More than 40% of Michigan is water. Not one of us is more than a short drive from an inland lake or stream, or an easy trip to one of the Great Lakes.
Naturally, we Michiganders love every drop of our water. We vacation near it and take our evening strolls along it. We huddle over it during rec soccer and office banter. And we’ll rise like a Lake Michigan wave to keep our water safe, clean, and accessible.
This is especially true for those of us working in environmental and conservation organizations, or (as our magazine title suggests) ECOs. It’s why many of our nonprofits were founded. In the pages ahead, you’ll see member groups taking on polluting industrial farms, eliminating lead poisoning in school drinking water, and creating communities where green infrastructure mitigates flooding.
So many others are doing great work, too. They're unclogging rivers of their dams, cleaning up our coastlines, and seeing through stringent PFAS pollution standards.
This collective mission to protect water has perhaps never been more vital. Climate change is here, and the extreme weather and temperatures it will bring threaten this precious resource, the habitats that depend on it, and every single Michigander that drinks from it. Our beloved Clean Water Act could soon be undermined by a politicking Supreme Court. But have hope: State and federal investments in water are at historic highs, as is the political will of many elected officials.
The Michigan Environmental Council was created by nonprofits to catalyze and capitalize on moments like this, to be the space that brings like-minded organizations together to use our collective power to make big, bold changes.
This magazine serves as a symbol of our renewed commitment to our members. It’s our way of celebrating the selfless work of those 86 (and counting!) member organizations as we re-envision the structure of our organization to maximize collective action.
The Ecology Center turns a local scare into statewide change
The Ecology Center knows lead poisoning well. For 50 years, the Environmental Council member group has connected the dots between our health and our environment by eliminating dangerous substances that infiltrate our daily lives.
But the work became worryingly personal for Rebecca Meuninck, its deputy director, when lead was found in the drinking water of Ann Arbor School District. Her son went there.
Since then, Meuninck and the Ecology Center have become key leaders in the effort to eliminate the threat of lead in school drinking water in Ann Arbor and across the state.
Under the eyes of polluters, a farmer takes her stand
We took the backroads of dirt and gravel around what seemed like the entirety of southern Michigan, stopping periodically on the roadside but being careful not to linger too long—Pam Taylor’s black Ford Escape might be recognized by prying eyes.
Taylor’s efficient. As soon as the engine cuts, she’s out of the car, geared up in gloves and wielding a long, homemade grabber pole with a plastic water bottle duct-taped to the end. “You don’t need fancy stuff,” she said.
Taylor then begins taking a sample of a local stream and, later, she’ll measure the concentration of dangerous pollutants in the water.
She does it all under the looming presence of the polluters themselves: combined animal feeding operations, also known as industrial farms. Taylor and the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan are there to cut their acts.
In a sea of flooding, ever-growing oases rise
First came the floods. Sewer water gushed up from drains and onto the streets of Dearborn Heights. The river rose into nearby neighborhoods. Yards became knee-high pools and porches their steps into them.
Then came the stories. Basements flooded and molded. Thousands of dollars and cherished possessions were lost—furniture, heating systems, the keepsakes of lost relatives.
And all the while, often unseen, came the pollution from overburdened sewer systems and dirty floodwaters.
Then, weeks later, as these places were drying out, it all began again.
But not everywhere. In the midst of 2021’s historic flooding were hundreds of rain barrels that directed heavy stormwater away from yards and basements. There were scores of gardens that absorbed rain to keep office cubicles and classrooms dry. These were, more likely than not, the doing of Friends of the Rouge.
The future of membership
When I joined the Environmental Council team in 2020, engagement as an organizational function was relatively new. Our goal was to foster greater connection with members; to find out what you all were up to and how we could help. We had originally planned to hit the road and meet everyone in person, but obviously the COVID-19 pandemic rendered this impossible.
The last two years still feel like collapsed time to me, but I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do together and how we made the best out of an unprecedented situation. As a movement, we made our voices heard in the redistricting process. We pushed for real solutions in the MI Healthy Climate Plan. We moved at the speed of trust, and that is the value I want to lead with as we think about the future of engagement.
We strive to build an open, ongoing dialogue; to strengthen our relationships with our members; and to provide space for you to connect with each other. We aim to build out this work strategically, connecting around issues, regions, and watersheds. We also want to celebrate each other’s success.
Whether you're a longtime ally of the Environmental Council or looking to learn more, I would love to get to know your organization more. Meet our membership, check out our work, and, if you like what you see, consider applying.
Not sure? Want to talk? Just reach out here!
Is your organization already a member of the Environmental Council? We'd love to catch up with you—make the first step here. Ready to renew your yearly membership? You can pay dues here.