Tag: Lake Michigan

Michigan Coastal Research Reserve Would Boost Science, Attract Visitors

Above: Maps of the collection of drowned river mouths encompassed in the proposed West Michigan coastal research reserve along Lake Michigan from the St. Joseph River north to the Platte River. (Graphic/Megan Mader)

Michigan would get its first site in a national estuarine research reserve program if the federal government embraces a proposal submitted by the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University and the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer supports the proposed reserve.

With support from Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the proposal has begun its journey from west Michigan to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which administers the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) program. There are 29 reserves in the system, with four others moving through a review process. There are two NERR reserves in the Great Lakes – Old Woman Creek in Ohio and the Lake Superior reserve, based in Wisconsin.

The proposed reserve would promote scientific research of a unique string of drowned river mouth estuaries from the St. Joseph River to the Platte Rivers along Lake Michigan.

The proposed reserve would promote scientific research of a unique string of drowned river mouth estuaries from the St. Joseph River to the Platte Rivers along Lake Michigan. Drowned river mouths were formed following the glacial retreat of approximately 14,000 years ago, when rebounding sand dunes trapped melting rivers trying to reach the newly forming Lake Michigan.

The reserve’s headquarters and visitor center would be based in the Muskegon area.

Estuaries are typically areas along ocean coasts where tributary fresh water mingles with salt water, but the NOAA program also includes freshwater sites where inland and Great Lakes waters with different chemical and physical characteristics comingle and create unique ecosystems with high biological production. These freshwater sites provide many of the ecosystem services and functions that brackish estuaries do, including natural filters for runoff and nursery grounds for fish and other animals, and are popular destinations for recreation and development.

These freshwater sites provide natural filters for runoff and nursery grounds for fish and other animals, and are popular destinations for recreation and development.

The proposed Michigan NERR would include habitat critical to a wide range of fish and wildlife, and to Michigan’s economy, its proponents say. “In proposing this NERR, we share with the NERR System a vision of creating a unique ‘living laboratory’ where scientists, educators, and community partners use science-based information to create distinct educational resources, to inform and facilitate natural resource stewardship, and to support the local economies based on our remarkable estuarine-based natural resources,” proponents add. 

Grand Valley State University’s Alan Steinman is one of the original proponents of the coastal reserve.

Alan Steinman, the Allen and Helen Hunting Research Professor at the Annis Water Resources Institute, is one of the original proponents of the West Michigan NERR.

“This natural gradient of drowned river mouths, ranging from pristine sites at the northern end to more impaired systems at the southern end, provides a perfect environment to ask and test questions about the ecology, biology, chemistry, geomorphology, and socio-economics of these locations,” Steinman said. “and provide answers to the local stakeholders about how to maintain, protect, and where necessary restore, these systems. There is no other system on the planet like them.”

“This natural gradient of drowned river mouths, ranging from pristine sites at the northern end to more impaired systems at the southern end, provides a perfect environment to ask and test questions,” said Alan Steinman. “There is no other system on the planet like them.”

In her letter to NOAA Under Secretary Richard Spinrad, Gov. Whitmer said the research associated with the Michigan site would “produce research information and education that will quickly make it a focal point in the NERR system and show how science-based decision-making leads to better land management and high-quality waters in our Great Lakes.”

Record-High Water Levels Present Tough Times for Great Lakes Beach Walkers

This story originally appeared on NatureChange.org, Joe VanderMeulen’s online publication that features conversations about conservation and climate in northern Michigan.

The beaches along Michigan’s west coast have all but disappeared under the rising water levels of Lake Michigan as well as the other Great Lakes. In fact, lake levels haven’t been this high in well over 100 years. They reached an all-time low in 2013 before a meteoric rise brought them to an all-time high in just 7 years.

If you love taking long walks along the lake shore, the high water and waves might just push you inland and on to private property. What can you do? Do you still have a right to walk the Great Lakes shorelines?

Jim Olson, J.D., LL.M

NatureChange.org talked with FLOW founder, president, and highly-respected environmental attorney, Jim Olson, about the changing coastline of Lake Michigan and the public’s right to walk the lake shore. As Olson describes, the land under the waters of Lake Michigan (and the water itself) along Michigan’s coast is held in public trust by the State. For a very long time, the public has had the right to walk along the beach below the Ordinary Natural High Water Mark — an obvious physical line of topography and vegetation created over many years by wave action. However, the rapid change in water levels and coastal erosion has overwhelmed the Ordinary Natural High Water Mark. So, where can we walk?

Mark Breederland

Olson says, “you have the right to still walk the beach, but you’re going to have to have your toe in the water or walk in the wet sand to be [legally] safe because we don’t know where that new natural ordinary high is. But we certainly know that if you’re within the wet sand, you’re certainly within the wave action and have a right under the public trust doctrine to access and walk along the beaches and shoreline of the Great Lakes.”

An educator for Michigan Sea Grant, Mark Breederland adds that the water levels in Lake Michigan are predicted to continue breaking records for many months, causing even more coastal erosion. In many places, high shore land bluffs and fallen trees can present real hazards to beach walkers. And if beach walkers need help to get out of a difficult situation, the first responders will be put at risk too.

Linda Dewey

“I think,” Breederland says, “our beach walking is going to have to be adjusted, for sure, for 2020.”

Linda Dewey, a journalist for the Glen Arbor Sun newspaper and Lake Michigan shoreline property owner, reminds everyone that walking the shoreline of Lake Michigan is a delightful, shared activity — with limits. When in front of private property, walkers are not permitted to stop, sit and settle in. That has always been true, but now there are new hazards. Where there are fallen trees, private docks or other structures blocking the shoreline, beach walkers are not allowed to walk inland on private property.

According to Dewey, if you encounter an obstruction and can’t go around it in the water, “You’re going to have to turn around.”

The following 4-minute video offers clear explanations and illustrations.

Swine CAFO Threatens Environment, Public Health along Lake Michigan Shoreline

By Tracy Dobson

Special contributor

Public notice in a local Michigan newspaper, the White Lake Beacon, in October 2017 announced a permit application for a mammoth swine factory near the Oceana/Muskegon County line along Lake Michigan. Called a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), this proposed pollution factory activated our resistance. Reviving Our American Democracy (ROAD) is a White Lake-area public interest group that has worked hard to stop this outrage ever since.

We strongly oppose the CAFO because it threatens to 1) degrade natural resources, including Flower Creek, Lake Michigan, nearby beaches, and the groundwater within the Flower Creek Watershed, 2) endanger public health, 3) reduce local property values and erode the tax base, and 4) undermine the quality of life for neighbors.

From the public hearing in January 2018 when 350 people gathered in Montague High School in unanimous opposition to our continuing years-long efforts to contest the permit authorized by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, now EGLE), we have been relentlessly mobilizing against a massive industrial enterprise that threatens to destroy a peaceful and lovely rural community. We sued in the courts, filed a contested case at the MDEQ, led public information campaigns, sought and made allies, explored dozens of arguments and avenues, raised funds widely, and have urged the Muskegon County Health Department to become involved, given the large potential human health impacts.

This 36,000 square-foot CAFO was built 1.8 miles inland from the Lake Michigan shoreline. The 4,000 pigs multiplied by 2.8 batches per year will generate more than 1.5 million gallons per year of hog slurry (urine and manure) to be spread near the factory. The waste is too heavy to transport a long distance. The farmlands to which the waste will be applied surround tributaries of Flower Creek, which flows directly into Lake Michigan. Much of the acreage has clay soil, which will not absorb the waste when sprayed or spilled, and substantial slopes. Both factors likely will contribute to significant runoff pollution.

Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) contained in runoff, along with climatic warming trends, increase the risk of eutrophication and fish kills, along with harmful toxic and nuisance algal blooms. Runoff also will likely deliver unsafe levels of pathogenic microorganisms to recreational waters. Other nearby areas are very sandy, raising the prospect that nitrates (and pathogens) will infiltrate to the water table to contaminate groundwater, and therefore private drinking well water. More intense rainfall due to climate change could exacerbate all this. Amazingly, no factory farm setback is mandated by law from Lake Michigan or any other water body.

Beyond weak regulatory standards favoring the agricultural industry over public welfare and the environment, there were problems with the CAFO-siting process under the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) — issues ignored, including dismissal by state officials of credible scientific data, coupled with lack of public transparency. The state permitting process also is flawed. This arises in part because no single agency is responsible for overseeing the big picture and anticipating the consequences of this or any other CAFO, let alone combined and cumulative effects of the industry. State review is cut into pieces because of pressures from Big Ag on the legislature. Agencies are underfunded and hobbled.

Swine CAFOs are spreading in Michigan (now there are more than 200, with another 100 or so forecasted for the future) because of abundant water resources, cooler climate, and the recent addition of slaughter capacity in Coldwater (thanks to Pennsylvania pork empire, Clemens Food Group). Major swine “integrator” Fred Walcott, owner of Valley View Pork (VVP, based in Coopersville) helped broker this plant while serving on the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development (MCARD, appointed by former Gov. Snyder) with $55 million in state taxpayer-funded subsidies. Not yet up to its capacity of approximately 2.5 million hogs per year) because it is difficult to find workers yearning to kill hogs day in and day out, the Coldwater plant awaits the delivery of hordes of pigs from future facilities.

Flower Creek Swine, LLC, claims to be raising breeding sows to increase production in our region. Flower Creek Swine will fatten the sows to supply a VVP farrowing barn in Walkerville, which will, in turn, supply multiple finishing CAFOs; all hogs owned by Valley View Pork. And Michigan is welcoming the dairy CAFO industry — construction of a mega dairy processing complex and whey powder manufacturing plant in St. Johns is now underway.

ROAD commissioned two scientific studies with alarming conclusions that were ignored by MDARD, MCARD, and DEQ/DEGLE: 1) a hydrologic and geomorphic analysis of Flower Creek Watershed (January 2018) by Drs. Hyndman and Kendall of Michigan State University (eminently qualified subject matter experts) which projects that watershed levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, already high, will increase substantially, making it one of the most nutrient-laden watersheds in the Great Lakes basin; and  2) an analysis of Flower Creek water quality (April-October 2018) by another reputable scientist, (Dr. Richard Rediske of the Annis Waters Resource Institute at Grand Valley State University), which documented baseline E. coli impairment of Flower Creek and serious degradation of other water quality parameters. This provides a basis for comparison with future measurements. E. coli levels exceed the state standards for human body contact by four times. DNA analysis of frozen samples will confirm the origin of the bacteria, almost certainly excess dairy manure and not human waste from septic tanks. Both reports are available on the ROAD website.

Flower Creek has joined Little Flower Creek, which drains the adjacent watershed, among the sorry ranks of polluted Michigan waters. A “No Swimming” sign is a permanent fixture where Little Flower Creek traverses Meinert Park beach into Lake Michigan. The state environmental agency says the hog CAFO “won’t make things worse.” That is a pitiful consolation to offer the residents of Claybanks Township. Pig manure has yet to be spread but is expected in August (pigs were delivered to the CAFO in April 2019). We doubt the state’s assertion.

No attention is paid to the human health impacts stemming from the disposal of massive amounts of pig waste, which is untreated and therefore teeming with infectious microorganisms, despite an abundance of incriminating scientific evidence. Public health risks include infections from contact with contaminated recreational waters, infections and nitrate toxicity from contamination of groundwater/aquifers supplying private drinking wells, and respiratory ailments related to toxic CAFO air emissions.

Odor is given some, but insufficient consideration. Due to diet and physiological differences in the animals, odor from pig manure is triple that from cow manure, making outdoor activities in the area or opening windows unpleasant to hazardous. A recent jury award in North Carolina exceeded $50 million against CAFO operators for environmental degradation and nuisance. Iowa has more than 7,000 CAFOs and a third of U.S. pork production. The City of Des Moines Waterworks, which serves a quarter of the state’s residents, sued the industry for pollution of water supplies.

ROAD is committed to shutting down this CAFO and stopping the spread of more such outrageous violations of the public trust. Our organization has raised and spent $40,000 in 18 months. We need at least $20,000 more to carry on with our contested case with the state environmental agency and a related civil action for an injunction. More will likely be required.

The reason to alert the wider Michigan public is that this facility and the ones that are sure to follow, likely will result in a huge environmental disaster for Michigan and impose very high human health costs.  With lead in Flint, PFAS in Rockford, and hog waste in Claybanks Township as examples, Michiganders deserve better than their government is delivering. The White Lake area is still recovering from Hooker and Dupont malfeasance — let’s not allow a repeat horror to befall this natural resource-rich community. Let’s fight together to be “Pure Michigan!” We need to unite and “take back our water.”

More information about this situation may be found at ROAD’s website. Property tax impacts reports are viewable here, and here. For an infectious disease physician’s statement on potential health risks, click here. Finally, Sierra Club produced a compelling 11-minute video on this subject.

Tracy Dobson co-founded ROAD in 2010. She was a professor of Fisheries and Wildlife, as well as and Women’s Studies, at Michigan State University for 31 years and co-creator of the Center for Gender in Global Context. She led study abroad trips in Kenya and conducted environmental research in Malawi. A long-time summer resident of Montague, she is now a full-time resident and activist.

Beach Cleanups Protect Water and Health and Raise Awareness

By Holly Wright

The excitement when packing for a trip to the beach is palpable; we select our favorite sun hats, towels and snacks while our children gleefully nestle toys and buckets for sand castles into the day bag. We hope that the sun will shine bright and Lake Michigan not be too frigid or choppy; and we expect that the beach where we recreate and relax will be clean and safe for our families.

The reality is that many of our Michigan beaches are sullied by refuse and littered with food wrappers, soggy cigarette butts, and small plastic pieces of mysterious origin. In an extreme case, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore staff found thousands of pieces of broken glass deliberately spread in April on the Lake Michigan beach near the Good Harbor picnic area.

Whether littered on-site or carried from elsewhere in the watershed, unsanitary garbage on our coasts puts-off beach-goers and infringes upon the public’s right to enjoy the shoreline—a great Michigan summertime tradition that’s protected by the public trust doctrine.

Upon entering a body of water, these bottle caps, balloon fragments and straws tangled in summer berms pose another danger to the health of wildlife and people, threatening public trust uses as waves, wind and sun break down materials into small pieces called “microplastics”. Microplastics are known to be harmful to wildlife and are present in Great Lakes drinking water. The prevalence of plastics on our shorelines and in our waters has prompted local beach cleanup efforts.

Microplastics Present in the Great Lakes

The general awareness of plastic pollution in earth’s oceans (and scientific study of the issue) currently exceeds the awareness and scientific understanding of the effects of microplastics (including microfibers) in the freshwaters of the Great Lakes. As USGS put it, “the microplastics story is large and complex”.

But we do know that microplastics are present in our waters.

A United States Geological Survey (USGS) page based on a 2016 study emphasized that one plastic particle per gallon of water was found in Great Lakes Tributary Water; 1,285 particles were found per square foot in river sediment. 112,000 particles were found per square mile of Great Lakes water. Since 2016, plastics have continued to accumulate in the Great Lakes.

Microplastics and Wildlife, Human Health

The Great Lakes support a multitude of wildlife; aquatic insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds; and provide drinking water for approximately 40 million people human and non-human species alike, we all need water to survive; our health is interconnected within the hydrosphere.

Freshwater and marine aquatic wildlife have displayed ill effects from ingesting microplastics. According to National Geographic, “Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: they block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.”

Chemical harm from ingesting microplastic causes further concern. Heavy metals, flame retardants and antimicrobials which adhere to plastic surfaces have been associated with endocrine disruption in humans and cancer (via National Geographic).

Since the composition of plastic materials varies greatly, estimating toxicity of plastic is difficult, as is predicting toxicity as chemicals move up, through the food web; and eventually to us, through consumption of wildlife (via National Public Radio).

Drinking Water

We who drink Great Lakes water are ingesting microplastics through our taps. So miniscule in size, microplastics pass through water treatment facilities and into our cups. Microplastics are even turning up in beer brewed from Great Lakes water.

Opting for bottled water may not decrease the risk of ingesting microplastics; in fact, total microplastics in bottled water are evidenced to exceed microplastics in tap water.

Beach Cleanups

Performing beach cleanups supports our community’s right to enjoy our shorelines and can prevent the introduction of some plastics into the Great Lakes. Alliance for the Great Lakes reports that every year, through its “Adopt-a-Beach” program, “15,000 volunteers hit the beach and remove about 18 tons of trash.”

Photos courtesy of NMC Freshwater Society

Mike Seefried and Kathryn Depauw, NMC Freshwater Studies students and members of the NMC Freshwater Society, are participating in the “Adopt-a-Beach” effort this summer by coordinating community beach cleanups.

Seefried and Depauw collected a total 24.36 pounds of trash during their June 1 cleanup at Bryant Park in Traverse City. Local organizations supported the initiative; collection buckets were provided by the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Center. Volunteers, equipped with gloves and data sheets, combed the shoreline public park and, over an approximate area of 550 feet, removed 707 cigarette filters, 236 foam pieces, and 459 plastic pieces. “When you’re actually on the ground picking it up, there’s kind of a ‘wow’ factor—of how much is actually there,” said Seefried.

A June 29 cleanup performed at Sunset Park yielded 387 cigarette butts, 227 pieces of small foam, and 253 small plastic pieces. Seventy-five food wrappers were also picked up over the area of 261 feet. At the end of the process, 11.7 pounds of trash no longer littered the park—an immediate benefit to the community.

Beach. Cleaning Opportunities, Tools

All are welcomed to participate in future cleanups initiated by NMC’s Freshwater Society. Visit the Freshwater Society’s Facebook page for upcoming cleanup event information.

FLOW can equip you with beach cleanup kits (containing items such as gloves, pencils, clipboards, data sheets, trash bags, and buckets) to use independently. FLOW’s Lauren Hucek encourages anyone interested to rally their friends, families, and coworkers to host their own beach cleanups. Please choose sites that offer public waste receptacles or prepare to dispose of trash privately; recycle when possible. Email Lauren Hucek with questions and requests for kits, or call the FLOW office at 231-944-1568.

Raising Awareness

Plastic is so ingrained and pervasive in our systems, can the independent effort of individuals cleaning beaches make any difference? Are beach cleanups effective?

“Honestly, I think we take the beaches in our area for granted a little bit,” said Seefried. “The point of this work is to clean the beach—but also to raise awareness.”

We know that plastics are in our water—and in our bodies. We know that microplastics are harmful to wildlife, and that it is not understood how they may be harmful to people. But there’s something about actually picking through the refuse on our beaches that sticks with us; we wonder, will a fiber of this cigarette butt; this lost sock; this disposable diaper; one day slip down someone’s throat via a glass of drinking water?

Performing beach cleanups prompts us to consider our own choices and to get involved with the overarching threat to Great Lakes water, wildlife, and our own health—plastics.

Picnics with Less Plastic

In celebration of the Traverse City Cherry Festival and the warm days ahead, we wanted to highlight one of our favorite summer activities. For many, picnicking in a park or near Lake Michigan is a summer tradition. In keeping with our #getoffthebottle campaign and dedication to reducing our single-use plastic footprint, we've made some easy swaps to make your family's picnic zero waste. 

Happy picnicking!

Zero waste picnic

Before: sandwich, chips, pear, carrots, fruit salad, cookies, water

Typical picnic

Before: sandwich, chips, pear, carrots, fruit salad, cookies, water


After: Tupperware, reusable water bottle, cloth napkins, metal silverware


After: plastic wrappers, single-use plastic bags, single use-plastic water bottle, plastic silverware, paper napkins

We were really surprised at how much trash we generated from what we thought would be a pretty low-impact picnic. Some of these items can be recycled (bottle, some of the plastic containers), but it's not always easy to find a recycling bin, and often these items end up in the trash. We hope that these images make us think twice about our plastic footprint.

Tips for a zero waste picnic:

  • Plan out foods that don’t need a lot of waste.
    • Finger foods make great picnic fare! Sandwiches, crackers, cheese and meats, whole fruit and vegetables, cookies.
  • Bring an apple and an orange instead of a pre-cut fruit salad that you would eat with a fork.
  • If you do want a salad (greens, potato, pasta, etc), put it in a tupperware and bring your own reusable forks and spoons.
  • Be creative in packaging like putting chips or crackers in a tupperware container (versus a single use plastic bag), or wrapping items in a cloth.
  • Bring your own water bottle filled with water or a summer drink, like lemonade or tea.
  • Make sure not to leave any trash behind & recycle what you can!


Happy Cherry Fest & 4th of July week!

Countdown to a Line 5 Shutdown

Photo credit: Nancy May

7 – It would take at least seven years to plan and build a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits, according to an estimate by Michigan Technological University, if proven to be legal and feasible, while Line 5’s threat to the Great Lakes would grow larger.

6 – A Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits could deliver a blow of more than $6 billion in economic impacts and natural resource damages in Michigan, according to a study commissioned by FLOW.

5 – The five Great Lakes sustain us, our economy, and way of life.

4 – Installing a new 4-inch diameter propane pipeline from Superior, Wisconsin, to Rapid River, Michigan, would replace the propane supply delivered by Line 5 in the Upper Peninsula.

3 – For three years, Canadian pipeline company Enbridge hid from Michigan regulators the fact that Line 5 has lost its anti-rust outer coating in more than 60 places in the Mackinac Straits.

2 – Enbridge’s twin steel pipes lying on the bottom of the Mackinac Straits since 1953 are bent, cracked, dented, scraped bare of rust protection in spots, and past their life expectancy.  

1 – We have one chance to get this right: Preventing a Great Lakes oil spill is possible, but cleaning one up is not.

½  Half of all Michiganders, from Mackinac Island to the Motor City, rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, as do more than 48 million Americans and Canadians in total.

0 – There’s zero time to waste: Tell Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette to shut down Line 5 now! And contact your state lawmakers too. 

Take action:


FLOW Challenges Wisconsin’s Approval of Lake Michigan Water Diversion



Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor                                                               Phone: 231-944-1568
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                       Email: dave@flowforwater.org

Jim Olson, Founder & President                                                            Phone: 231-499-8831
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                             Email: olson@envlaw.com


FLOW Challenges Wisconsin’s Approval of Lake Michigan Water Diversion


A Lake Michigan water diversion approved by the State of Wisconsin is inconsistent with the Great Lakes Compact and threatens an open season on Great Lakes water, FLOW said today.

The Traverse City, Michigan-based science and law center asked Great Lakes governors and a Regional Body established by the Compact to review Wisconsin’s approval of a 7 million gallon per day diversion request by Racine, Wisconsin, a city entirely inside the basin, primarily for the Foxconn Corporation in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approval of the diversion is based on a faulty interpretation of the Compact and sets a dangerous precedent, FLOW said.

“We can’t go into this century’s water crisis with a loosely conceived decision that turns the ‘straddling community’ exception to the diversion ban on end,” said Jim Olson, founder and president of FLOW. “The Compact envisioned sending water to cities that straddle the basin with existing water infrastructure that already serves residents on both sides of the divide. Wisconsin has shoe-horned Racine’s request to extend its pipes outside the basin to serve a private customer, not a public water supply. Scores of other communities and private interests could start doing the same, and billions of gallons will ultimately end up outside the basin.”

“Wisconsin’s approval of this diversion doesn’t just bend the Compact, it threatens to break it,” said Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor to FLOW. “The Racine-to-Foxconn diversion must receive the highest degree of scrutiny, and if it is discovered that the application of this exception violates or is not consistent with the Compact, the Council, Regional Body, and parties or citizens must correct the error before it is too late.”

The approved diversion allows the City of Racine to extend its existing water supply system to an area of Mt. Pleasant not served by a public water supply and outside the Great Lakes watershed.

FLOW’s challenge has two parts:

  • The Foxconn diversion stretches the Compact’s exception to a ban on diversions for so-called straddling communities that is intended “solely for public water supply purposes,” primarily residential customers. The exception was intended to assist communities with public water supply systems that already extend across the divide and serve a straddling public water supply, with emphasis on residential users. The Racine-to-Foxconn diversion is simply a diversion of an in-basin city’s in-basin public water system to an area outside the basin for an industrial purpose, as acknowledged publicly by state and local officials. The City of Racine circumvented the requirement by using its gross water utility system-wide data to show that its in-basin system serves 30,425 residential customers, 848 multi-family residential customers, about 3,000 business, commercial, and 302 industrial users. But the water diverted or transferred here is the 7 million gallons covered by the Racine application. If the analysis is limited to that required by law, the primary purpose of the diversion is to serve customers outside the basin who are commercial and industrial—the Foxconn plant project, and not residential users.
  • The Foxconn diversion violates the exception for “straddling communities” because the exception is solely for public water supply “within” or “in” “the straddling community.” A customer area in an incorporated town like Mt. Pleasant is not a public water supply of Mt. Pleasant, and therefore Mt. Pleasant without its own public water supply system does not qualify as a “straddling community.” To interpret the exception otherwise, is to allow a city inside the basin to divert water to a new customer in an area outside the basin by merely assuming the identity of an existing community whose corporate limits straddle the basin divide. This is not what the exception was intended to allow; it does not serve the public water supply of Mt. Pleasant; and it serves the customer and newly diverted water on the part of Applicant City of Racine.

The Council and Regional Body have broad authority to bring actions, exercise rights as aggrieved parties, or exercise powers of review for consistency, compliance, uniformity based on a joint commitment to protect the integrity of the Great Lakes; this means upholding the diversion ban and interpreting and applying the exceptions to the ban as written. The Racine in-basin community proposed diversion for primarily industrial use by an industrial customer in Mt. Pleasant, but outside the basin, does not qualify for the straddling community exception.

The Council and Regional Body and affected or aggrieved parties should demand an investigation, review, and determination of whether or not the Racine proposal and final determination by the Wisconsin DNR fall within, meet and/or comply with the “straddling community” exception standard, FLOW said.


Grand Traverse Islands National Park Proposal

Eight states border the Great Lakes, but only five national parks.  For those who think the spectacular values of the freshwater coast are underrepresented among the crown jewels of the national park system, there is good news:  a small but dogged group of Wisconsin citizens is keeping the torch lit for the establishment of a national park on the Grand Traverse Islands of their state and Michigan.

Not to be confused with the Grand Traverse region of the northwest Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the Grand Traverse Islands span “the gap between Door County, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Garden Peninsula. Marking the dangerous maritime divide between the warmer, shallower waters of Green Bay and the colder, deeper waters of Lake Michigan, they are a richly biodiverse, historically significant, and largely undeveloped wilderness archipelago,” in the words of the citizen group.

Friends of the Grand Traverse Islands are proposing a park of about 7,000 acres scattered across two Michigan islands, four Wisconsin islands, and various features of the tip of the Door Peninsula.  Significantly, all of the proposed parkland is already in public (federal, state and local) ownership, nullifying resistance from those who might oppose acquisition of private lands.  Still, Washington is not particularly friendly to expanding the federal domain, so park backers acknowledge they are in this for the long haul. 

The other Great Lakes national park in Wisconsin, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, took 40 years to get Congressional approval, Friends of the Grand Traverse Islands Chair John Bacon points out.  “When we started this, we never expected it would happen tomorrow, or even in five years.  The logic will eventually win out.”  A sea kayaker and guide, Bacon has frequently recreated in the archipelago and said it so impressed him that he wondered from his first experiences in the area why it was not already a park.

The idea of creating a park among the islands dates back to at least 1970, when an Islands of America report released by the federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation recommended something called an “interstate wilderness park” encompassing 6,000 acres on what it called the 14 Green Bay islands.  “Yet 45 years later, after attempts made by Michigan and Wisconsin, the island chain remains unopened, unprotected, unsung and falling apart.  This is a national tragedy,” the Friends say in their proposal.

St. Martin Island Lighthouse, photo by John Bacon

State officials from both Michigan and Wisconsin pursued the idea for about a decade before Michigan pulled out.  Because of local opposition to inclusion of land on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula, the Friends have scaled back the Michigan portion of their current proposal to only St. Martin’s and Poverty Islands, which are already in federal ownership.

The Friends’ lyrical description of the proposed park’s assets is enticing.  A central feature is the Niagara Escarpment. The islands “consist of dolomitic limestone rock formed 420 million years ago from the compressed sediments of a shallow, tropical sea. Rare wildflowers and orchids found almost nowhere else on earth call them home. Neotropical songbirds, bats, and butterflies return to them each and every summer. And trees believed to be over 500 years old cling to their nearly vertical, rocky bluffs.”

David Hayes, a retired Park Service regional planner, owner of a bed and breakfast in Sturgeon Bay and now a member of the Friends group, says he has long supported the designation of a Great Lakes national maritime park.  Learning of the Grand Traverse Islands proposal, he joined forces with Bacon and others. 

Hayes told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “it’s unbelievable to have such a large geologic formation in the U.S. that has no national anything. This is huge – it’s over 500 miles worth of geologic formation. That alone to me is one very important reason to do it.”

Creating a national park is about more than safeguarding geology, scenery and natural resources, backers say.  Recreational opportunities, ranging from birding to camping to sailing to kayaking to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, are abundant.  There are historic sites reflecting both indigenous peoples and European settlers, and historic lighthouses.  And a national park would be an economic shot in the arm, proponents say.  Apostle Islands has generated approximately 300 jobs for a northern Wisconsin community where they make a significant difference.  Meanwhile, existing uses on adjacent lands and waters, including timber harvest and commercial and sport fishing, would be unaffected.

Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor

The initial Congressional objective, Hayes says, is an NPS special resource study, a necessary prelude to park creation.  The study would review the area’s national significance, cost and suitability.  Bipartisan support for the study exists, he says.

“There’s something about national parks that touches the imagination,” Hayes says. “They bring people from all over the world.”

Highlights of the Grand Traverse Islands National Park Proposal


Michigan proposed lands:


St. Martin Island (Federally-owned parcels)

Acreage & Ownership: 1,244 acres under federal ownership.

FeaturesNiagara Escarpment, old hunting/logging cabins, old fishing village sites, small harbor on south shore with dock, access to St. Martin Island Lighthouse.


Poverty Island

Acreage & Ownership: 171 acres under federal ownership.

FeaturesNiagara Escarpment, Poverty Island Lighthouse.


Wisconsin highlights:


Door Bluff Headlands County Park, Door Peninsula

Acreage & Ownership: 156 acres under county ownership.

FeaturesNiagara Escarpment, Native American pictographs, beach, hiking trail, commanding view of Green Bay.


Plum & Pilot Islands

Acreage & Ownership: 330 acres under federal ownership.

Dolostone Pillar on NE Shoreline of Rock Island, photo by John Bacon

Features: Niagara Escarpment, Pilot Island Lighthouse & Fog Signal Building; JE Gilmore, Forrest, & AP Nichols Shipwrecks; Plum Island Lightkeepers House, Fog Signal Building, & Range Lights; ruins of Old Plum Island Lighthouse; last remaining Duluth-style US Life Saving Station on Great Lakes; two beaches; Grapeshot shipwreck; maintained trails.


Rock Island State Park, Rock Island

Acreage & Ownership: 912 acres under state ownership.

Features: Niagara Escarpment, Thordarson Estate, small boat dock, sand beach, old fishing village site, numerous cemeteries, Native American archeological sites, the first lighthouse built in Wisconsin, campground, maintained trails, and backcountry campsites.

The Lake Michigan Mermaid:  Co-Authors Discuss Their New Work

Poets Anne-Marie Oomen and Linda Nemec Foster will read from their new book, The Lake Michigan Mermaid, at a fundraiser for FLOW on Thursday, April 19.  The reading and reception take place from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the Centerpointe conference center, top floor, on the west arm of Traverse Bay.

Published by Wayne State University Press for the Made in Michigan series, The Lake Michigan Mermaid tells in poetry the story of a troubled young girl who seeks a mythical creature, the true spirit of the lake, a beautiful mermaid that she believes lives in Lake Michigan waters.  The Lake Michigan Mermaid is a tale of friendship, redemption, and the life-giving power of water.

At the event, the poets will read poems interspersed with the story-of-the story: how the book came to be.

For more information about the book, click here.

How did this project begin? How long have you been talking about it?  

Linda Nemec Foster (LNF): This project began as a result of both of us being published in an anthology of women writing on the Great Lakes titled, Fresh Water (edited by Alison Swan and published by Michigan State University Press). In 2008, we were invited to give a reading at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts for the anthology (along with some of the other contributors) and the idea for the poetry sequence was planted that night. Actually, we weren’t talking about it for long before we started writing the poems.

Anne-Marie Oomen (AMO): As Linda said, the idea hatched the night of that reading over ten years ago–you’ll hear about that story when you come to our presentation–springing from a single mysterious remark by a key person among the writers. Writers never know exactly where or when ideas will rise up and make demands, but I think our participation in that rich lake of words–all those stories inspired by the Great Lakes–created the conditions for the idea to flourish.    

What inspired the mermaid motif? And the connection to a girl?

LNF: At the reading (that I described above), someone said it was too bad there were no Lake Michigan mermaids. Both Anne-Marie and I were intrigued by the question. Later that night we had the first of many discussions about creating a poetry sequence that would weave a contemporary fairy tale involving a mermaid, a young girl, and their connections to Lake Michigan.

AMO: I had a new cell phone, and I was driving home late at night, sleepy and a little dreamy with ideas. I called first. Linda answered immediately. Call and response.  The pattern was set. You’ll see when you read the book because the two voices go back and forth. (Side note: During later research, we found that among the native peoples of the Great Lakes, there are also representations of mermaids and mermen.  Our mermaid is not necessarily inspired by those, but we found it reassuring to learn that fresh water mermaid tales do exist.)

Your promotional materials say the book was written in secret over a decade. Could you explain that (unless that would give away too much of what you’re saying at the event)?

LNF: Yes, the ten-year-old secret is true and there were two reasons for keeping the project “under wraps” for so long. But, as you stated, I’d rather have us explain the details at our presentation–more interesting that way—so the intrigue continues!

AMO: What we can say is that ten years built a bond of trust in each other.  We kept coming back to the pleasure of the partnership and the richness of writing about this subject. Trust is not something that just happens; it grows as you come to a deeper knowledge of another person. That came with each poem, each time we returned to the project.

There must be extra challenges to co-authoring a book of this kind. How difficult was it?

LNF: Yes, there can be challenges, but this project was a thoroughly enjoyable experience because of the deep respect, admiration, and (above all) trust that Anne-Marie and I have for each other. I feel so fortunate to be on this journey with her.

AMO: Ditto on all counts. The biggest challenge, which is the challenge all artistically inclined people face, is the way life simply interrupts the flow of artistic work.  Part of being a literary artist is exercising tenacity, staying with it–even through ten years of life stuff. Not to be too self-aggrandizing, because there were moments when I thought  the project might have slipped away–as others have–but one of us always brought it back.

Illustrations are critical to a work like this. How did you go about finding an illustrator and what were you looking for?

Linda Nemec Foster, Anne-Marie Oomen, and Meridith Ridl

LNF: The illustrations are absolutely critical. As a matter of fact, the editor (at Wayne State University Press) accepted the manuscript for publication on the condition that we find an illustrator. We “passed over” three different artists before we discovered the haunting and beautiful work of Meridith Ridl. There are more interesting details to this part of the book’s back story, but I’d like to save them for our presentation.

AMO: We knew this mermaid would NOT be a Disney Ariel (from the Little Mermaid) but something darker, more haunting and mysterious, like our lake. It takes a particular artistic vision and skill to create that feeling in an image. That Meredith Ridl brought that vision full circle is such a gift; you’ll hear that story too.

How do you each feel about the condition of our water? Do you think a book like this can inspire action?  

LNF: The Great Lakes play a significant part in my personal history. Although I’ve lived in west Michigan for most of my life, I was born and raised in Cleveland near the shores of Lake Erie. I saw firsthand the devastating effects of rampant pollution: the spontaneous combustion of flames on the Cuyahoga River and the impact on the fragile ecosystem of Lake Erie. Although more work needs to be done, it’s gratifying to see the positive changes that have occurred in those waterways during the last fifty years. We can contribute to the nurturing and healing of our waters and environment: it just takes a dedicated mindfulness. I hope our book reflects that mindfulness. Because even though the main characters of the book are a young girl and her mermaid companion, the true spirit of the tale is the deep heart of Lake Michigan.

AMO: Lake Michigan has, over and over, healed me with beauty, with wildness and calm, with cool water, and strong breathtaking color. It is my life’s blood, and also a life source for me as an artist–even when I am writing about farm life and rural work.  All that is threatened when water becomes a commodity instead of a commons. In a world where science is often disregarded or misused for profit, I wonder if our mythical story might be an entirely different approach to encouraging people to think about water, and the lakes, as living entities. I wonder if a single make-believe (is she really make believe?) creature of the lake might help people embrace the aesthetic and spiritual side of these waters.  It’s not just about the imbalances, the invasives and the pollution, it is also that when we turn away from the spirit of this lake, we turn away from something essential in ourselves. If we could be touched by the “mermaid,” as the girl is, could we be saved (a little bit) from our own acquisitiveness?

Can One Person Make a Difference? This Sixth Grader Already Has

Hope is in the air, and the water.

On a recent trip to Chicago to attend the Patagonia Action Works conference, FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood met an extraordinary young advocate, Marcella Carter.  Spurred into action by her concern about the oil and gas pipelines threatening the Straits of Mackinac, Marcella organized friends and classmates and raised $1,000 to support FLOW’s work to shut down the lines.

We wanted to know more about Marcella and her work.  A sixth-grader at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, just blocks from her home in Hyde Park, Marcella is 12.

“Every morning I enjoy getting to walk to school with my older brother (Gabriel) who is a freshman in high school and my mom, who works at the University of Chicago Cancer Center as a Regulatory Affairs Manager,” Marcella says. “There are some good and bad things about walking to school, one of the great things being that we are not polluting the earth with gasoline every morning.”  

We e-mailed her some questions about what led to her leadership on Line 5.

Where does your interest in the environment and water come from?

Throughout my childhood I have grown up around nature and learning to love it. My family and I go camping often. When we lived in Georgia, we had a spot that we found one year after hiking for 10 miles and it was perfect for us, with the raging river right there, little sandy coves, and secret trails. So, every year after that we hiked the full 10 miles and set up camp in our spot. We have many stories and had great adventures camping, many including my dog CastaLuna, a spanish greyhound.

Another thing that I grew up around was my parents’ cloth diaper business, Better for Babies. They started making and selling reusable cotton diapers to help decrease the amount of disposable diapers going into landfills and then they had the idea to sell an even wider variety of sustainable items, so they started Better for Grownups as well. They started selling reusable tissues, makeup rounds, etc.

I remember walking down the block from Miss Marni’s Preschool with my dad by my side in his electric wheelchair towards the building where all Better for Babies and Better for Grownup things happened. As I opened the door and walked in, I was greeted with the sound of sewing machines and the seamstresses’ voices shouting my name in welcome. I spent my afternoons there, climbing the wooden structure that held the huge rolls of soft cotton fabric and sitting there watching. These things have made me very passionate in helping to protect the amazing environment that we all live in.

What inspired you specifically about raising money to protect the Great Lakes from Line 5?  What do you hope the result will be?

I learned about the problem with Line 5 one day when my dad got an email from Patagonia alerting people and asking for help to get Line 5 shut down. The email included a link to the movie Great Lakes, Bad Lines. My dad and I read the email and were shocked! We started the movie and I immediately wanted to do something to help.  

I love Lake Michigan, it is a part of my life. I see it almost every day and it makes me smile. When I moved to Chicago and saw Lake Michigan for the first time in person, I was in awe. I had never seen a lake look like that. At that time my definition of a lake was the lake that my house was next to in Georgia, Lake Carroll.  I have memories of going out on the lake in my grandfather’s boat in the summer but it just doesn’t compare to Lake Michigan. Lake Carroll is small and filled with dirt because of a construction accident when all of the dirt that they were digging up tumbled down the hill and blew into Lake Carroll. Because of that you can’t see the bottom of the very shallow murky water, and when it rains the dirt will all come up to the surface and you can easily get an ear infection if you swim in it.

Lake Michigan is special, with the way that one day when the sun is out it can look like the ocean next to a Hawaiian beach, the next day it’s so clear that you can see everything beneath it, then on a rainy day its waves are raging and it’s a dark mysterious grey. It looks like Lake Michigan has many different feelings or emotions and expresses them through colors and texture of the water. I don’t think that anyone wants one of those new colors to be black oil.

I don’t just want to protect The Great Lakes from Line 5 because of its beauty or my memories of reading on the warm rocks while my dad, who used to be in a wheelchair for 10 years, is swimming, but also because Lake Michigan is a very important source of freshwater. If Line 5 broke and spilled oil then we would lose so much water. We may still have lots of bottled water, but bottled water is not good for the environment and many people can’t afford it, so tap water is a great solution. But, if Line 5 doesn’t get shut down, there goes a ton of our tap water. I hope the result will be Lake Michigan still being what it is and not ruined by oil.

Do you see yourself working on environmental issues in the future?

Yes, I definitely do! I hope to continue what I am doing now, helping issues by raising awareness or money, working with the sustainability club to make our school more green, and going to events to learn more. As for when I am older, it has always been my dream to become a fashion designer. As I learned more about the problems with fast fashion, child labor, poor work environments, and factory pollution, I brainstormed ways I would make my fashion brand more environmentally friendly but also sell clothes and collections that are fashionable and that make women feel confident. I am going to keep researching and working on my sewing and design skills so hopefully my dream can come true.

What advice do you have for other young people who care about protecting our environment?

First of all, that’s great! We need more young people who care about protecting our environment because we are the next generation and can make a big impact. I would say know that you can make a difference and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t or you’re “too young”. I would also say that some of the best ways to start protecting our environment is first with your own lifestyle. Make sure you are recycling, ask your parents if you can start composting, and when your parents go to the grocery offer to tag along and bring reusable bags. When you are at the grocery, help your parents make more sustainable choices. For example: If you are buying applesauce, instead of buying a box of individually wrapped squeezes, ask your parents if they could get you the big glass jar of applesauce — without being bossy (Ms. Williams gave the Sustainability club that tip!).

Then, help your school by starting a club if there isn’t already one. You and your club can find non-environmentally friendly things about your school and figure out ways to fix them. You can also talk to local restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, etc. about ways they can reduce waste. For example, research compostable straws and find a brand that looks reliable and share it with the store, asking them to use that instead of plastic ones, and make sure to tell them that even if they don’t have a compost, the compostable straws are still better than plastic ones because they will decompose in 3 to 6 months even in a landfill, but plastic straws take up to 200 years! If the store doesn’t want to change their products you can also just set a good example for others by bringing your own reusable straw with you and use that instead of reaching for a single use plastic straw.

Others may ask you about your reusable straw and that can give you a good chance to teach others. Sometimes all they need is some information and shocking facts to think twice about grabbing that straw and maybe they will even go online and buy a reusable one! If you want to learn more about environmental problems and how to help, ask your parents to take you to some events, then bring back the information you learned to your club and see what you can do.

Thank you!

FLOW is grateful to the University of Chicago Lab School’s Sustainability Club, Marcella and her family for their commitment to environmental stewardship.  The future will be brighter because of them.