have my doubts. Forty years of cynicism are hard to shrug off. But the people of Michigan have shown leadership before, and we can do it again if we choose to do so. Our children and their children are counting on us.

    Great Lakes Champions

    In a time of seemingly overwhelming environmental challenges, it is important to remember that many unheralded individuals are working successfully to protect the Great Lakes. John Hartig profiles some of them in his new book, Great Lakes Champions. FLOW asked Hartig about the book’s message, the people he profiles, and the overall health of the Great Lakes.

    FLOW: Tell us a little about your new book, Great Lake Champions.

    John Hartig: Great Lakes Champions is the story of 14 people who love the Great Lakes, stepped up to become leaders of restoration efforts, and inspired others to follow. They have had to

    John Hartig is the author of Great Lakes Champions.

    persevere over decades and not give up in the face of adversity. They’re well respected and trusted in their communities and are not in it for acclaim or commendation. They simply and profoundly love the Great Lakes, show reverence for them, and work tirelessly to pass them on as a gift to future generations. Their stories are compelling and provide proof that individuals can indeed change the ecosystems where they live. I hope their stories will inspire a new generation of Great Lakes champions.

    FLOW: Where did the idea for this book come from?

    John Hartig: In my more than 40-year career, I have had the honor and privilege of working with and becoming friends with many people who had devoted their careers to these watershed cleanup efforts. They so inspired me that I decided to write a book about them.

    FLOW: What are examples of champions that you profile in the book?

    John Hartig: Champions come from all walks of life but share a love of the Great Lakes and a desire to make a difference in the watershed they call home. Here are just a few, which include a:

    • Husband-and-wife team who helped orchestrate a more than $1.6 billion cleanup of one of the most polluted bays on the Great Lakes.
    • Local environmentalist working for a nongovernmental organization who brought stakeholders together to realize $50 million of contaminated sediment remediation and more than $22 million of habitat rehabilitation.
    • Provincial public servant who brought all stakeholders together to clean up their Area of Concern, which was the first to be removed from the international hotspot list—and worked through a nongovernmental organization to help the local town to rebrand itself as a town committed to excellence in pursuit of sustainability.
    • Drain commissioner who helped bring together 48 communities in his watershed to become the first U.S. watershed to have all communities with national stormwater permits.
    • Head of an environmental justice organization who championed a local mercury-pollution prevention campaign that became a national model and who spearheaded a climate change action plan.
    • Member of the Waterkeeper Alliance who led their organization to become the first nonprofit to fulfill the role of non-federal sponsor of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects, which would serve as a model for the rest of the Great Lakes.
    • Local land use planner who brought together federal, provincial, and local stakeholders to restore fish and wildlife habitats and help create an EcoPark system; and
    • First Nation council member who fought for the cleanup of industrial processes and lands and to get others to view their waters and lands as sacred, requiring a stewardship ethic.

    FLOW: What is your characterization overall of the Great Lakes? Are they improving, staying the same, or deteriorating?

    John Hartig: It’s often said that Areas of Concern are microcosms of the Great Lakes. Since 1985, nine Areas of Concern have been taken off the list of international pollution hotspots. As of 2021, 102 of 255 impaired beneficial uses have been eliminated in U.S. Areas of Concern, and 68 of the 121 impaired beneficial uses have been eliminated in Canadian Areas of Concern. Although this has been a slow process, it does show progress.

    Cleanup and restoration of the Areas of Concern are essential to restoring the health of the Great Lakes. However, there are lakewide issues that must be addressed to meet the long-term goal of restoring the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes. For example, climate change is the most pressing ecosystem challenge of the 21st century and is considered a “threat multiplier” where warmer, wetter, and wilder climatic conditions amplify other threats like harmful algal blooms, combined sewer overflow events, species changes, poor air quality effects on vulnerable residents, and more. Other lakewide issues include food web changes resulting from the introduction of exotic species and continued health advisories on fish.


    About the author: John Hartig serves as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. For 14 years he served as Refuge Manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Hartig has received numerous awards for his work, including a 2022 Michigan Notable Leader in Sustainability award from Crain’s’s Detroit Business and the 2015 Conservationist of the Year Award from the John Muir Association. He has authored or co-authored over 100 publications on the environment, including seven books.

    What Do the Election Results Mean for the Great Lakes State?

    While the word “water” was not on the November 8 statewide general election ballot in Michigan, it was present on the ballot in various local communities and in different, more subtle ways across the Great Lakes State.

    In some of Michigan’s 276 cities and 1,240 townships, voters considered new regulations to safeguard water resources and taxes for sewer and drinking water system improvements. In northwest Michigan’s Leelanau Township, for instance, 60% of voters approved zoning amendments designed to protect water quality; and Leelanau County is poised by month’s end to implement a county-wide septic code ordinance after the county board’s bipartisan vote in August following years of rancorous debate and unsuccessful attempts at passage.

    In Ann Arbor, a whopping 71% of voters favored a proposal to fund the City’s A2 Zero Action Plan, which aims for a transition to carbon neutrality by 2030 to curb climate change. The funds will come from an up to 1-mill ($1 for every $1,000 in taxable value) increase in city property taxes over the next 20 years, which will raise an estimated $6,800,000 in the first year levied. Authorized uses include year-round composting; expanded residential/multifamily recycling; community and rooftop solar programs; rental and low-income household energy programs; bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure; neighborhood resource centers; electric vehicle infrastructure; and tree plantings.

    In some of Michigan’s 276 cities and 1,240 townships, voters considered new regulations to safeguard water resources and taxes for sewer and drinking water system improvements.  A whopping 71% of Ann Arbor voters favored a proposal to fund the City’s A2 Zero Action Plan, which aims for a transition to carbon neutrality by 2030 to curb climate change.

    At the county level, decisions made by voters on whom to elect as commissioners in each of Michigan’s 83 counties could affect whether these jurisdictions in the near term take on one of the problems most threatening the state’s waters, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems. Michigan remains the only state without a statewide law to set minimum standards for inspecting, maintaining, and replacing broken septic systems to protect surface water and groundwater and safeguard public health, so regulation is limited for now to a patchwork of local ordinances.

    Historic Shift in Michigan’s Government

    For the first time since the 1980s, Democrats have won the governor’s office, with the re-election of Gretchen Whitmer, and majorities in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, albeit by just two seats in each chamber, which Republicans had controlled during Whitmer’s first term. The historic shift, along with the re-election of Dana Nessel as attorney general, promises to have enormous influence on the quality of water and other natural resources of the state.

    enbridges-line-5-under-the-straits-of-mackinac-4f9997139d321d60

    A diver points to a segment of the dual Line 5 oil pipelines operating under in the Straits of Mackinac since 1953.

    As an example, Whitmer and Nessel have been partnering on a legal strategy to shut down Line 5, Enbridge’s risky, antiquated twin petroleum pipelines operating in the Straits of Mackinac, while their Republican opponents had pointedly promised to drop the litigation if elected. And Gov. Whitmer will have the opportunity to speed up progress on her climate action plan, restore polluter-pay cleanup laws weakened under former Republican Gov. John Engler, and protect and restore the Great Lakes. Widespread PFAS contamination, E. coli pollution, and harmful algal blooms also remain key priorities.

    In the 2023-2024 session of the legislature, lawmakers will likely decide whether to enact a statewide law to control failing septic systems and whether to spend a part of several billion dollars in federal aid to maximize Michigan’s historic investments in clean drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and other water infrastructure projects – including aging dams on Michigan rivers.

    FLOW: It’s Time to Seize the Opportunity to Protect Fresh Water for All

    As the Great Lakes State, Michigan must lead on every imaginable freshwater policy to protect this fragile, water-rich ecosystem and to secure safe, affordable drinking water for all.

    FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

    “For the first time in almost 40 years, the Whitmer administration and the legislature have an opportunity to profoundly shape water policy in the Great Lake State,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, reflecting on the recent election results. “A lasting watermark would include securing clean, safe, and affordable water for all and protecting groundwater for the health of our lakes and communities.”

    “For the first time in almost 40 years, the Whitmer administration and the legislature have an opportunity to profoundly shape water policy in the Great Lake State,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, reflecting on the recent election results. “A lasting watermark would include securing clean, safe, and affordable water for all and protecting groundwater for the health of our lakes and communities.

    Public Water, Public Justice

    Governor Whitmer should play a leading role to close the bottled-water loophole in the Great Lakes Compact that presently allows diversions of water in containers less than 5.7 gallons. To do so, Kirkwood called on the governor and legislature to adopt FLOW’s “Public Water, Public Justice” model legislation that would generally prevent diversions by requiring small container diversions to be aligned with Public Trust principles, licensed by the state, and subject to royalties that would generate state revenue for Michigan’s vast water infrastructure needs.

    “Michigan must seize this window of opportunity to think about systemic changes needed and make the greatest gains we can to protect fresh water, the environment, Pure Michigan economy, and our way of life in the face of impacts from unrelenting climate change and a water-scarce world,” said Kirkwood. “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it.”

    “Michigan must seize this window of opportunity to think about systemic changes needed and make the greatest gains we can to protect fresh water, the environment, Pure Michigan economy, and our way of life in the face of impacts from unrelenting climate change and a water-scarce world,” said Kirkwood. “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it.”

    On the Federal Front

    Finally, all 13 of Michigan’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives were contested in the November 8 election, with all incumbents who ran winning re-election, and Republicans gaining a slim majority in the chamber. Democrats retained narrow control of the U.S. Senate, and all Midwest governors on the ballot were re-elected.

    The U.S. House will consider legislation in 2023 to address PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals,” which have contaminated over 200 sites in Michigan, and renewal of federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

    Everywhere you look, water issues colored Michigan election choices and outcome. Now comes the real work that we all must do together: Hold our elected officials accountable to ensure the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are healthy, public, and protected for all.

    On Tuesday, Michigan Can Vote for Clean Water and Climate Action

    Above: The clear waters of Great Sand Bay on Lake Superior north of Eagle River, Michigan, on the Keweenaw Peninsula. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)


    You will not find the word “water” on Tuesday’s statewide general election ballot in Michigan. That hasn’t always been true. In 1968, 1988, 1998, and 2002, water appeared in the form of statewide voting on over $2 billion in environmental bond proposals. Voters approved all four by wide margins. No such issue will be put before statewide voters this year, extending a 20-year gap.

    But you will find water on the ballot in various local communities and in different, more subtle ways across the Great Lakes State.

    You will not find the word “water” on Tuesday’s statewide general election ballot in Michiganextending a 20-year gapbut you will find water on the ballot in various local communities and in different, more subtle ways across the Great Lakes State.

    In some of Michigan’s 276 cities and 1,240 townships, voters will consider new regulations to safeguard water resources and taxes for sewer and drinking water system improvements. In northwest Michigan’s Leelanau Township, for instance, voters will decide on zoning amendments proponents say are designed to protect water quality, while an opponent calls the amendments a “spectacular display of government overreach.”

    In Ann Arbor, residents will vote on a proposal to fund the City’s A2 Zero Action Plan, which aims for a transition to carbon neutrality by 2030 to curb climate change, which already is contributing to floods and overwhelming Michigan’s underfunded water infrastructure. The funds would come from a $1 million increase in city property taxes over the next 20 years. At the county level, the choice of commissioners could affect whether these jurisdictions take on one of the problems most threatening the state’s waters, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems.

    Ann Arbor voters will consider a tax to curb climate change, which is contributing to floods and failure of water infrastructure in Michigan. Leelanau Township voters will decide on zoning amendments designed to protect water quality.

    In races for three statewide offices, especially governor and attorney general, officeholders have enormous influence on the quality of water and other natural resources. As an example, incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have teamed on a legal strategy to shut down Line 5, Enbridge’s risky, antiquated twin petroleum pipelines located in the Straits of Mackinac. Whitmer’s Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, has called the proposed shutdown part of a “radical” state energy strategy and says, if elected, she will drop the bid to shut down the pipelines.

    In races for Michigan’s top spotsgovernor and attorney generalthe outcome will impact the fate of the dangerous Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, the investment of several billion dollars in federal aid for water infrastructure needs, and whether Michigan finally will regulate failing septic systems.

    All 148 seats in the Michigan legislature—110 in the State House of Representatives and 38 in the State Senate—are up for grabs. In the 2023-2024 session of the legislature, lawmakers will decide whether to enact a statewide law to control failing septic systems, whether to spend a part of several billion dollars in federal aid on water infrastructure needs, and more.

    Finally, all 13 of Michigan’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be contested on Tuesday. The U.S. House will consider legislation in 2023 to address PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals,” which have contaminated over 200 sites in Michigan, and renewal of federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Everywhere you look, water issues color Michigan election choices. When we cast votes in November, we should remember that more than candidates are on the ballot. In a very real way, so are water and the public trust.

    The Unfulfilled Promise of ‘Zero Discharge’ into Public Waters

    Above: Aerial view of White Lake near Montague, Michigan, with Duck Lake visible to the south. (Photo/Doc Searls)


    By Tanya Cabala

    I was a young adult before I knew anything about the Clean Water Act, its passage in 1972, its relationship to my community, or even its initial promise of “zero discharge,” still unfulfilled to this day. 

    The lack of good environmental laws, and lax oversight and enforcement of the weak laws we had, gave rise to the unfortunate circumstances people in my community encountered as chemical companies and municipalities discharged wastes into our local West Michigan lake—White Lake the Beautiful, as I and some other locals call it, going all the back to a tannery in 1865 and then the infamous Hooker Chemical Company in the 1950s.

    Citizens eventually prevailed when the Clean Water Act was nearly a decade old, and then others, including me, took up the banner and advocated for the cleanup of White Lake for several decades, eventually succeeding and getting it removed from a list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern in 2014. 

    Tanya Cabala and her dogs at home near White Lake in West Michigan (Photo courtesy of Tanya Cabala)

    Some people finally rose up to protest in the 1970s, and were told to be quiet to keep jobs in the community. Citizens eventually prevailed when the Clean Water Act was nearly a decade old, and then others, including me, took up the banner and advocated for the cleanup of White Lake for several decades, eventually succeeding and getting it removed from a list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern in 2014. 

    Taking Direct Action for Zero Discharge

    I was recently in Traverse City, and as I drove along Grand Traverse Bay, I remembered the fall of 1991, when I was standing right there, with many others, calling for zero discharge of pollutants into public waters, for once and for all. As a new staffer then for the Lake Michigan Federation (now the Alliance for the Great Lakes), I marched along the bay, listened to speakers with all the Great Lakes groups present, and attended the meetings of the International Joint Commission, the binational panel of appointees overseeing the U.S. and Canadian governments’ implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

    I was glad for the visit by Greenpeace activists and for the campaign, as it put the term “zero discharge” into the news, and into the vernacular. I was not one to scale a smokestack, but I could understand how groups taking direct action could benefit the work I was doing.

    It was the second such biennial meeting open to the public, and there was great interest in attending. Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, was in attendance, the final stop of its Great Lakes campaign for zero discharge, after having visited my community near White Lake, scaling the smokestack of the local paper mill, and unfurling a zero discharge banner. They were arrested, and it made news. I was glad for the visit by Greenpeace activists and for the campaign, as it put the term “zero discharge” into the news, and into the vernacular. I was not one to scale a smokestack, but I could understand how groups taking direct action could benefit the work I was doing.

    Finally we could say the words, “zero discharge,” and hopefully get more work done in our own communities. In Traverse City, Greenpeace unfurled another banner from the top of the Grand Traverse Resort where the meetings were held, and group members  stalked the meetings indoors wearing animal head costumes. Again, I was not one to do this, but I could see clearly how it pushed the agenda for us all in the right direction. It provided a necessary complement to those, like me, providing their testimony in more of the expected (and less interesting) manner.

    Teach Your Children Well

    I am much older now, but still working as an activist, still hoping to see the changes we need, the progress we need. I won’t deny there have been many successes with the Clean Water Act in place. But still, the zero discharge promise is unfulfilled as polluted runoff from land continues, and new water quality problems like PFAS emerge (amid the crisis of climate change exacerbating it all), threatening my White Lake the Beautiful, my community’s lake, my children’s and grandchildren’s future. (And the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to “shrink” the power and promise of the Clean Water Act).

    We need to teach them—our children and grandchildren—well while they are young. We need to keep what we have regained. And we need to consider all the ways that we can work together, most especially through direct action. We need to act like we are in a crisis. Because we are.

    We need to teach them—our children and grandchildren—well while they are young. We need to keep what we have regained, our clean White Lake, and all the other rivers and lakes restored to good health. And we need to consider all the ways that we can work together, most especially through direct action. We need to act like we are in a crisis. Because we are.


    About the author: Tanya Cabala lives in her childhood home in Whitehall, Michigan, in northern Muskegon County, with her two dogs, Bella and Barney. A grandmother and the Lakeshore Outreach Organizer for West Michigan Environmental Action Council, she is delighted to be working with energetic movers and shakers along the West Michigan lakeshore, educating on protecting water and encouraging action on climate change.