Tag: great lakes

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

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


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

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

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

Many Troubling Aspects of the Tunnel Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Army Corps Process to Continue through at Least 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan Legislature on Wednesday Will Consider Bill to Control Waste from Septic Systems

Editor’s note: FLOW supports the consideration of newly introduced legislation to control septic system sewage and looks forward to helping strengthen the bill’s provisions to ensure the strongest possible protections for public health and public waters. Please read the article, and use the links to contact the bill’s co-sponsors using the information below to express your support.


Wednesday marks an important moment in the decades-long effort to protect Michigan’s public health, wells, and water from pollution caused by failing septic systems. At 10:30 a.m. on Weds., Sept. 28, a state legislative committee will take up a bill requiring inspection of septic systems at the time a property is sold.

FLOW encourages the public to contact the bill’s co-sponsors—Rep. Yaroch and Rep. Rendon—to express support for their legislation to protect public health and public waters.

The House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation will hear testimony on House Bill 6101, which was introduced by Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Macomb County, and Rep. Daire Rendon of Lake City, in Missaukee County. While the committee bill is not expected to vote on the measure Wednesday, the hearing could lay the groundwork for action after the November election, during the lame-duck session, or early in the 2023 legislative session. FLOW encourages the public to contact the bill’s co-sponsors—Rep. Yaroch and Rep. Rendon—to express support for their legislation to protect public health and public waters.

Michigan is the only state lacking a law to require inspection of septic systems. It is an urgent priority, with an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems in Michigan releasing approximately 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment each year.

Michigan is the only state lacking a law to require inspection of septic systems. An estimated 130,000 failing septic systems in Michigan each year release approximately 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment.

How Did We Get Here on Septic?

For two decades, proponents of the legislation have unsuccessfully attempted to secure passage by the legislature of such a law. FLOW and many of our allied organizations support a statewide septic code, working for years to lay the groundwork for passage. FLOW supports the introduction of H.B. 6101 and looks forward to helping strengthen the bill’s provisions to ensure the strongest protections for public health and public waters.

One of the witnesses scheduled to testify on Wednesday is Dr. Joan Rose, a Michigan State University researcher and microbiologist, who co-authored a study finding human fecal indicator bacteria in every river tested in a 64 river systems that drain approximately 84 percent of the Lower Peninsula. 

Dr. Joan Rose, a Michigan State University researcher and microbiologist, will testify Wednesday on the septic bill.

Rose was a key presenter at the Michigan Septic Summit, hosted in November 2019 by FLOW and our partners and allies and attended by over 150 public health experts, scientists, local government representatives, nonprofit organizations, and interested citizens. At the Septic Summit, Dr. Rose spoke about her study’s finding on septic pollution.

The results were clear, Rose said. “The more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source tracking bacteria in the water. If we want to keep E. coli and other pathogens out of our waterways, we need to address the problem of septic systems that may be failing to adequately treat our wastewater.”

FLOW continues to educate and empower the public on the need for a statewide septic system policy in order to protect public health, local communities, lakes, and ecosystems—especially groundwater, the source of drinking water for 45% of Michigan’s population.

Learn More

To learn more, dive into FLOW’s original articles, videos, and other content on the need to stop septic pollution, including materials published Sept. 19-23 during SepticSmart Week, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency annual educational initiative, at www.ForLoveOfWater.org and on FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

SepticSmart: Can Michigan Move from Last to First?

Editor’s note: During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. (If you are unsure about what a septic system is or how it works, start here).

Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW.


For a long time, Michigan was regarded as an environmental leader among the states.  We were the first state to ban the pesticide DDT, the first in the Great Lakes region to limit phosphorus pollution to protect sensitive waters like Lake Erie, and the first to create a trust fund from oil and gas revenues to buy public recreational and scenic land.

But there’s a big gap in Michigan’s body of environmental law.

We are the only state without a sanitary code that applies to septic systems—despite knowing that pollution from failing septic systems is detected in scores of rivers and lakes across Michigan.

Click here to learn how a conventional septic system works. (Click image to see larger version).

The link is clear, said microbiologist Dr. Joan Rose of Michigan State University. She led a study that sampled 64 river systems that drain approximately 84 percent of the Lower Peninsula, looking for E. coli and the human-specific source tracking marker bacteria called B-theta.

The results were clear, Rose said. “The more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source tracking bacteria in the water. If we want to keep E. coli and other pathogens out of our waterways, we need to address the problem of septic systems that may be failing to adequately treat our wastewater.”

Closing the gap should be an urgent priority for Michigan policymakers. State law needs to require periodic pumping and inspection of septic systems and replacement of those found to be failing.

But Michigan shouldn’t be satisfied with a law that does just the basics. We should add money to a new state low-interest loan program assisting homeowners with the cost of replacing those failing systems. And we should bump up public education so that more Michigan residents know about the problem and solutions.

If we’re going to be an environmental leader again, we can no longer refrain from sanitary code legislation.


Learn More about Why Michigan Must Move from Last to First on Control of Septic Waste

Here is today’s SepticSmart guidance from NatureChange, FLOW, and partners: 

Michigan’s Lack of Septic Maintenance Requirements Threatens Public Health (One-minute trailer)

Flushing the Future-The Challenge of Failing Septic Systems (16-minute video)

 

Get SepticSmart to Stop Pollution, Save Money

Image courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Editor’s note: During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW: SepticSmart Week: Progress on Protecting Public Health and Fresh Water and SepticSmart: Leelanau County Board Wisely Votes to Protect Fresh Water and Public Health from Septic Pollution.


Michiganders who rely on septic systems to treat and discharge their sewage don’t need to wait for a state law requiring them to maintain those systems. Their voluntary acts and practices can help prevent further groundwater and surface water pollution from failing and malfunctioning septic systems, and save them money and headaches too.

Most importantly, owners of homes with septic systems should have tanks pumped and examined at least once every three years. If the inspection yields evidence of a failing system, the tank should be replaced. Replacing failing systems is expensive – but the cost of not doing so includes risking the health of the household if a drinking water well is in the path of the slowly moving waste. It also puts neighbors and recreational users of contaminated streams at risk from fecal bacteria and household chemicals.

The State of Michigan is launching a $35 million low-interest loan program to assist homeowners in defraying the cost of septic system replacement.

U.S. EPA–Top 10 Ways to be a Good Septic System Owner (Click for larger version).

Top 10 Ways to Be a Good Septic Owner

Other SepticSmart quick tips on protecting your septic system from failure:

  • Have your system inspected every three years by a qualified professional or according to your local health department’s recommendations.
  • Have your septic tank pumped, when necessary, generally every three to five years.
  • Avoid pouring harsh products (e.g., oils, grease, chemicals, paint, medications) down the drain.
  • Make efficient use of water and do not operate several water-intensive appliances at the same time. Doing otherwise can lead to a septic system backup into your house.
  • Keep the surface over a septic system drain field clear. Roots and heavy objects can disrupt the treatment of waste in the septic system.
  • For the full list of Top 10 Ways to Be a Good Septic Owner, click here or on the image.

Have your septic tank pumped, when necessary, generally every three to five years. Source: U.S. EPA. (Click for larger version).

If all homeowners with septic systems follow these tips and others, their potential bill for system replacement will be lower, and Michigan’s public waters will be cleaner.

Scientific studies have found human fecal contamination affecting 100% of our river systems in the Lower Peninsula and that substandard, failing, or nonexistent septic systems are the primary driver of human fecal bacteria found in our rivers and streams.

FLOW’s action on septic system pollution began with our 2018 groundwater report, The Sixth Great Lake, which emphasized that in addition to releasing an estimated 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment each year, failing septic systems release household chemicals that residents pour down their drains. Our report called for a uniform statewide sanitary code in Michigan.

Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates. To get you started, here is today’s tip from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminding all of us to Protect It and Inspect It!

 

SepticSmart: Leelanau County Board Wisely Votes to Protect Fresh Water and Public Health from Septic Pollution

Image courtesy of Leelanau.gov.


Editor’s note: This opinion article by FLOW Legal Advisor Skip Pruss was originally published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on Sept. 4, 2022. During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW: SepticSmart Week: Progress on Protecting Public Health and Fresh Water and Get SepticSmart to Stop Pollution, Save Money.


By Skip Pruss, FLOW Legal Advisor

In August, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners voted to task the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department with drafting an ordinance requiring the inspection of septic systems upon the transfer or sale of a home. The bipartisan vote endorsing this ordinance came after years of rancorous debate and unsuccessful attempts at passage.

Skip Pruss, FLOW Legal Advisor

The vote was a hopeful sign of progress, demonstrating an understanding that malfunctioning septic systems can affect surface water and groundwater locally and statewide, potentially burdening communities with avoidable harmful economic, health and environmental outcomes.

Scientific studies have found human fecal contamination affecting 100% of our river systems in the Lower Peninsula and that substandard, failing, or nonexistent septic systems are the primary driver of human fecal bacteria found in our rivers and streams. A study this year found that as many as 27 percent of all septic systems in Michigan households may be failing.

Scientific studies have found human fecal contamination affecting 100% of our river systems in the Lower Peninsula and that as many as 27 percent of all septic systems in Michigan households may be failing.

The Great Lakes surrounding Michigan hold 95 percent of all fresh surface water in the United States and 84 percent of all fresh surface water in North America. Leelanau County, a peninsula within a peninsula, has the most freshwater shoreline of any county in the Lower Peninsula.

Remarkably, Michigan, seated at the very heart of the Great Lakes, is the only state without a state law setting minimum standards for the construction, maintenance and inspection of septic systems. Counties and local governments have had to step up, enacting local ordinances in recognition that a septic system inspection requirement would help identify failing systems, protect groundwater, reduce contaminated wastewater migration to our beautiful lakes and protect property values.

Remarkably, Michigan, seated at the very heart of the Great Lakes, is the only state without a state law setting minimum standards for the construction, maintenance and inspection of septic systems. Counties and local governments have had to step up, enacting local ordinances.

The good news is that, despite daily indications of bitter polarization in our politics, our community’s concern for safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value, an important area of common ground that bridges the political divide — as affirmed by the vote of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners. The State of Michigan and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also have proclaimed Sept. 19-23 to be SepticSmart Week and are providing outreach materials encouraging homeowners and communities to inspect and maintain their septic systems.

For Love of Water (FLOW), the Traverse City-based law and policy center, has focused on the protection of groundwater and its relationship to Great Lakes water quality. FLOW’s recent work includes creating and moderating the Michigan Groundwater Table, an 18-month collaboration among local government organizations, state agencies, environmental and justice organizations and Michigan’s universities to identify key groundwater-protection strategies and make recommendations for their implementation (See related storymap here).

FLOW continues to focus on the protection of groundwater and its relationship to Great Lakes water quality.

Among the findings of the Groundwater Table is that septic system performance writ large is, in fact, an infrastructure issue.

With the influx of state and federal funding targeted at water infrastructure support, this may be a particularly opportune time to revisit statewide solutions, including provisions for low-income assistance to address substandard systems.

Meanwhile, hats off to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners for recognizing that protection of this extraordinary, globally unique natural endowment that is our Great Lakes is an environmental, economic and public health imperative.

About the author: Skip Pruss is a legal adviser with FLOW and formerly directed the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. You can reach him at pruss@5lakesenergy.com.


Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates. To get you started, here is today’s tip from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminding all of us: Don’t Strain Your Drain! 

SepticSmart Week: Progress on Protecting Public Health and Fresh Water

Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Editor’s note: During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. 

Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW for:


U.S. EPA–Top 10 Ways to be a Good Septic System Owner (Click on image for larger version).

Michigan’s lack of a statewide sanitary code ranks the state dead last in preventing pollution from failing septic systems. With an estimated 130,000 failing or malfunctioning septic systems in the state, the status quo is a threat to public health and Pure Michigan. That’s why FLOW has been taking action with you and key stakeholders during the last few years to educate and empower the public and key stakeholders and pursue solutions.

This week presents another key opportunity to make a difference. Join FLOW starting today through Friday for SepticSmart Week, an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants.

Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates.

State of Michigan’s 2022  Proclamation on SepticSmart Week 2022 (Click on image for larger version).

Each day this week, FLOW will release SepticSmart Week content, including original articles and videos providing facts, tips, and inspiration to help you be part of the solution to this shared challenge of not only septic system pollution, but also the broader challenge of surface and groundwater contamination in Michigan. (If you are unsure about what a septic system is or how it works, start here).

Slow, But Perceptible Progress on a Septic Code

FLOW’s action on septic system pollution began with our 2018 groundwater report, The Sixth Great Lake, which emphasized that in addition to releasing an estimated 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment each year, failing septic systems release household chemicals that residents pour down their drains. Our report called for a uniform statewide sanitary code in Michigan.

In November 2019, FLOW and our partners and allies hosted a Michigan Septic Summit, attended by over 150 public health experts, scientists, local government representatives, nonprofit organizations, and interested citizens. We noted that the Summit “underscored a growing resolve in the state to do something meaningful about septic system pollution. Historically, when Michigan’s various interests have come together in good faith to solve an environmental problem, they have succeeded.”

The Michigan Septic Summit “underscored a growing resolve in the state to do something meaningful about septic system pollution. Historically, when Michigan’s various interests have come together in good faith to solve an environmental problem, they have succeeded.”

Since then we have continued to educate and empower the public and key stakeholders with the information and impetus to take action on septic system policy in order to protect public health, local communities, lakes, and ecosystems—especially groundwater, the source of drinking water for 45% of Michigan’s population.

The Michigan Groundwater Table Builds Consensus on Need for Protection

FLOW in January 2021 created and for a year convened the Michigan Groundwater Table, composed of 22 knowledgeable and influential stakeholders from local government, academia, and regulatory agencies.

The Groundwater Table’s work culminated with FLOW hosting a livestream event—Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible on World Water Day & Every Day—last March and then in June with our release of a report, Building Consensus: Securing Protection of Michigan’s Groundwater, and accompanying story map. The report contains consensus findings about the status of Michigan’s groundwater and also recommendations on how to improve its protection. The Groundwater Table agreed it should be a priority to develop a statewide initiative to enable inspection and repair of septic systems, including funding to empower local health agencies to conduct periodic inspections and facilitate compliance and to assist homeowners in replacing failing systems.

FLOW continues to educate and empower the public on the need for a statewide septic system policy in order to protect public health, local communities, lakes, and ecosystems—especially groundwater, the source of drinking water for 45% of Michigan’s population.

Progress on statewide septic policy in Michigan has been slow, but it is perceptible and continues. Acting on a recommendation from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and with the backing of FLOW and many other environmental groups, the Michigan Legislature this year approved $35 million in low-interest loans to help homeowners pay for replacing failing septic systems. It’s a down payment on a problem that will require much more investment to fix.

Contact State Representative Jeff Yaroch, a Republican from Macomb County, to express your support Michigan House Bill 6101, which would create a statewide septic code.

Additional progress is the tentative scheduling in Lansing of a September 28, 2022, meeting of the Michigan House Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Committee to consider a proposed statewide sanitary code. Although House leadership to date has not signaled an intent to pass the legislation–Michigan House Bill 6101–this year, its introduction and potential consideration is a recognition that the problem is not going away—and that state level action is vital. Contact the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Jeff Yaroch, a Republican from Macomb County, to express your support for a statewide septic code.

FLOW continues to work with the public and partners—community leaders, scientists, public health experts, academics, environmental advocates, realtors, and state and local lawmakers—to seek solutions to unregulated, polluting septic systems. Public education is vital to solving the longstanding problem. 

Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates. To get you started, here is today’s tip from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminding all of us to “Think at the Sink!”

 

Preview: SepticSmart Week Aims to Protect Water Quality and Public Health across Michigan, USA

Photo of the Au Sable River by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.


In the Great Lakes State, we sometimes take water for granted. We turn on the tap and expect our drinking water to be safe. We wade or swim in a lake and assume it is clean. And we flush a toilet believing a sewage plant will cleanse the waste before it enters the environment. But sometimes none of those assumptions is true.

Many Michiganders live in residences that are not connected to sewage plants. Approximately 1.3 million residences and businesses in mostly rural areas use on-site sewage systems, also known as septic systems, to treat and release their sewage. Unfortunately, an estimated 10%, or 130,000 of Michigan’s septic systems, are malfunctioning or failing, releasing an estimated 9.4 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the soil and environment each year.

Despite the threat to water quality and public health posed by failing septic systems, Michigan remains the only state in the country without a uniform septic code to set basic standards to govern how on-site sewage treatment systems. 

Testing has detected the bacteria and chemicals from untreated human waste in groundwater, lakes, and streams in Michigan, and in the drinking water wells of the residents and their neighbors. Despite the threat to water quality and public health posed by failing septic systems, Michigan remains the only state in the country without a uniform septic code to set basic standards to govern how on-site sewage treatment systems are designed, built, installed, periodically inspected, and maintained. 

Michigan must do better to protect its residents and freshwater environment from human waste.

SepticSmart Week Starts September 19

Starting on Sept. 19, SepticSmart Week, is an opportunity for all Michiganders to learn about the problem of failing septic systems and solutions in order to protect not only our waters, but our health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the annual educational campaign a decade ago, and the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, are partners and participants.

Each weekday next week, FLOW will release SepticSmart Week content, including original articles and videos providing facts, tips, and inspiration to help you be part of the solution to this shared challenge of not only septic system pollution, but also the broader challenge of surface and groundwater contamination in Michigan. 

Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

FLOW continues to work with the public and partners—community leaders, scientists, public health experts, academics, environmental advocates, realtors, and state and local lawmakers—to seek solutions to unregulated, polluting septic systems. Public education is vital to solving the longstanding problem. Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Hundreds Attend Army Corps Hearing, Strong Majority Speaks Out against Proposed Oil Pipeline Tunnel under the Great Lakes

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


By Kelly Thayer, FLOW Deputy Director

Katie Otanez, Regulatory Project Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, delivers a presentation on Sept. 8, 2022, in St. Ignace, Mich., while Army Corps staff look on.

Five-and-half hours into a marathon federal hearing that lasted seven hours on Thursday, September 8, in St. Ignace, Michigan, more than 4 out of 5 people who spoke said that an oil pipeline tunnel proposed under the Great Lakes was a dangerous idea that would rob future generations by threatening the most precious thing on earth — fresh water — and worsening the climate crisis.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the public comment session to help set the scope of its environmental impact statement study of a proposal by Enbridge, Inc., of Canada, to build an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to house its Line 5 oil pipeline, which carries oil from western Canada primarily to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. The Army Corps study is expected to continue through at least 2023.

U.S. Army Corps welcome sign on Sept. 8, 2022, in St. Ignace, Mich.

Hundreds of people attended the meeting at Little Bear East Arena, a local hockey facility just north of the Mackinac Bridge in the eastern Upper Peninsula, with each commenter taking up to three minutes to address the Army Corps staff seated up front. Most people expressed deep concern for the harm that construction or a potential explosion or spill from the operation of an oil pipeline tunnel could have on their children and grandchildren’s future, local residents, the Great Lakes, drinking water, tourist economy, and jobs — as well as tribal rights, tribal member survival, cultural heritage, the fishery, ecology of the Straits of Mackinac, and the climate.

Whitney Gravelle, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, was the first to speak at the Army Corps meeting against the tunnel proposal and sought to change the narrative promoted by Enbridge in its multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. “Line 5 is not about Enbridge. It is not about jobs. It is not about profit. It is about the continued existence of my people here in the State of Michigan.”

Whitney Gravelle, President of the Bay Mills Indian Community

“Line 5 is not about Enbridge. It is not about jobs. It is not about profit. It is about the continued existence of my people here in the State of Michigan.” — Whitney Gravelle, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community

“We rely on all of those natural resources to be able to live, to be able to support our families and just exist as Anishinaabe people,” said President Gravelle, emphasizing that more than half of Bay Mills tribe members depend on their treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather for subsistence.

Ian Bund, venture capitalist

Ian Bund, a venture capital investor who attended the hearing on his birthday to oppose the tunnel project, said, “There’s no evidence that Enbridge’s board of directors has approved the tunnel. Is it a PR stunt? Enbridge is largely uninsured, uninsurable, and un-bondable…. There’s no evidence how Enbridge would finance the tunnel project. One wonders if they might look to taxpayers.”

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

Many Troubling Aspects of the Tunnel Proposal

Enbridge wants to blast and bore an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac just west of the Mackinac Bridge. Credit: Flickr

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

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

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

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

Tribal Nations, agencies, communities, organizations, citizens, and other stakeholders can comment on the tunnel proposal through Oct. 14, 2022, via mail, through the Army Corps project website, or at the Army Corps’ Oct. 6, 2022, online meeting. The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, of which FLOW is a founding steering committee member, also is collecting and forwarding comments to the Army Corps using an email template that suggests key points to make.

Oil & Water Don’t Mix Campaign Mobilizes Great Lakes Advocates

The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign chartered two buses that gathered people in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Traverse City to attend the Army Corps’ September 8 meeting, with FLOW, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, and several other allied groups helping organize the effort. Many riders wore the campaign’s black t-shirts with white letters proclaiming “No Line 5 Oil Tunnel.” At the session, Enbridge and some allied trade unions also wore bright blue or orange shirts expressing support for the proposed tunnel or labor to show their solidarity.

Kim Gribi of Traverse City

Lana Pollack, former U.S. Chair of the International Joint Commission

Several people, including Lana Pollack, former U.S. chair of the International Joint Commission, called Enbridge a “bad actor” with a long history of oil spills from Line 5, which runs through the Straits, and Line 6B in southern Michigan that burst in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River watershed.

Kim Gribi, a concerned citizen from Traverse City, also pointed to Enbridge’s “bad track record.” Gribi said that with her professional background in human resources and evaluating applicants for jobs, when it comes to the tunnel project and Enbridge, “I wouldn’t hire them.”

Barbara Stamiris of the Northern MI Environmental Action Council

Barbara Stamiris of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council and others questioned whether the tunnel proposal was a delay tactic by Enbridge to allow the Canadian energy-transport giant to keep running its Line 5 oil pipelines indefinitely in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, despite a standing order issued in November 2020 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to shut down the risky 69-year-old pipeline segment.

A number of people in their public remarks in St. Ignace requested that the Army Corps extend the 60-day comment period on the proposed tunnel and hold additional in-person meetings downstate to reach more people on such a critical matter as the future of the Great Lakes and the drinking water supply.

FLOW: There’s No Alternative to Fresh Water

FLOW Board member Barbara Brown, a St. Ignace resident who served for 14 years on the Mackinac Bridge Authority, pointed to what the region must protect above all else: our freshwater heritage. “We are rapidly moving toward alternative forms of energy. Enbridge already has, in Line 78 [in southern Michigan], an alternative route of deliveryWhat we do not have is an alternative to water.”

FLOW Board Member Barbara Brown, a resident of St. Ignace, Mich., addresses the Army Corps staff.

“We are rapidly moving toward alternative forms of energy. Enbridge already has an alternative route of deliveryWhat we do not have is an alternative to water,” said Barbara Brown, FLOW Board Member and St. Ignace resident

In fact, the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors has available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region without threatening public waters and the economy, according to multiple studies. One of Enbridge’s own experts has concluded gasoline prices will rise by about only half a penny in Michigan if the Line 5 oil pipeline shuts down.

“We are sitting today at the very heart of 20% of the world’s fresh surface water,” Brown said. “With much of humanity and the animal world on the brink of death for want of water, and we being at the center of the largest body of fresh surface water on the planet, it is bordering on the immoral to even entertain the unnecessary, continued operation of Line 5 through the Great Lakes whether by pipe or tunnel.”

As FLOW’s Deputy Director, I (the author of this article) helped coordinate the bus from Traverse City and in my comments, said, “The Straits of Mackinac is the worst possible place to build and operate an oil pipeline tunnel. Any rupture, explosion, or other event resulting in a major oil spill in the Straits would contaminate the very heart of the Great Lakes, which hold 95% of the fresh surface water in the United States.”

As a result, “the Army Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement or ‘EIS’ review of the project should be scoped to eliminate the risk of a pipeline-related oil spill into the Great Lakes.” (Click to read Kelly Thayer’s full comment delivered on behalf of FLOW).

Regional and Binational Perspectives

Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation

Michelle Woodhouse of Environmental Defence in Canada

Michelle Woodhouse, representing Environmental Defence Canada, came from Toronto to convey that many Canadians want to move rapidly away from oil extraction as a key driver of the economy in order to cope with the “climate emergency.” Woodhouse also pointed to indigenous cultural artifacts in the Straits of Mackinac that could be damaged by the tunnel proposal and said “clear alternatives exists” that would not harm the Great Lakes.

Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation, Great Lakes Regional Center, spoke next and emphasized that Enbridge’s history of nearly three dozen oil spills from Line 5 and the 2010 oil spill disaster from Line 6B in Marshall, Michigan, are forewarnings of what could happen in the Straits of Mackinac.

Maya Ponton Aronoff pointed to better ways for Enbridge and trade workers to aid the residents of Michigan than building an oil pipeline tunnel under the Great Lakes.

“[Enbridge] could be replacing every lead-lined water pipe in Michigan that’s poisoning our children and our communities. They could be investing in renewable energy, creating jobs in solar and wind. They could be doing anything with their billions of dollars. But they’re making us believe this lie that we have to choose between jobs and our future,” said Maya Ponton Aronoff

“[Enbridge] could be replacing every lead-lined water pipe in Michigan that’s poisoning our children and our communities,” Ponton Aronoff said. “They could be investing in renewable energy, creating jobs in solar and wind. They could be doing anything with their billions of dollars. But they’re making us believe this lie that we have to choose between jobs and our future.”

Army Corps Process to Continue through at Least 2023

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

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

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

FLOW’s legal team aided in this effort in December 2020 by submitting comprehensive comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calling for an environmental impact statement on behalf of a dozen organizations: Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Clean Water Action—Michigan, FLOW, Groundwork Center, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, NMEAC, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and Environment, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, and TC 350. The comments demonstrated a serious gap in Enbridge’s evaluation of the presence of loose, unconsolidated rock and sediment in the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac that Enbridge has characterized as solid bedrock.

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

EPA Move Has Big Implications for Michigan’s PFAS “Forever Chemical” Toxic Sites

The proposal last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list two “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law could help spur cleanup actions in Michigan.

The two chemicals, known as PFOS and PFOA, were two of the most widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and were used in firefighting foams, nonstick kitchenware, and water repellent gear, among other things, before being phased out. The chemicals break down very slowly, if ever, in the environment, are found in the blood of nearly all Americans, and have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and other human health impacts. Promisingly, scientists at Northwestern University recently discovered a new method for breaking down PFAS compounds that could prove to be a breakthrough for cleanups.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) so far has identified 228 PFAS contamination sites. In 2018, EGLE predicted more than 11,300 PFAS sites in Michigan might exist, but had not been investigated yet, including at fire stations, municipal airports, military sites, refineries and bulk petroleum stations, and wastewater treatment plants.

“If the proposed rule takes effect, the hazardous substance designation will create a mechanism for the EPA to hold polluters financially accountable, and it will also allow communities, local governments, and small businesses to sue polluters to recover costs,” said Anthony Spaniola, an activist fighting for cleanup of PFAS contamination from the former Wurtsmith Air Force base near Oscoda. 

“If the proposed rule takes effect, the hazardous substance designation will create a mechanism for the EPA to hold polluters financially accountable, and it will also allow communities, local governments, and small businesses to sue polluters to recover costs,” said Anthony Spaniola, an activist fighting for cleanup of PFAS contamination from the former Wurtsmith Air Force base near Oscoda. 

Spaniola added, “As the proposed rule makes its way through the process, EPA will also be accepting public comment regarding other members of the PFAS chemical class that should also be designated as hazardous substances. In the best of all worlds, this could open the door for regulation of PFAS chemicals as a class—which is what should be done.” 

Michael S. Regan,
EPA Administrator

“This is a significant political and policy statement from the Biden administration,” he said.

“Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in announcing the proposed rule. EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions.

“Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in announcing the proposed rule. EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions.

The proposed designation of PFOS and PFOA is not a done deal. Citizens will need to submit supportive comments during the official rulemaking process. EPA will be publishing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register before a 60-day comment period begins.

The Sea Lamprey Centennial: From Ruin to Rehabilitation

Photo: Sea lamprey have a large oral disk filled with sharp, horn-shaped teeth that surround a toothed tongue.


Many Great Lakes invasions of non-native species begin unnoticed—but not so with one of the most destructive invasions of all, the attack of the sea lamprey.

Fish with sea lamprey attached

The scourge of the Great Lakes fishery, the lamprey is believed to have appeared in Lake Ontario for some time, but was temporarily restrained by Niagara Falls from reaching the other Great Lakes. But after improvements to the Welland Canal, which bypasses the Falls, on November 8, 1921, just over a century ago, an Ontario commercial fisherman trolling in central Lake Erie noticed a lamprey much larger than the native, non-destructive lampreys that he occasionally netted. The University of Toronto identified it as a sea lamprey, and the invasive species’ war on the Great Lakes fishery was on.

“Throughout the next two decades, sea lampreys spread, unchallenged, throughout Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior,” the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says, “wantonly killing hundreds of millions of pounds of fish along the way.”

“Throughout the next two decades, sea lampreys spread, unchallenged, throughout Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior,” the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says, “wantonly killing hundreds of millions of pounds of fish along the way.”   

Looking like something out of a horror movie, sea lamprey have remained largely unchanged for more than 340 million years. Sea lamprey have a cartilaginous skeleton and a large oral disk filled with sharp, horn-shaped teeth that surround a toothed tongue. The oral disk allows them to attach to, and the toothed tongue allows them to rasp a hole into the side of, a host fish and feed on its blood and other body fluids.  Each lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish over its 12-18 month feeding period.

Only one in seven Great Lakes fish survived lamprey attacks, and 85% of fish that survived had scars signaling they had been attacked.  Before the lamprey invaded, anglers harvested about 15 million pounds of lake trout in the upper Great Lakes each year. By the early 1960s, the catch had dropped to approximately 300,000 pounds, about 2% of the previous average.

Calling the lamprey invasion “arguably one of the worst ecological disasters in history,” the Great Lakes Fishery Commission has a more positive view of the response to the invasion by Canada and the United States.

The establishment of the Fishery Commission itself was part of the response, created by the two nations in 1955 to find an answer to the lamprey invasion. In a remarkable feat of research, scientists tested thousands of chemical compounds, looking for one that would primarily target lamprey, until they discovered the lampricide TFM. “It’s easy to kill fish but hard to kill just what you’re after,” says Marc Gaden, communications director for the Fishery Commission.

Sea lamprey populations are down by 90-95% from their historical highs in most areas of the Great Lakes, “certainly beyond the wildest expectations of those who established the program in 1954.” Gaden says. Barriers and dams also control sea lamprey.

To maintain the success in controlling sea lamprey, the Canadian and U.S. governments spend over $20 million a year on lampricide treatments and other control measures—and will probably have to continue control efforts in perpetuity. The rule with Great Lakes invasive species is that once they’re here, they’re here to stay, although with some species you can knock down their populations to manageable numbers.

“Sea lampreys—just like zebra mussels—are major ecosystem disruptors,” says Cory Brant, author of Great Lakes Sea Lamprey: The 70-Year War on a Biological Invader. “If we let up, they will make a comeback and feed on any large-bodied fish they can find, including lake trout, Chinook salmon, and the endangered sturgeon.”

“Sea lampreys—just like zebra mussels—are major ecosystem disruptors,” says Cory Brant, author of Great Lakes Sea Lamprey: The 70-Year War on a Biological Invader. “If we let up, they will make a comeback and feed on any large-bodied fish they can find, including lake trout, Chinook salmon, and the endangered sturgeon.”

Gaden remains optimistic. “The annual appropriation is a small, small fraction of the $7 billion Great Lakes fishery, and it’s good that elected officials see the clear connection between low lamprey numbers and the valuable fishery, leading to bipartisan support for the Commission’s lamprey control work.”

And there are promising new lamprey control approaches. Says Gaden: “We are on the cusp of using pheromones and repellents in the field as control techniques. Our scientists are honing in on concentrations needed to affect behavior.” The Fishery Commission also is beginning to explore genetics as a control technique.