Tag: Public Trust

Interview: “Watershed Moment” — FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood with Amy Rotter on 88.1 FM Grand Rapids

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of For Love of Water (FLOW), discusses the mission of FLOW to advance the public trust doctrine: the basic fundamental notion that public resources, such as water, belong to and are shared by the public.

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Click here to check out this and other “Watershed Moment” segments from the Grand Rapids Community Media Center and 88.1 FM Grand Rapids.

Transcription:

Announcer: This is a Watershed Moment, protecting water resources and building sustainable communities, brought to you by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Grand Rapids Community Media Center.

Amy Rotter: On today’s episode, we hear from Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, “For Love of Water.”

Liz Kirkwood: FLOW is really unique group here in the Great Lakes. It’s the only public trust policy center and educational group that is addressing the systemic threats in the Great Lakes. What that means is we are trying to advance the public trust doctrine, which is the basic, fundamental notion that public resources, like the waters, belong to, and are shared by, the public. And, it’s the duty of the state to protect the waters for the citizens and ensure that the waters themselves are not impaired. They also have a duty to ensure that protected public uses such as navigation, fishing, commerce, swimming, and ecological values are protected as well.

The public trust is an ancient doctrine that goes back to the Roman times, but it really pulls at all of our heartstrings, it’s that inherent sense that water cannot be privately owned, and it belongs to all of us. And that is a very important public right that we all have and it’s very empowering for citizens and governments and leaders to exercise as we face greater scarcity of waters and greater competition for those uses.

Please contact us at www.flowforwater.org.

Announcer: This has been a Watershed Moment, a production of West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Grand Rapids Community Media Center. Learn more about today’s topic at www.watershedmoment.info

FLOW Local Ordinance Program Brings Fracking Protection to Two Michigan Townships

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 23, 2013

FLOW Local Ordinance Program Brings Fracking Protection to Two Michigan Townships

Michigan Communities Seek Regulation of Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Two Michigan Townships—Cannon Township and Gun Plain Charter Township—signed up with FLOW to develop regulatory ordinances on horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” FLOW is the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education center.  These townships, in Kent County and Allegan County respectively, are taking the lead in protecting their community from the industrial land-use impacts and potential risks of fracking.

Fracking for oil and natural gas is exempt from many regulatory laws at both the federal and state levels, including the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts, the Great Lakes Compact and Michigan’s Water Withdrawal Act. These townships are setting a precedent by being the first in the state of Michigan to develop fracking regulation ordinances in consultation with FLOW. Despite zoning prohibitions to regulate drilling, construction production, and operation of oil and gas wells, townships still do maintain legal authority to regulate ancillary activities, including roads, truck traffic, pipelines, flow lines, gathering lines, location of wells, disclosure of chemical use, air pollution and more. Moreover, townships can rely on other sources of authority such as police power ordinances.

Last week, Cannon Township enacted a fracking moratorium and will not consider any requests for fracking activities for a period of six months, so that the township has an opportunity to study potential impacts. On Wednesday, May 22, FLOW held the first of three educational meetings with Cannon Township officials and community members to facilitate the development of a fracking ordinance there. In this process, FLOW works with the township to determine what areas of concern are most pertinent to the community to regulate. FLOW will facilitate this same fracking ordinance development program in Gun Plain Township, and the first meeting there is scheduled for June 19.

“Whether you are for or against fracking, the important things for communities to know are the impacts we face with this high-impact and water-intensive technology, and be prepared in advance to handle it,” remarks FLOW’s founder and chair, Jim Olson.

Gun Plain Township was one of several townships present at the March 18 Allegan County Supervisors meeting at which FLOW was invited to present an educational overview of legal strategies and tools for local communities to regulate fracking. FLOW has delivered a similar educational overview program a dozen times throughout Michigan in the past three months. This informational presentation is based on FLOW’s November 2012 report, “Horizontal Fracturing for Oil and Natural Gas in Michigan: Legal Strategies and Tools for Communities and Citizens.” FLOW’s report highlights legal strategies and policies designed to assist local governments in safeguarding their communities against the unprecedented and cumulative impacts of fracking.

Horizontal fracking requires injecting a cocktail of up to 21 million gallons of water and over 750 chemicals under high pressure into wells in order to fracture deep shale formations and release oil and natural gas. A review of literature on fracking and its associated risks reveals several concerns: (1) massive water withdrawals; (2) groundwater contamination; (3) surface spills and leaks; (4) wastewater management; (5) land-use impacts; (6) truck traffic and burden on infrastructure; (7) lack of public disclosure.

The Collingwood/Utica deep natural gas shale formation spans across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula; since May 2010, around 752,260 acres of Michigan’s state land has been leased for oil and gas development. Grassroots and citizen organizations throughout the state have expressed their concern about fracking in their communities. While there are no producing fracking wells in either Cannon or Gun Plain Townships, most state lands in both counties and a significant portion of private lands have already been leased for exploration.  In response to concerned citizens, these townships are taking preventative action with FLOW’s assistance. FLOW encourages other concerned citizens and coalitions to alert their township Supervisors and examine the need for similar regulatory ordinances to protect against the industrial impacts of fracking.

For more information:
Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, FLOW, (231) 944-1568
liz@flowforwater.org | @FlowForWater | www.flowforwater.org

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FLOW is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the Great Lakes. Through its law and policy work, FLOW is raising public awareness about the public trust doctrine and its principles as a unifying framework to protect the commons and address the systemic threats to water, public lands, and the environment throughout the Great Lakes.

Video: Jim Olson, Maude Barlow on Public Trust and the Commons at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club 15th Annual Forum

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FLOW President and Chair Jim Olson joins international water advocate Maude Barlow at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club’s 15th Annual Environmental Forum on March 25, 2013. To watch the video in full, click here.

FLOW Staff to Issue Public Statement at Governor’s Energy Forum in Traverse City

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FLOW Staff to Issue Public Statement at Governor’s Energy Forum in Traverse City

Michigan’s Energy Plan Needs to Bring Water to the Center of the Conversation

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Governor Rick Snyder’s “Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions” Public Forum tour makes its seventh and final stop in Traverse City on Monday April 22, 2013. FLOW, a Traverse City-based nonprofit water policy and education center, has prepared written comments and will made public statements during next week’s forum that highlight the water-energy nexus as an integral part of charting Michigan’s energy future plans. Once water is elevated and integrated into the energy debate, the case for prioritizing renewable energies becomes clear. FLOW is a proponent for establishing and applying principles that unify and protect the integrity of the water cycle that flows through the “nexus” between energy production, water management, and climate change.

“Michigan faces a watershed moment and opportunity to chart a new cleaner energy course that is good for jobs, good for the environment, good for energy affordability, and good for the water,” says FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. Energy production, particularly of non-renewable sources, depends heavily on water for resource extraction, refining and processing, transportation, and electric power generation. The International Energy Agency projects that the amount of water consumed for energy production will double by 2035. FLOW urges Michigan energy policy-makers to wean Michigan off water-intensive energy sources, such as coal-fired power plants and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. “The big issue with fracking is the water, both in sheer quantity (e.g., 300 million gallons to frack 13 wells in Kalkaska County) and in safe disposal of chemical-laden and often toxic wastewater that will never return to our hydrologic cycle,” remarks Kirkwood.

In addition to water consumption for energy generation, climate change is a major issue to address in the water-energy nexus, according to Attorney and FLOW Chair Jim Olson. “What we want the Governor’s office and our state’s decision-makers to realize is that Michigan’s current energy plan is much more expensive when the costs of climate change impacts on water resources are accounted for. Our dependence on fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change—the largest diversion of water from the Great Lakes—and the principle reason for current low water levels,” says Olson. Historic low water levels are costing taxpayers up to $21 million for emergency dredging this year. Super-storms, drought, increased evaporation, heavy precipitation, and precipitously falling water levels are all strong indicators that our fossil fuel and carbon-rich lifestyle and diet is no longer sustainable to assure the integrity and health of the waters of the Great Lakes.

The bottom line is that expanding Michigan’s renewable energy portfolio makes good sense because it good for jobs, good for the environment, good for energy affordability, and good for the water.

For more information: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, FLOW

Guest Blog: Ted Curran – “Make Them Pay”

Excelsior fracking operation in Kalkaska, MI

Preface from Jim Olson
Water in Michigan is recognized as a public resource or the “waters of the state.” Landowners or those leasing from them have a right to use water, but not unreasonably and it generally not by removing it permanently from watersheds. FLOW board member Ted Curran rightly calls on the state to start treating water as the valuable public resource that it is.

Make Them Pay

April, 2013

The oil and gas companies using millions of gallons of Michigan water to extract natural gas from fracturing shale should be required to pay a fee per gallon for the water used. So far, Michigan water has been used without cost; and, by the way, is no longer usable after it is ruined by the chemicals used in “fracking.” Also, the water taken will lower water tables at a time when Michigan water levels, including the Great Lakes, are at historic lows.

Natural gas exploration and extraction have become important factors in U.S. long-term energy needs, but it is vital that the method used do not create new environmental problems. Fresh water used in “fracking” is an example: Since the water is a public resource and the water used in gas drilling is removed from the water cycle and cannot be reused for human consumption or for agricultural purposes, it is vital that states—including Michigan—and local communities immediately begin charging a fee per gallon for fresh water used in “fracking” so that funds will be available to provide new sources of fresh water and or research the current practice of “fracking” water use to come up with a different natural gas extraction technology that protects groundwater and the Great Lakes.

A shorter version of this op-ed appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle Opinion section on April 10, 2013

Radio: Thirsty Natural Gas Wells Proposed — Jim Olson on IPR

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Jim Olson speaks with Peter Payette on on Interlochen Public Radio program Points North

“Attorney Jim Olson says Michigan is playing a guessing game when it comes to water use and the development of deep shale gas. He says the safeguards in place are inadequate when it comes to protecting rivers and streams. State regulators say they can and do deny water withdrawal permits when oil and gas companies want to take too much water from the ground to drill a natural gas well.”

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FLOW and Jim Olson Featured on MyNorth.com

Northern Michigan Environment: Jim Olson on FLOW for Water

Nationally renowned environmental attorney Jim Olson gives a quick overview of his new Great Lakes water advocacy group FLOW, based in Traverse City.

 

By Jeff Smith

March 25, 2013

Click here to read the article on MyNorth.com

TRAVERSE CITY – Northern Michigan Outdoors: We last checked in with environmental attorney Jim Olson in late 2011, when the nationally renowned water law expert was launching a nonprofit called FLOW, for the love of water. The group’s mission is to promote new legal protections for water based on public trust principles, principles that he says lie at the very foundation of Western environmental law. Boiled to the essence, the principle asserts that water should be governed so that everybody can use the water, but nobody can use water in a way that renders it unusable for others (like, say, pollute the water or over-draw the water). (Get a more in-depth explanation here: mynorth.com/My-North/August-2011/Traverse-City-Attorney-is-Defender-of-Global-Water/). The public trust principles sound like common sense and simple enough, but in practice not so easy to get through a legislature.

Olson has been promoting public trust protection of water for more than 30 years. Back when he started, few people took him seriously, but over the decades and through his tireless efforts, his ideas have become part of the national and international water management dialog.

We checked in with Olson on a recent snowy Traverse City afternoon to see how things have progressed since we last spoke.

What’s the biggest victory FLOW has had since we last spoke?

Olson: In December 2011 we met with the International Joint Commission, which is a U.S. and Canadian board that has legal authority to set laws for Great Lakes water, and presented our ideas. They invited us to Washington D.C. and gave us a private hearing, which is a rare event. We followed up with a report to the Environmental Protection Agency and to the president’s coastal policy board. We also published an article in the Vermont Law Journal.

Water levels in the Great Lakes are on everybody’s minds these days—landowners, freighter ship captains, environmentalists—are you doing anything in that realm?

Olson: In fall of 2012 we submitted comments to the IJC about how public trust principles can be applied to water level decisions. These are complex and multi-layered challenges and public trust principles offer a profound limitation to possible abuses.

What was your approach in your comments?

Olson: We took each threat to the Great Lakes and looked at how public trust would affect that particular issue, how public trust principles would play out in the real world to get a good result.

What about on the FLOW organization side, what’s to report there?

Olson: We now have 17 board members and two paid staff. Liz Kirkwood is our executive director and Allison Voglesong is doing our communications. They are a couple of very dynamic people and really doing a great job.

What do you see as some of the specific issues you’ll be tackling in coming months?

Olson: Water levels, certainly. And we are looking for the ability to use local regulations to protect against fracking. Nutrient loading into the Great Lakes is important. How the energy and water and climate interaction will affect water in the Great Lakes.

Obviously the biggest environmental issue of our time is climate change—is there a connection to public trust principles there?

Olson: The Great Lakes are at an all-time low, and many people think climate change is largely to blame. We are looking closely at the hydrologic cycle. If you think about it, excess evaporation due to climate change is actually a diversion of some sort.

Welcome to the New FLOW site

Welcome to FLOW – Flow for Love of Water. Beginning today, with the launch and christening of our new website, I will host and write a new species for the “blog” world. In the conversation to come, I hope we will all get to the heart of the beauty, threats, and solutions that just might save the precious Great Lakes and their tributary waters — the entire hydrologic cycle  — these gifts of nature and God, the Great Spirit.  Fortuitously, previous generations have not yet killed these Great Lakes off.  And its up to us and our  children to make sure this doesn’t happen.

The threats facing the Great Lakes and its tributary waters, communities, businesses, governments loom large. The difference of the threats today compared to 40, 30 or even 20 years ago is that they are systemic, large, beyond borders and watershed. All of the permit and regulatory systems, government investments in preservation and restoration, and conservation protection from that first Earth Day in 1970 to date, are being overwhelmed by harms documented by science that undermine this incredible effort and investment. Climate change, with its increased intensity and shifting patterns is attributable to human conduct and behavior, has undeniably contributed to the lowest recorded water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron – a single system. Read our recent op-ed about Climate Change and Water Levels

Climate change is a diversion of water as much as any other, and the impacts to environment and economy are devastating, and will get much worse if we can not chart a new course for food, energy, and human use, transfers, diversions, waste of water. We’re finding out very fast that there is no “surplus” or “abundance” of water, not here or anywhere else. As a wise Michigan Supreme Court Justice once said in the late 1800s, “water is a wandering thing, of necessity a commons.” In other words, water has meaning in the watershed where it flows and supports the community, life, and endeavors that have evolved there.

Last week I had coffee with friend and Editor of Traverse Magazine, Jeff Smith, who out of his keen instinct and concern about the Great Lakes told me about the disappearance of the tiny shrimp diporeia that makes up a key link to the food chain and healthy fish populations in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Fish populations are already plummeting from invasive species, even without the Asian Carp, to the point where whitefish, trout and salmon are scrawny scales and bones.

There are lots of other systemic threats – nutrient run off, sewage overflows, nuclear waste shipments more toxic than the lakes could ever absorb, a disconnect between energy consumption and policy, including the fracking craze which to date is moving faster than the information needed to assure local watersheds and communities are not sacrificed, or that global climate change with even more evaporation may be exacerbated if not handled correctly.

So this brings me back to FLOW, why this webpage, and why this first page invites you to interact with us to explore and understand these many threats, and how to adapt, become resilient through foresight, and find solutions. Since that Saturday in May 2011, when a conference on “Threats and Solutions” for the Great Lakes was winding down on Northwestern Michigan College’s Traverse City campus, a new idea, one that would force us to look at threats to the planet and humanity, like those facing the Great Lakes, emerged: We need a new paradigm or framework that goes beyond, but compliments, protects like an umbrella the time and investment to protect our quality of life and better assure prosperity for all living creatures.

What we have discovered at FLOW is this: The systemic threats to the Great Lakes present a rare, although unprecedented, challenge to all of us. If we can understand these threats as a whole, that is holistically, through science, data, values, and new frameworks, we may find a unifying principle that integrates the science, policy, law and economics into a comprehensive way of thinking and making decisions that will assure solutions, adaptation, and resilience that protect and pass on the integrity of these Great Lakes and their people from one generation to the next, thereby also assuring our quality of life and prosperity and communities.

And what we have identified is this: The Great Lakes are part of a larger water cycle that is inseparable from the air, soil, and surface or groundwater by or through which it flows. The Great Lakes have been declared and protected by a public trust since 1892 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared these inland sees public, held by states in trust for citizens in perpetuity, so they cannot be alienated, abused, or materially impaired from one generation to the next. All eight Great Lakes and Canadian provinces recognize this right of public use for boating, swimming, fishing, recreation, commerce, and survival. So if we understand, learn about, and apply this public trust as a fundamental umbrella principle, no matter what specific choices and decisions are made for this or that special benefit or at this risk or that cost, are made, the framework of water as public, a commons, and public trust principles will give us a way to make decisions that point toward a generational integrity and protection of that which is part of and dear to us all.

Just this afternoon at the office we were half-joking about the new 3-D printer technology, where something can be manufactured or made from a printer, like the coffee cup in my hand. And it occurred to us, some things that just can’t be duplicated – not the diporeia shrimp or the larger commons that we know as the Great Lakes, smack in the heart of North America.

In the years ahead, we hope to be a small part of a new framework, way of seeing and solving the threats and problems we face, one that is based on time-tested principles like those in the bod of law known as “public trust.” We welcome your participation and hope you join us in whatever way you can.

Finally, I want to end this first post with a number of acknowledgements, too many to list  here, but we thank everyone of you who has supported and worked to bring FLOW to this threshold. Thank ou to our fine Board of Directors, some of our chief fans and advisors, Maude Barlow, Wenonah Hauter, Irena Salina and Steve Star – director and producer of the film “FLOW,” Sam Bosso of the film “Blue Gold,” Ted Curran, Denis Pierce, Mike Delp, Dave Dempsey, Carl Ganter, Keith Schneider, Hans Voss, Brian Beauchamp, Amy Kinney, Judy Cunningham and all of you at the Michigan Land Use Institute, Terry Swier and everyone at the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the lawyers and staff at Olson, Bzdok & Howard, Bob Otwell, Herrington-Fitch Foundation, Park Foundation, Skip Pruss, Rich Vanderveen, Ross Biederman, Judy Bosma, Linda Sommerville (and so many other event volunteers), and my brother Eric Olson, our organizational and media leader who has wrestled this webpage into existence, Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, and Ursula Johnson, our past communications head, and now Allison Voglesong, a media and communications whiz who comes to us from Circle of Blue, and our web designer Pro Web Marketing, and Chelsea Bay Dennis and Aaron Dennis.