The above photo of reeds on Crooked Lake is one of many amazing pictures of Michigan’s liquid treasures in the new book The Waters of Michigan by David Lubbers and Dave Dempsey (Michigan State University Press, 2008). The coffee-table book features photos and provocative text about Michigan’s rivers, lakes and groundwater, and Absolute Michigan is very pleased to be able to bring you an excerpt and several photos from the book (click the photos to view larger!).
Water and Michigan’s Destiny by Dave Dempsey, photos by David Lubbers
Water was the avenue that brought many Native Americans and European settlers to the state.
Water in wetlands shaped our state’s early history by giving Michigan the false image of a swamp unfit for settlement, delaying the first great wave of pioneers.
Water made possible the state’s first two great industries. It enabled lumberers to float logs downstream to mills, and thence through the Great Lakes to markets. It enabled commercial fishers to harvest mammoth stocks of whitefish and other species.
Water – not just the water we see on the surface of the earth but the plentiful water deep beneath the land – made possible the growth of Michigan by supplying drinking water supplies and process water for industry and agriculture.
Water made Michigan the capital of an exciting new sport fishing industry when scientists introduced the Coho and Chinook salmon in the 1960s and renewed interest in the fate of the Lakes for economic as well as public health and ethical reasons
Water brought Michigan national attention when toxic chemicals in the water built up in Great Lakes fish and led to the discovery of the phenomenon of bioaccumulation. It also made Michigan a national leader in addressing pollution threats. Because of water pollution, Michigan was the first state to ban DDT, one of the first to ban other toxic chemicals, and one of the first to approve public funds to treat home and industrial sewage better.
Water’s lands made Michigan a conservation leader. When the beauty and economic value of wetlands became known to Michigan citizens, they pressured their lawmakers to pass the nation’s strongest wetland conservation law in 1979.
Water was the route that the zebra mussel traveled to Michigan, hitchhiking in the ballast water of a freighter and landing in Lake Saint Clair in 1986. Water thus brought national awareness of the threat of invasive aquatic species.
Water shapes the image of Michigan not only on a map, but also on a satellite image. Michigan is recognizable from space because of water.
Water is Michigan’s timeless wealth. The Great Lakes surrounding Michigan harbor 18 percent of the world’s available surface fresh water. Lake Superior alone contains 10 percent of the world’s available surface fresh water. There is enough water in those lakes to cover the 48 contiguous United States to a depth of 9.5 feet.
Water is not a renewable resource. While water, if given a chance, will purify itself, the amount of water in the world is essentially finite. No truly new water is being created. The water the world has is what it will have.
Water is not indestructible, even in large lakes. Experts once thought the Great Lakes – and for that matter, many of our rivers – were large enough to dilute pollution until it was harmless. But the sheer number of people and industries and the diversity of their wastes mean that water is vulnerable.
Water belongs to all the people of Michigan. Although all of us are entitled to make a reasonable use of it, none of us can own it. Instead, under a doctrine of common law reaching back to Roman times, government, acting on behalf of the collective citizenry, must guard and defend that water as a solemn trust.
Water is on the verge of becoming a product privately owned and sold. A powerful new industry seeks to capture Michigan’s public water for bottling, sale and private profit. Individual entrepreneurs are staking claims to the water that flows under their land, like prospectors staking out claims during the California gold rush.
Water is, in a sense, gold. To get water from where it is to where users want it, the federal government, especially in the western states, has spent tens of billion of dollars in the last century. Developers tout lakefront views to justify real estate prices. Wetlands and ponds also increase property values. Without access to potable water, property owners can’t develop their lands.
Water is a treasure Michigan shares with seven other states, and with Canadian friends who share with us one of the longest peaceful international borders in the world. While we must lead in protecting water, we must also consult, and call on our friends to join us in protecting it.
Water is power. It is not the power harnessed by dams; in Michigan, only a small fraction of electricity comes from water power.
Water is the power of poetry. Its reflection of moonlight and sunlight has the power to squeeze the hardest heart. Its movement in a river and the movement of fish in that river moved Hemingway to tell a tale of the Two-Hearted.
Water is the power of politics. If water remains in public ownership, the public retains its power. If water becomes a private commodity, the public loses some of its power.
Water is the power of people. Not just the descendants of the Europeans, but of all the people who live here, including the descendants of the native peoples. Their rights in water must be acknowledged; their spirituality in connection with water should be appreciated; their guardianship of water should be respected, and emulated.
Water is the power of eternal forces. In its presence we touch the eternal. In its misuse we betray the eternal.
Water defines Michigan. It is time for Michigan, and its people, to define their stewardship of water.