Tag: jim olson

Record-Eagle: NMC and advocacy group test unity waters

Jim Olson FLOW

Click here to read the article in The Record Eagle. AND Click here to read the Record-Eagle Editorial about this program.

By Michael Walton

June 17th, 2014

Northwestern Michigan College officials will expand NMC’s water studies programming through a course launching this fall with the help of a local water policy and education group.

NMC and For Love of Water — or FLOW — joined to create the course “Water Policy and Sustainability.”

Jim Olson, founder of FLOW and a partner in the Traverse City-based law firm Olson, Bzdok and Howard, said the course offers something unique.

“That is, the course will look at water policy historically, in present times, and then build upon the history and present water laws and policy to ask the question: Are we ready for what’s coming in the 21st Century?” he said.

Olson, an expert in environmental and water law and policy, co-designed and will co-teach the course.

Olson will focus on three areas: the connections between water and things like food, energy and transportation; the hydrological cycle; and the balance between an individual’s right to access water and the necessity to protect the resource for future generations.

“To solve the problems in this century, we have to understand water is not only individual to each of us, but it is common to all of us and that imposes limits in terms of what we must do to preserve it from one generation to the next,” he said.

Constanza Hazelwood, education coordinator for NMC’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, said water is an increasingly important resource both regionally and globally.

“We hear more and more that water is scarce, water is an issue in boundary conflicts, and the students want to learn more about, how they can look at our freshwater assets in light of those developments around the world,” Hazelwood said.

The new course is part of an effort to expand the Water Studies Institute’s global policy curriculum, Hazelwood said. It also dovetails with NMC’s wider efforts to develop relationships with education institutions in China, including the Kaifeng-based Yellow River Conservancy Institute.

Individuals interested in enrolling can visit nmc.edu/water.

Circle of Blue: Joint U.S.-Canada Agency Calls for Big Phosphorus Reductions in Lake Erie

Click here to read the article on circleofblue.org

Joint U.S.-Canada Agency Calls for Big Phosphorus Reductions in Lake Erie

Curbing harmful algal blooms and oxygen-deprived dead zones in the Great Lakes requires pollution to be drastically reduced.

By Codi Kozacek

February 28, 2014
Current phosphorus targets for Lake Erie and its tributaries are not enough to keep the lake from suffering toxic algal blooms and hypoxic dead zones that threaten public health and fisheries, according to a new report released by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a U.S.-Canada agency that oversees the Great Lakes and other transboundary waters.

The report proposes a 46 percent cut in the average annual phosphorus load in Lake Erie’s central and western basins to reduce the hypoxic dead zone, and a 39 percent cut in the average annual phosphorus contributed by the Maumee River to reduce harmful algal blooms.

Just as significantly, the Commission recommended achieving those reductions by applying Public Trust Doctrine legal principles to write and enforce restrictions that have been unattainable using conventional regulation. The Public Trust Doctrine, based on ancient governing and legal principles, establishes the Great Lakes as a “commons,” the conviction held by societies, stretching back thousands of years, that a select group of resources — air, water, hunting grounds, rivers, oceans, lakes — are so vital that they are community assets to be collectively protected and shared.

Once a resource attains such high value, securing its vitality emerges as a basic human right, like liberty. The Joint Commission views the Public Trust Doctrine as a necessary legal tool to update federal and state water pollution statutes, which essentially give cities, industries, and farmers the authority to pour specific amounts of contamination into the lakes. The U.S. Clean Water Act, in fact, largely exempts farms, the most important source of phosphorous, from regulations that would limit phosphorous pollution. By declaring the Great Lakes as a “commons,” the newly-applied doctrine could give governments fresh authority to protect waters from any source that would cause harm.

“Functionally, the public trust guarantees each person as a member of the public the right to fish, boat, swim, and recreate in Lake Erie, and to enjoy the protection of the water quality and quantity of these waters, free of impairment,” said FLOW, an environmental organization in Traverse City, Michigan that has played a crucial role in promoting use of the Public Trust Doctrine to clean up the Great Lakes. “The effects of harmful algal blooms – from “dead zones” that suffocate aquatic species, to toxic secretions that close beaches and pose health hazards to boaters, fishers, and swimmers – are clear violations of the public trust. Thus, as sworn guardians of the Great Lakes waters under the public trust, the states have a duty to take reasonable measures to restore the water quality and ensure that the public can fully enjoy their protected water uses.”

Jim Olson, attorney and founder of FLOW who has been practicing environmental and water law for 40 years, said the IJC report is a significant acknowledgement of the role the public trust doctrine can play in protecting the Great Lakes.

“The IJC is being sound and thorough in science, pragmatic in the necessity for a new approach, and profoundly visionary by moving us to the public trust principles as a compliment to the existing legal framework,” he told Circle of Blue. “So if that framework is failing, because parties can’t agree or states can’t ask for a phosphorus limit, the citizens and the IJC can step in an demand it be done because of this legal obligation on the part of the states and provinces.”

Phosphorous is clearly harming the Great Lakes. Lake Erie experienced its largest algal bloom ever in the summer of 2011. Toxic blooms in the fall of 2013 shut down an Ohio drinking water plant for the first time in state history. Algal blooms also are inundating the shores of Lake Michigan near Green Bay in Wisconsin, and along the shores of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan, a region that ABC TV’s Good Morning America declared in 2011 to be “the most beautiful place in America.”

Phosphorus is the driving factor behind both the algal blooms and the hypoxic dead zone, say scientists. Excessive amounts of the nutrient encourage algal growth. When large blooms die and decompose, they suck up oxygen from the surrounding water. This creates dead zones, where oxygen content is so low that fish and other organisms can’t survive.

Both problems were especially severe in Lake Erie in the 1960s, leading the U.S. and Canada to set targets for the amount of phosphorus entering the lake. The current target amount is 11,000 metric tons annually for the whole lake. Annual phosphorus loadings have mostly been below this target since the mid-1980s. Nonetheless, the resurgence of algal blooms and dead zones has prompted calls for a reassessment of phosphorus targets.

To achieve the necessary reductions, the IJC report gives specific recommendations to state and federal governments in both countries. The recommendations focus on reducing phosphorus from the agricultural industry—which has been largely overlooked by laws governing water pollution—and on reducing dissolved reactive phosphorus, a type of phosphorus that is more available to algae. The recommendations include:

  • Listing Lake Erie as an impaired waterway under the United States’ 1974 Clean Water Act. The designation would allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulatory agencies to set a Total Daily Maximum Load for the lake and its tributaries with legal requirements for nutrient reductions.
  • Establishing Lake Erie within a public trust framework in both the United States and Canada to take advantage of common law protections of the lake as a resource for fishing, shipping and water.
  • Expanding incentive-based programs encouraging farmers to adopt practices that reduce phosphorus, and create restrictions on when and how fertilizer is applied to farm fields.
  • Banning phosphorus fertilizers for lawn care.
  • Increasing the amount of green infrastructure in cities.
  • Expanding monitoring programs for water quality in the Lake Erie basin.

The report will be transmitted to governments in the U.S. and Canada, but the IJC does not have the authority to take further action.

“The report shows the urgent need for the governments to take action,” Lyman Welch, director of the water quality program for the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, told Circle of Blue. “Voluntary measures have not been able to address this problem today.”

In the 1970s the Clean Water Act helped address the nutrient load from point sources, and was largely successful in reducing the nutrients flowing into Lake Erie. But non-point runoff, the pollution that flows off the land, is not addressed very well by the Clean Water Act requirements, he added.

“The report gives several steps that can be taken by state and fed governments in the United States and Canada to address agricultural pollution in Lake Erie. We hope that the U.S. and Canada act on these recommendations by the IJC expeditiously to address a serious problem.”

Systemic Threats to Great Lakes Demand an Immediate Paradigm Shift to Water as Commons Protected By Public Trust

Pursuant to his recent publication in The Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, the following are some thoughts from Jim Olson on the importance of the public trust doctrine at this time in history.

Systemic Threats to Great Lakes Demand an Immediate Paradigm Shift to Water as Commons Protected By Public Trust

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” – Jack Cousteau

The systemic threats to the Great Lakes water, like the “dead zone” covering nearly one-third of western Lake Erie, with alarming algal blooms extending along the bays and shores of Lake Michigan, call for immediate action by state governments. That action is demanded by the public trust doctrine.

This ancient legal principle is alive and well in the Great Lakes, and places a fiduciary duty on states to prevent subordination or impairment of the public rights of use and enjoyment of these waters, and the waters and ecosystem that support them.

The states have been called the “sworn guardians” of this trust in the same way a bank trustee is accountable to its beneficiaries. If we demand and act to assure the integrity of these waters using the public trust principle as the benchmark, we will start making the right decisions about water, energy, food, transportation, and communities.

It’s a threatening time with the Great Lakes facing a critical mass of issues such as algal blooms, invasive species like Asian Carp, sewage overflows, threatened diversions, climate change and extreme water levels, overuse and waste from such water-intensive uses as crops, fracking, or poor urban infrastructure. But is an exciting time, with an open slate of new choices for our communities, businesses, farming and food, careers and jobs, transportation, and economy. In this century the public trust principles offer a unifying pathway or beacon to help us get there.

More and more biologists, hydrologists, and other scientists have documented that the billions of dollars spent worldwide in the past several decades to protect crucial conservation lands, international and national parks, wilderness, and biologically significant areas may be futile. The data shows all of the Earth’s natural systems are decline, despite our best efforts. This is because pollution, waste, and the effects of globally harmful practices like climate change or the release of hazardous substances do not know political or legal boundaries.

It is also because these larger systemic or massive harms have overwhelmed not only water and ecosystems but our twentieth century legal framework. Regulation by permit for every drop that is discharged to a sediment basin, treatment plant, lake or stream may have worked for specific place at a given time. But the fact is that these regulations have legalized lesser amounts of pollution or higher amounts of water losses and waste than watersheds and larger ecosystems like the Great Lakes can withstand.

For example, the International Joint Commission has documented and called for adaptive management practices to respond to the extreme changes in water level caused by climate change. Scientists, including those studying global warming, ice cover, precipitation, and evaporation, have documented that climate change is resulting in droughts with exponentially harmful effects on water levels and impacts on wetlands, streams, lakes, biological systems, fish, and habitat. Data shows a direct connection between the “dead zone” caused by non-point run off of phosphorous and nutrients into Lake Erie. The phosphorous combined with warmer water temperatures, clearer water from invasive species, to produce a toxic algal bloom covering nearly one-third of Lake Erie, closing beaches, killing fish, damaging fisheries, swimming, boating and recreation. These same blooms have been showing up in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay and Wisconsin’s Green Bay. Then there are the quagga mussels and hundreds of other invasive species, including the threat of Asian Carp that would alter and potentially wipe out a billion dollar fishery in the Great Lakes.

“Extreme energy” – massive, intensive, unconventional desecration of water, nature, and communities – is another example. As the global water crisis and droughts around the North America and the world intensify, there will be increasing demand to force water out of the Great Lakes basin to the southwest, the oil and gas development fields in the west, or to grow crops here to export food to drought or water-poor countries like China and the Middle East – so-called “virtual water.” Demands for diversions and exports of food and water will run up against demands for water for industries, food, urban areas, and recreation – all the backbone of our economy.

A dramatic example is the unfolding drama over the expanding use of pipelines and shipments of oil and natural gas from the Alberta tar sands and North Dakota heavy oil and natural gas through and over the Great Lakes region. Canada proposes two double the volume of tar sands oil the Alberta Clipper – Line 67 – will transport to Superior, Wisconsin on Lake Superior. From there a much dirtier, heavier oil with bitumen may be transported through Line 5 across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, under the Mackinac Straits of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, down through Michigan and under the St. Clair River to Sarnia. A spill under the best response conditions would cover 25 square miles of the Straits area. A spill from a ship carrying heavy oil would have equally decimating impacts.

So what framework and legal principles will work to save the Great Lakes and the rights and interests of the 40 million people who live around the largest freshwater surface water system in the world – 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water? The public trust doctrine and its set of discrete principles that have protected water from private control and abuse for over 1,500 years.

  1. Public trust waters cannot be subordinated or transferred to the primary or exclusive control of private interests and gain.
  2. Public trust waters and the right of public use and enjoyment cannot be significantly impaired from one generation to the next.
  3. The states and provinces of Canada have a fiduciary duty to account to and assure their citizens that principles 1 and 2 have not and will not be violated.

These are the benchmarks for everything we face and how we should decide what is acceptable and what is not in terms of living up to the public trust doctrine. What’s been hard for sometime, that is until these recent systemic threats, is to understand that these waters and their management by states as trustees are commons, not private property. Markets and concepts of private property apply to private things. Public trust principles apply to common public things. It’s that simple. If we take to understand what is happening, and apply these benchmarks, we, our children and grandchildren will share in the same enjoyment and as we have in these waters held and managed under a solemn perpetual trust.

If you want to read about the history and principles under the public trust doctrine that apply to the Great Lakes basin in the U.S. and Canada, read the article in full, click here, or for reprints or hard copies of the article, contact Vermont  Journal of Environmental Law editor Emily Remmel or visit vjel.vermontlaw.edu.

For more, read the press release here.


As Maude Barlow puts it in her new book Blue Future: Protecting the Planet for People and the Planet Forever (The New Press 2013), “Olson writes in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, ‘a possible answer is the immediate adoption of a new narrative, with principles grounded in science, values, and policy, that views the systemic threats we face as part of the single connected hydrological whole, a commons governed by public trust principles.’ He goes on to say:  ‘[t]he public trust is necessary to solve these threats that directly impact traditional public trust resources. The most obvious whole is not a construct of the mind, but the one in which we live – the hydrosphere, basin, and watersheds through which water flows, evaporates, transpires, is used, transferred, and is discharged [and recharged] in a continuous cycle. Every arc of the water cycle flows through and is affected by everything else, reminiscent of what Jacques Cousteau once said, ‘We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.'”

Jim Olson Pens Seminal Article on Public Trust in the Great Lakes

Click here to view and download the full press release as a PDF


Contact: Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
liz@flowforwater.org or 231-944-1568

FLOW Founder Pens Seminal Article on Public Trust in the Great Lakes

“All Aboard” in Vermont Journal of Environmental Law

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – FLOW Founder and veteran water attorney Jim Olson has recently published his latest article about the public trust in the Great Lakes. The seminal article “All Aboard: Navigating the Course for Universal Adoption of the Public Trust” appears in the Spring 2014 edition of the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law (Volume 15, Issue 2, p. 135-191). It is also available online at: http://vjel.vermontlaw.edu/files/2014/01/Issue-2_Olson.pdf.

Olson, (LL.M., University of Michigan, 1977; J.D., Detroit College of Law (Michigan State University College of Law) 1971) is a Traverse City-based water and public interest lawyer with expertise in public trust backed by 40 years of litigation. Named the 2010 Champion of Justice by the State Bar of Michigan for his work defending water in the public interest as the plaintiff attorney in the Nestlé bottling plant lawsuit in Mecosta County, Olson is the Great Lakes Basin’s preeminent legal expert on matters of protecting and conserving water as a common and public resource.

“All Aboard” not only thoroughly reviews and confirms the viability of the public trust doctrine in each of the Great Lakes Basin states and two Canadian provinces, but also inspires and charts the way for leaders and citizens to affirm and apply the public trust to stem the systemic threats to the Great Lakes. The article proposes an integrative commons framework for understanding and finding solutions to problems affecting water at every phase of its hydrologic cycle. The article underscores the rich potential for invoking the public trust as an overarching policy tactic to effectively address and solve the systemic and large-scale threats to the health of the Great Lakes, including climate change, algal blooms, pollution, exports, and privatization.

What’s more, the public trust is a versatile legal lens to analyze policy problems because, as Olson outlines, “[t]he public trust doctrine—or at least its principles—offer a legal construct to integrate our understanding of energy production, food systems, and climate change with the hydrologic cycle” (139). This “nexus” of overlapping concerns—water, energy, food, and climate change—is a new set of issues in the 21st Century that 20th Century laws and policies aren’t equipped to address. Olson’s decades of experience invoking the public trust as a legal means for closing that gap is reflected in the depth and breadth of the “All Aboard” article.

“Each Great Lakes Basin state and province has, in their own way, a clear legal obligation under the public trust to ensure that the Lakes’ water is protected,” says Olson. “It is both feasible and necessary for governments across the board to recognize that the public trust is their tool for solving the problems that elude existing policies that are still letting things like algal blooms and extreme water levels slip through the cracks,” he says.

“All Aboard” published in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law (Volume 15, Issue 2, p. 135-191) in February 2014. The Vermont Journal of Environmental Law was founded in 1996 with support from Vermont Law School’s Environmental Law Center. The Journal is a student-run organization that publishes articles on topics in the environmental field quarterly.

Through Olson’s nonprofit Great Lakes policy and education center FLOW, Olson will help to bridge the ideas of “All Aboard” and share them beyond the academic and law sphere. “It’s important that both decision-makers and citizens are informed about the utility of the public trust and its empowering potential as a legal solution,” says Olson. Olson blogs about the public trust regularly on FLOW’s website at https://forloveofwater.org/soundings-blog/.

FLOW’s mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the Great Lakes, and its policy and education programs focus on empowering decision-makers and citizens with legal strategies and tools for addressing water, energy, food, and climate change issues affecting the Great Lakes. Olson’s “All Aboard” article supplements FLOW’s growing niche in the public trust and commons policy field.

In 2011, Olson and fellow public interest advocate, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow, presented findings from their joint report on the public trust doctrine in an exclusive meeting with the binational regulating agency for the Great Lakes, the International Joint Commission (IJC). As journalist Keith Schneider wrote in his 2012 article about Olson and Barlow’s landmark presentation: “It was the first time that a framework for managing the Great Lakes as a commons had been presented at such a high government level in both nations.”

The public trust doctrine holds that certain natural resources like navigable waters are preserved in perpetuity for public use and enjoyment. Applying a banking analogy, the state serves as a trustee to maintain the trust or common resources for the benefit of current and future generations who are the beneficiaries. Just as private trustees are judicially accountable to their beneficiaries, so too are state trustees in managing public trust properties.

Because many citizens are not aware that the public trust doctrine is part of their bundle of rights in our democracy, many state actors ignore or violate these principles. It is the aim of the “All Aboard” article, as a supplement to FLOW’s programming, to help inform citizens and decision-makers of their rights and responsibilities to enjoy and preserve Great Lakes water for the benefit of the greater good.

Contact: Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
liz@flowforwater.org or 231-944-1568

Wisconsin Pauses Great Lakes Tar Sands

Congratulations to Alliance for the Great Lakes, citizens and organizations in Wisconsin and Michigan, and Council of Canadians for leading the way to deny Elkhorn’s request to improve a barge dock in Superior, Wisconsin to transport dirty tar sands oil over the Great Lakes.  With citizen vigilance, persistence, and growing awareness that these Great Lakes are a commons held and treasured as a perpetual public trust for benefit of all citizens, proposals to put the Great Lakes in harms way like this will more and more fall by the wayside treating these precious waters as a trust for each generation.  A basic principle of public trust and commons law and policy is the standard that requires full and complete information proving and assuring that a proposal, if authorized, will not violate or impair this public trust. If that cannot be shown, then it is never proper and should note be authorized. A huge thank you to Wisconsin Ministry of Natural Resources for holding Elkhorn to this standard.


Media Release via Council of Canadians

January 9, 2014

Council of Canadians applauds Wisconsin government pausing Great Lakes tar sands project

The Council of Canadians is congratulating Wisconsin’s Ministry of Natural Resources on its decision to reject Elkhorn Industries’ application for dock repairs that would eventually lead to the construction of an oil terminal from which tar sands and fracked oil would be shipped across the Great Lakes.

“We are heartened that the Wisconsin government has listened to the local community as well as communities around the Great Lakes,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “The Ministry is doing the right thing by pressing pause on this bigger project to ask more questions about the plan to ship tar sands and fracked oil through the Great Lakes.”

Media reports noted that public comments influenced the agency’s decision to demand much more information from Elkhorn Industries.

“The fight to protect the Great Lakes from irresponsible and short-sighted oil projects is far from over,” says Emma Lui, Water Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Calumet’s oil barge dock is on the radar of U.S., Indigenous and Canadian groups and communities, and Calumet can expect a lot of noise if it tries to push this plan through.”

Earlier this year Calumet Specialty Products announced it was considering an oil shipping terminal at the harbour in Superior, Wisconsin, which is located on the western tip of Lake Superior. That same week, Elkhorn Industries submitted a permit application for a $25-million upgrade to its dock, which is connected by an existing pipeline to Calumet’s 45,000 barrels per day refinery in Superior.

In December, the Council of Canadians, on behalf of 16 of its local chapters and tens of thousands of supporters around the Great Lakes, made a submission to the Ministry raising concerns about the threats the project presented to the Great Lakes, the increase in tar sands expansion and the need to obtain free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous communities like the Bad River Band. The Council urged the Ministry “to stop this dock repair project and shut down the broader oil terminal and shipment project in order to protect the Great Lakes and other shared waterways.”


Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, (613) 795-8685
dpenner@canadians.org | www.canadians.org/greatlakes | Twitter: @CouncilOfCDNs

Michigan Corps Member Spotlight: FLOW

Click here to read the article on Michigan Corps’ site

For more about Michigan Corps, click here to visit their site.

By Jason Aoraha

Jim Olson has been practicing environmental law for forty years. In recent years, the Northern Michigander began asking himself how he could bring a group of concerned citizens together to protect water and natural resources under an ancient doctrine known as the public trust, which demands stewardship of our water resources – from navigation to drinking water to recreational needs. He founded FLOW (For Love of Water) to bring Michigan citizens together to protect our state’s most coveted natural resource, and the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, the Great Lakes.

FLOW’s mission is to advance Great Lakes policies and solutions that protect our common waters. This year, FLOW entered Michigan Corps’ first Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, and emerged a finalist for their unique policy and education programs that empower individuals with solutions to protect the integrity of Michigan’s waters. Based in Traverse City, FLOW is in a great position (both figuratively and literally) to empower citizens, decision-makers, and legal advocates alike with guidelines on how to protect the Great Lakes.

Founder Jim Olson expresses the passion of a social entrepreneur out to protect and build stewardship of our environment. “FLOW’s work is grounded in reality and a fundamental human value: Water is life. Water runs through every aspect of human endeavor and community. If we protect the integrity of this water, in both quantity and quality, we will sustain life, economy, and community. After all, there is no green without blue,” he says.

FLOW participated as a star contestant in our 2013 Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge with their focus on harnessing the passion of individuals to make a difference surrounding the future of our Great Lakes. We were impressed with FLOW’s focus on scaling their impact through partnerships with organizations that shared their passion, such as the Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Land Use Institute and others. The team at FLOW understands that to change society for the better, we must build the capacity of our organizations and one another to create groundbreaking policies that address pressing concerns surrounding the future of our waters. Most recently, FLOW pioneered Great Lakes policy and education for citizens and planning officials to suggest improvements to local government ordinances pertaining to the environmental impact of fracking for oil and natural gas extraction.

Following the conclusion of the Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, FLOW joined Michigan Corps’ first cohort of Social Enterprise Fellows. The Fellowship training program helped FLOW evaluate their programming and diversify opportunities for citizens to interact with FLOW’s policy, education, and Great Lakes Society programs.

FLOW and its members are striving to make the Great Lakes a beacon for groundbreaking environmental stewardship. This year, FLOW plans to bring Maude Barlow, a world leader in global water policy and crisis affairs, to Detroit to help catalyze local thought leadership and action surrounding the future of our Great Lakes.

Entrepreneurial thinking is giving FLOW a new perspective on Great Lakes development and advocacy work. If you’re passionate about the Great Lakes, and want to connect with one of the most pioneering organizations involving Michigan’s fresh water – visit flowforwater.org and consider becoming a Great Lakes Society member. It’ll make your next trip to Traverse City that much more meaningful! Also make sure to check out their programs, special public events and up to the minute blog.

The Province: B.C. should enshrine ‘public trust’ principle to protect its groundwater, says Michigan water lawyer

Read the full article in The Province here

Nestle - Laurence Gillieron, APAmid growing controversy around B.C.’s lax groundwater regulation, an American lawyer who waged a 10-year winning court battle against Nestlé is watching to see how the province modernizes its century-old Water Act.

The Province’s reports last week on Nestlé and other companies extracting B.C. groundwater without regulation caught the attention of Michigan environmental lawyer Jim Olson, who offered his views on the matter.

Olson is no stranger to these issues. In 2010, he was awarded the State Bar of Michigan’s Champion of Justice award for the decade-long court battle he waged on behalf of Michigan citizens against Nestlé.

The case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation vs. Nestlé began in 2000, when activists grew concerned the government was not adequately monitoring or controlling Nestlé’s water-taking practices in the region.

Representing the citizens, Olson won the case, resulting in Nestlé being ordered to reduce its water withdrawals during low-flow seasons.

Now, Olson says he’s watching B.C. But beyond the specific details of B.C.’s proposed water regulation — the price charged per million litres, the number of litres allowed, how much to allocate to different users, and so on — Olson says one vital piece of any new legislation is a broader legal concept: the public trust.

“This is true in both the United States and Canada, both states and provinces, no matter what water regime you choose … it’s going to be very important for each province to declare water a public trust,” Olson said from his law office in Michigan.

The public trust concept essentially means water is a public resource owned by the people of Canada, with the government acting as a trustee responsible for taking care of the resource.

“It’s a very important principle, even if it’s a one-paragraph declaration,” Olson said. “It would operate as a shield against unforeseen claims and unforeseen circumstances.”

Olson gives a hypothetical example: if, at some point in the future, B.C.’s water resources were depleted significantly, the government might ask a bottled water company to reduce their water takings accordingly. But without the public trust doctrine enshrined in legislation, it would be much more difficult to make that company reduce its consumption, not unlike Olson’s court case against Nestlé in Michigan.

The public trust doctrine is becoming increasingly common and established in modern water legislation, said Oliver Brandes, a water expert from the University of Victoria’s faculty of law. The legal concept is more evolved in several American states, and has been incorporated into environmental legislation in some parts of Canada, including Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Quebec.

The public trust concept acknowledges that water is different from other resources, said Brandes.

“There are certain resources that are just so special, because life depends on it,” Brandes said. “Something like oil and gas, it isn’t crucial to life. But water, you have to protect it for everybody, because if you take it away, there is no substitute.”

Annual Celebration of the Great Lakes Society

Click here to view and download the full press release PDF


Contact: Liz Kirkwoood, Executive Director
231 944 1568 or liz@flowforwater.org

Celebrating the Great Lakes Society: Common Waters, Common Purpose

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – FLOW (“For Love Of Water”), the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education center, is hosting its first Great Lakes Society Annual Celebration at The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City, MI from 12-3pm, on Saturday, August 17, 2013. FLOW welcomes community members and guests of all ages to join in the celebration and learn about FLOW’s programs and the Great Lakes Society. Great Lakes Society members share a common purpose: to protect the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin. The Society’s members provide vital funding to FLOW with a four-year pledge of support. FLOW will present two Beacon Awards to acknowledge those members who have shown tremendous passion for and dedication to protecting the Great Lakes. This free program includes performances by several talented local musicians, including pianist Jimmy Olson and vintage swing duo The True Falsettos. FLOW would like to thank our generous co-sponsors Oryana Natural Foods Market and Food for Thought for their support.

FLOW’s Founder and Chair, Jim Olson notes that “FLOW’s cutting edge work—on water, energy and food, climate change, water levels, invasive species, diversions and exports, nutrient loading and the public trust doctrine—would not be possible without our Great Lakes Society. These dedicated supporters make our work here at FLOW possible and allows us to apply our critical research and work to protect waters of the Great Lakes.”

FLOW invites water lovers to join the Great Lakes Society in its founding year. New members pledging and making their first year contribution before December 31, 2013 will be recognized as Founding Members. Members pledge a four-year commitment to donate at one of three levels.

  • Isle Royale Member: $500 or more per year for four years
  • Mackinaw Member: $250 per year for four years
  • Manitou Member: $125 per year for four years

Great Lakes Society Founding Member and Director of the Environmental Law Center at Vermont Law School, Melissa Scanlan, says that joining the organization is important for maintaining the integrity of these shared waters, which contain 20% of the world’s freshwater supply. “I support FLOW by joining the Great Lakes Society because the Great Lakes are a public treasure to be protected today for future generations,” says Scanlan.

GLS INVITE POSTERFLOW is fortunate to host the party at a brand new venue, The Workshop Brewing Company, located at 221 Garland Street in the Warehouse District. The Workshop’s mission is to sustain nature, build community, and honor the craft of brewing beer. They do this by creating honest, traditional beers and wholesome, delicious food using ingredients sourced as locally/organically as possible, served with genuine warmth and enthusiasm, in a setting that is welcoming and fun.

FLOW is delighted to celebrate with performers pianist Jimmy Olson and vintage swing duoThe True Falsettos. Born and raised in Northern Michigan, pianist Jimmy Olson graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy with a major in percussion and continued his studies at the L.A. Musicians Institute in California. Olson formerly played with bands including Egon and Medicinal Groove, and now plays with G Snacks. Olson plays throughout Northern Michigan on a regular basis with his band and as a solo musician.

The True Falsettos are a vintage swing duo featuring Joe Wilson (Steel Guitar, Guitar, Vocals) and Kevin Gills (Bass, Vocals). Embracing the hot jazz and swing styles of the 30’s and 40’s, Joe and Kevin play some of the liveliest, most danceable music around. In addition to original tunes, Joe and Kevin play the songs of the Nat King Cole trio, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Fat Waller, Jimmie Lunceford, and Louis Jordan.

FLOW greatly appreciates the help of our event co-sponsors, Oryana Natural Foods Marketand Food for Thought. Oryana has been supporting good food, sustainable agriculture and cooperative economics since 1973. The co-op offers high quality food produced in ecologically sound ways at fair value to member-owners and the community at large. Local, Fair Trade and organic foods are emphasized. Oryana was Michigan’s first Certified Organic Retailer. Today, Oryana generates $14 million sales annually from their 8,800-square-foot facility located in Traverse City.

Food For Thought produces more than gourmet, organic canned preserved goods; their goal is to produce gifts that matter. When you give a gift from Food For Thought, you can be assured that they have done their best to bring you products that make a difference in the quality of life on this planet. Satisfaction is guaranteed. Food For Thought strives to be a model of corporate responsibility that is expressed, in part, through an unwavering commitment to organic foods. Such a commitment has a direct and positive impact on the quality of land and water. Not only does Food For Thought make products that help sustain and preserve our natural world, but they are also of the best quality available anywhere.

We look forward to spending the afternoon with our current and future Great Lakes Society members.

Toledo Blade: Great Lakes ‘ground zero’ for water needs

Read the article on the Toledo Blade here

By Tom Henry, Blade Staff Writer

Climate change and population growth are making the Great Lakes region’s role as a global food producer more important as water shortages become more severe in other parts of the world.

But even though some agribusinesses within this water-blessed region have growing concerns about future water availability, that message may be hard for area residents to fathom in the short-term because of an unusually long bout of thunderstorms this summer.

“The coming water crisis will affect everyone and everywhere, including everyone and every community in the Great Lakes region and basin,”said Jim Olson, a Traverse City water-rights lawyer.

The Great Lakes are positioned to become “ground zero” as water vanishes elsewhere. The region has long been viewed as one of the world’s most abundant collections of fresh water and would be in a crucial position to adapt to a global water crisis.

The Great Lakes are North America’s largest lakes by volume, holding 20 percent of all fresh surface water on Earth. Their 6 quadrillion gallons are enough to submerge the entire continental United States in five feet of water. They are the source of drinking water for 30 million Americans and 10 million Canadians.

They do not hold as much fresh water as the world’s largest lake, Russia’s Lake Baikal, nor do they come close to holding most of the fresh water on Earth. But unlike Lake Baikal, which is in Siberia, the Great Lakes lie in a moderate climate and are accessible to people daily for shipping, recreation, tourism, drinking water, agriculture, energy production, and manufacturing.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) is one of several public officials who have described the Great Lakes region as “the Saudi Arabia of water” in recent years, to underscore the point that water is becoming more valuable than oil in some parts of the world. She and others have noted that humans can live without oil, but not water.

Changing times
The lakes’ usage has drawn more attention in recent years from politicians and legal scholars, such as those who attend the University of Toledo college of law’s renowned Great Lakes water-law conference each fall. They have stated on numerous occasions that Great Lakes water-management laws pale in comparison to those of the American Southwest, where political battles over water rights have been fought for decades.

Scholars believe this region’s legal framework is evolving into a stronger one as water controversies and more political battles heat up, as evidenced by intense negotiations that resulted in the Great Lakes region’s first binding water-management compact.

The Great Lakes region has traditionally been less irrigated than others. But that too is changing.

Michigan and Ohio have had an uptick in irrigation permits the past two years, largely a result of the 2012 drought and concerns over weather becoming more unpredictable because of climate change.

“Farmers are just hedging against bad weather,” Jim Hoorman, Ohio State University’s cooperative extension agent in Putnam County, said of the greater interest in Great Lakes-area irrigation. Mr. Hoorman also is an OSU assistant professor of agriculture and natural resources.

The long-term outlook has the potential to affect anything from shipping to recreation to water quality, potentially worsening western Lake Erie’s algae as changing food markets worldwide prompt area land to be farmed more intensely.

“We are blessed in Ohio with water, but there is a need for a long-term strategy on [better] managing the resource,” said Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of policy development and environmental policy.

‘Peak water’
The issue gained more traction recently following the publication of a major essay by Lester R. Brown, president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute and author of a book on the global politics of food scarcity.

In his paper, Mr. Brown notes half of the world’s population is in 18 countries that are water-stressed: They are pumping out aquifers faster than rain is replenishing them. That group includes the politically unstable Middle East but also China, India, and the United States — the world’s top three food producers.

Mr. Brown theorizes that if the world has now reached what is known as “peak water” — that point at which water will forever be used faster than it is replaced — then the business of growing food will change because it will be more difficult to produce it in water-stressed areas.

“The world has quietly transitioned into a situation where water, not land, has emerged as the principal constraint on expanding food supplies,” Mr. Brown wrote.

Great Plains
One of the most water-stressed parts of the United States is the Great Plains region, where water is being depleted fast from the massive Ogallala aquifer by Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska.

The Ogallala is one of the nation’s most important aquifers but does not recharge with rainfall like a typical aquifer. It is one of two so-called “fossil aquifers” in the world that get special attention from hydrologists because of their proximity to large populations. Another one is in China.

A magnet effect
As Great Plains wells dry up, farms in the Great Lakes region and other parts of the Midwest will be under greater pressure to produce, officials said.

“We are going to see and are already seeing water-intensive industries move back to the Midwest,” said Jim Byrum, Michigan Agri-Business Association president.

One such industry is dairy farming.

Some California dairy farmers, frustrated by California’s tighter water restrictions, have relocated to northwest Ohio and parts of Michigan.

Mr. Byrum also said some northern Michigan farmland taken out of production years ago is being used for agriculture again — another sign of how demand for food is growing and how the Great Lakes region is evolving into a landing spot for those who encounter water shortages and other food-production issues elsewhere.

The Great Lakes region has gained about 10 growing days a year because of climate change. But that increase is offset by concerns about water, Mr. Antosch said.

Or, rather, water falling from the sky at the right time.

Extreme weather
Extreme weather events cause a mirage of water abundance. When there aren’t extended droughts, like the one in 2012, there can be long bouts of thunderstorms, as there have been this summer.

Rain from quick, passing thunderstorms rolls fast off soil and into rivers and streams. Farmers need soft, all-day soakers that better penetrate soil, Mr. Antosch said.

Linda Weavers, professor and chairman of Ohio State University’s civil, environmental, and geodetic engineering department, said farming more intensely could result in more nutrients and pesticides being used. That would “put a lot more stress on Lake Erie,” said Ms. Weavers, co-director of OSU’s Ohio Water Resources Center.

Scientists are promoting research into cover crops as a way of trapping more water and keeping more nutrients on farms, Mr. Hoorman said.

“In order to grow crops, you need water. But you need the right amount,” he said.

Chris Coulon, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service spokesman for Ohio, said that agency has a “healthy soils” campaign that promotes the water-holding capacity of dirt.

Great Lakes states have had less frost and ice because of climate change.

Less frost allows more pests to survive. That can lead to a greater use of pesticides and poorer water quality if chemicals get washed off land by rain, Mr. Antosch said.

Less ice means year-round evaporation of the lakes, which leads to lower lake levels. That leads to higher shipping costs.

Managing water
Water management is the focus of a regional water compact the eight Great Lakes states settled on after years of negotiations, following a Canadian firm’s 1998 attempt to ship Lake Superior water to Asia in tankers. Representatives of the agricultural community said they plan to keep a close eye on it to see if it is effective enough at protecting water resources for food production.

“The compact is the right context to frame this in,” said Howard Reeves, a scientist in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Michigan Water Science Center.

Brent Lofgren, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, said many of the global impacts raised by Mr. Brown’s paper are more closely associated with symptoms of human-induced stress than climate change.

Earth’s current population of 7.2 billion people is twice what it was in the mid-1960s. It is expected to exceed 10 billion people later this century.

China and India are using more water because they have become more modernized societies, with more energy production and automotive use.

“Higher standards of living require more land and more resources. That is very real pressure,” said John Bartholic, director of the Michigan State University Institute of Water Research. “What Les Brown talks about is real. We’re [using] too much water. We’ve all got to work together on this.”

The United States and Canada have worked together on mutual Great Lakes issues the past 114 years, since they signed the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The theme of it was advanced in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that former President Richard Nixon and former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signed in 1972. That agreement was updated in 2012 to reflect more modern issues such as climate change.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079