Water: the Great Uniter

Last Thursday, July 6, was FLOW’s second annual An Evening for the Great Lakes hosted by amazing co-organizers Cammie Buehler and Jeremy Turner at the beautiful Cherry Basket Farms near Omena.

What a fantastic night! We want to extend a huge thank you to everyone who made the event such a major success. Special thanks to incredible musician Chris Thile for the amazing concert!

Thanks to all of the sponsors who made the night possible: Patagonia, Patagonia Chicago The Magnificent Mile, Patagonia Chicago Lincoln ParkEpicure Catering & Cherry Basket FarmStifelIdyll FarmsArbor Brewing Company, Baia EstateIron Fish DistilleryArt’s Tavern Glen ArborImage360 – Traverse CityOryana Community Co-opHawkins OutfittersGoSili / SilikidsVada Color, Shoe Nami Art.

FLOW’s executive director, Liz Kirkwood, opened the program with remarks that are excerpted here:

“As part of tonight’s program, I’d like to share a little about our work at FLOW.

We all know these are times of great division and strife. But common purpose is still possible.

Take the State of Michigan as an example – two peninsulas of varying history, geography, geology, natural heritage and character – but made one by a majestic bridge that joins them. One Michigan.

Take the water that we share as another example. When it comes to water, political and partisan differences dissipate like dirt and grime washed clean in a rainstorm.

Water is a uniter. We need it to live. We all want access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water. We all appreciate its beauty. We differ only in how to go about achieving this goal. 

Support for protecting water resources is strong and consistent across diverse constituencies, bridging partisan divides. Polling and focus group work show in Michigan and the Midwest that support for policies protecting water resources, water quality and water quantity are very strong among self-identifying liberals and conservatives.

That’s where FLOW comes in.  

As many of you know, our foundational principle is the public trust doctrine. It’s an ancient tenet of law, but more relevant than ever.

Its premise is that some things by their nature cannot be privately owned, and instead belong to the public.

One of those things is water.

That includes the water of the Great Lakes – 20% of the available fresh surface water on the planet.

It also applies to the land beneath those waters. Those, too, are part of the public trust.

Michigan has 38,000 square miles of land under the Great Lakes. We have more land under water than some states have above water. Our submerged Great Lakes lands are bigger than the State of Indiana.

And it’s all yours – and ours.

Think of it as our biggest state park. And imagine a pipeline pumping 23 million gallons of petroleum a day through your favorite state park – whether that’s Hartwick Pines, Porcupine Mountains – or the Straits of Mackinac. That’s one reason FLOW is involved in the battle to decommission Line 5.

FLOW was founded for this very reason – to embrace a stewardship principle to protect these sacred waters and submerged lands of the Great Lakes – and the uses the public makes of them — for now and future generations.

There’s certainly plenty to work on. We need to address looming and daunting challenges: invasive species (like Asian carp), legacy and emergent contamination (like AOCs and PFOAs), water diversions and exports, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, wetlands destruction, urban development, growth, and resilience. 

But thanks to generous support from people like you, I’m happy to report FLOW has racked up a number of accomplishments in the last year.

  • We helped stop further moves by politicians to put factory fish farms in the open waters of the Great Lakes. 
  • We launched our successful Get Off the Bottle awareness campaign, educating the public about the bad deal bottled, privatized water means to them – and about the plastics that increasingly plague our Great Lakes.   
  • We formed and strengthened new alliances with sovereign tribes and with citizens of communities with water crises, like Flint and Detroit. 
  • We helped develop the legal theories and factual bases enabling tribes to commence litigation to shut down Line 5 in the Straits (yes, you heard that correctly), and to challenge Nestle’s water withdrawal permit. 
  • Because of our science-driven law and policy work, we have become a go-to source for the media, legislators, agencies, partners, and citizens.  

I think you’ll see from these issues and accomplishments that we’re not just against things. Yes, we oppose the continued risk that Line 5 represents to the Great Lakes and Nestle’s water grab, but we’re also positive. We offer alternatives and we work constructively with diverse groups.

That’s the beauty of the public trust – it is founded on a vision of clean, abundant public water, shared by all.

That is what we work to protect.

That is what we all believe in.

Jean-Michel Cousteau said, “Clean water, the essence of life and a birthright for everyone, must become available to all people now.”

This is our vision, but it is a bigger vision. Water unites us and I am glad it has united us tonight, here in this beautiful place, here in the heart of the Great Lakes.”

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