Water Equity Clearinghouse

For Love of Water (FLOW)

Great Lakes region

For Love of Water (FLOW) is a water law and policy nonprofit committed to clean water for the Great Lakes and the 40 million citizens that drink, swim, fish, and play in these common waters. Founded in 2011 by water attorney Jim Olson, FLOW uses the public trust to hold state governments accountable for ensuring these public waters are protected for current and future generations.

FLOW’s focus is on the unjust privatization and commodification of a basic human right, bringing an end to the Flint water crisis, commercial net-pen aquaculture, harmful algal blooms, invasive species, cleaner and better energy sources, and the destruction of wetlands. FLOW also uses education programs to inform citizens about their rights and empower them to use those rights under a public trust doctrine.

Current work by FLOW includes campaigns to end the transportation of 23 million gallons of oil and petroleum products per day through rusty, improperly maintained, and hazardous pipelines that cut straight through the heart of the Great Lakes. FLOW’s team of lawyers and scientists are in have documented alternatives that do not use the Great Lakes as a shortcut for crude oil. FLOW opposes other unsustainable forms of energy extraction such as fracking that would unfairly impact Michigan townships and communities.

FLOW is also concerned about harmful net-pen aquaculture practices being introduced in the Great Lakes. These operations release high concentrations of fish waste, feed, and antibiotics directly into public waters. Diseases and escaped fish could threaten native fish populations as well. Current legislative proposals are calling to expand antiquated “flow-through” operations, but FLOW argues that privatizing these waters for the benefit of a few puts the whole Great Lakes system at risk. The organization is currently working with a coalition of various stakeholders to ban commercial cage aquaculture in the Great Lakes while promoting sustainable alternatives.

Other threats to the Great Lakes system and its users are diversions and exports. As water resources elsewhere become more and more scarce, other areas of the world may begin turning to the Great Lakes as an option. FLOW advances the public trust as a guiding legal principle to equitably manage the Great Lakes and keep water from being diverted for the sake of profit.

FLOW also aims to reform the way the next generation of leaders critically think about the role of the commons and public trust principles in natural resource management. At Northwestern Michigan College, FLOW is working in conjunction with the Freshwater Studies Institute to offer a freshwater policy curriculum that highlights water as the nexus in energy, food, and climate change discussions.