TRAVERSE CITY — Northern Michigan residents turned out in droves Wednesday night to talk about their beloved Lake Michigan with members of an international treaty organization assessing Great Lakes programs.

More than 250 people packed into a conference room at a Traverse City hotel to testify to the International Joint Commission about the value of the Great Lakes, North America’s greatest freshwater resource. Time and again area residents spoke about their love of the water and the importance of protecting it from threats.

“I urge you to stand diligent in protecting the Great Lakes,” said Brenda Rusch of Traverse City, who contended the Enbridge-owned Line 5 dual pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac are the single greatest threat to the Great Lakes and the entire continent.

Rusch wasn’t alone in her arguments against the underwater pipelines and the associated risk they might one day leak directly into the Great Lakes.

Petoskey City Councilwoman Lindsey Walker described the apprehension felt by those who can now observe a drilling rig in the Straits of Mackinac, from which Enbridge workers are conducting geotechnical tests surrounding Line 5 and a planned replacement tunnel. Those who live near the straits find it quite disconcerting, she said.

“We’re feeling like it’s time to shut down this ancient fossil fuel infrastructure,” Walker said to raucous applause.

But the threat of an oil spill in Great Lakes waters wasn’t the only concern among the sizable crowd.

Roger Smithe from the Great Lakes Coalition for Shoreline Preservation talked about erosion concerns along the beaches, dunes and bluffs, and called for adaptive management of water levels with locks and dams. “Turn off your faucet at Lake Superior,” he said.

Charlie Weaver of Kalkaska said he wants the Great Lakes Compact — an agreement among Great Lakes states about water management within the basin — to be strengthened. He said “rogue states like Wisconsin” should not be able to divert water from the lakes in violation of the compact.

“I think we need to preserve all the water we do have in the lakes,” Weaver said.

Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, said her concern is the commodification of water.

She pointed to a contract company Nestle has with Michigan to bottle groundwater and sell it outside the Great Lakes basin at a rate of 130 million gallons a year for a paltry $200 fee. Then there’s the use of injection wells to dispose of the oil and gas industry’s fracking wastewater which first started as freshwater, she said.

“We want that kind of injustice to be addressed,” Case said.

The IJC’s programs assessment for the Great Lakes is meant to gauge environmental efforts such as contamination removal, exotic species prevention, climate change adaptations and attempts to reduce or eliminate algal blooms, among other issues.

More than a dozen area environmental organizations worked together to host the IJC’s first visit to Traverse City since 1993, including a tour of a handful of the region’s latest environmental projects. The groups also partnered to present the IJC with four recommendations.

Those recommendations include funding priorities placed on projects to protect high quality waters, and also restoration or protection projects that make use of nonprofit groups to achieve results. The region’s environmental groups also want tribes in both Canada and the United States to be involved in decision making, and for climate disruptions in the Great Lakes to be recognized and addressed with resiliency measures such as green infrastructure.

The IJC was first created in 1909 by Canada and the United States to help prevent and resolve issues regarding boundary waters between the two nations.

More information about the IJC is available at online.

* This article has been updated to correct a misattribution.

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