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HOLY WATER DESECRATED BY MICHIGAN'S DEQ

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The tragedy occurring on the Flint River cannot be diminished in anyway. The horrible impact on unsuspecting families is incomprehensible, and the flawed science behind the decisions that allowed this atrocity to happen is inexcusable. But in this new age of regulation-be-damned politics, the Flint catastrophe may serve as the crystal ball of what the future may look like if the stewardship of our nation’s fresh water supply succumbs to the pressure of unregulated forces intent on either making or saving a buck while public health and welfare pays the price.

It is not that this disregard of our water resources is new. Montana’s Clark Fork River once flowed orange in the days of the twentieth century Copper Barons as its headwaters flowed from the city of Butte. The rehabilitation of the river has cost hundreds of billions in tax dollars. The same can be said of the entire Great Lakes system in the 60s when Lake Erie was declared biologically dead at the same time ninety percent of the biomass in Lake Michigan was alewives. The ongoing cost of cleanup to the taxpayer has been staggering. This story has been repeated time and again throughout the country, and while there is no historical precedent that could ever support degradation of any waterway as beneficial, it would seem that history should have taught us all a great lesson by now.

But no! The same Michigan Department of Environment Quality (MDEQ) and State Administration responsible for the Flint River fiasco has recently approved a proposal that would allow a commercial fish farm utilizing the old Grayling State Fish Hatchery to dump 8.64 million gallons per day of raw untreated wastewater into the pristine headwaters of the upper Au Sable. Long considered a natural treasure to both Michigan and the rest of the country as well, the effluent containing a staggering 3,540 pounds of phosphorous and 274,234 pounds of solid waste per year would enter the river below the city of Grayling and just above the nine-mile acclaimed section referred to as the Holy Water. Known as a Mecca to trout fishermen near and far, this revered portion of the Au Sable sets the standard for water quality and blue ribbon fly fishing, but more importantly, it is considered to be the ultimate retreat for those seeking to replenish their souls in a setting of peaceful solitude.a1sx2_Bigger_graylinghatchery2.png

Under what some might regard as a misguided allegiance to the agricultural lobby, MDEQ admits that the water quality of the river will undoubtedly suffer by allowing the discharge, but the agency also states that this collateral damage is necessary to support “important social and economical development in the area.” The owner of the fish farm Dan Vogler is dismayed by the voices of opposition to the plan and expresses disdain for the mean-spirited individuals with “two-thousand dollar fly rods” who are intent on destroying the livelihoods of hard working farm families. His operation will employ four workers.

The bigger question might be whether it is ever justifiable to allow one person to benefit financially from the intentional degradation of a valuable resource at the expense of so many other individuals and long standing businesses that depend upon a clean river. Josh Greenberg of Gates Au Sable Lodge employs thirty people and is troubled that this discharge could impact his business. Also, there are canoe liveries, four fly shops, guides, restaurants, motels, and many other concerns that provide goods and services to sportsmen, recreationists, and even those who buy two-thousand dollar fly rods. Not only does this MDEQ decision potentially threaten the stability of these businesses, but there is no way to predict the deleterious long term effects this policy may have on the public health and welfare of everyone associated with the river.

As a sacred sanctuary for so many, there is a reason that the hallowed section of the Au Sable is referred to as Holy Water, and its potential desecration would be like allowing a herd of goats to roam the aisles of the Sistine Chapel. It is ironic that the state department in charge of environmental integrity would be the agent of such egregious environmental defilement, and its decision ought to outrage fly anglers, nature lovers, and all who believe that there are far too few of these special places of environmental quality still left on the planet.

In a recent statement by Governor Rick Snyder after the firing of two mid-level DEQ officials for their perceived roles in the Flint incident, he said, “Some DEQ actions lacked common sense and that resulted in this terrible tragedy in Flint. I look forward to the results of the investigation to ensure these mistakes don’t happen again.” The friends of the Au Sable can never let the Governor forget his words.

Five months before his death, Grand Rapids native, environmentalist, artist, and friend Dr. M.C. “Bud” Kanouse sent me a delightful story he wrote about his memorable experiences on the Holy Water. In response to a book I had just written, his final letter to me concluded: “Your writing takes me to the unconscious, constant presence of the trout, the fly and to the excellent environment of the trout. As Michigan author John Voelker (a.k.a Robert Traver) said, the attraction of the trout is for the most part, ’the environs where they are found.’ Unfortunately, the very part of the world we are trying so hard to destroy.”

In the name of all that is Holy, sportsmen and citizen’s alike need to stand up and tell those responsible for the callous disregard of facts leading to the health disaster on Flint River that the willful pollution of the Au Sable, or any other river for that matter, can no longer be tolerated.

Jerry Kustich

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Jerry Kustich has been a part of the "Boo Boy" team for the past twenty years learning the many intricacies of rod building. Always found on a stream testing anything from flies to waders to pentagonal bamboo designs, he has become an outspoken advocate for public access to Montana's rivers. Author, writer, devoted environmentalist, rod designer, and dedicated angler, he spends much time on the road as a fly fishing ambassador lecturing on and representing the ideals for which all serious fly anglers stand.

Comments

  • Guest
    Linda J. Selman Friday, 12 February 2016

    My family has been blessed with our visits to the Holy Water area for over forty years now. After twenty years of staying at Gates Lodge we found our cabin with modest river frontage. I spent a lot of time with the MDEQ when we built our walkway and dock on our property. The MDEQ was very strict and precise about the rules regarding our dock. It actually came down to half inch measurements! We, of course, complied and now we can sit on a little piece of heaven at the River's edge and be blessed with the exquisite presence of the pristine Au Sable River. I cannot believe that the same MDEQ who cared about a half inch of wood could do such a heinous act against this beloved River, and all who respect and depend on gifts it offers.

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Friday, 12 February 2016

    Very well stated Linda. This does seem so far our of the realm of what one would expect to be reasonable policy for any DEQ anywhere that it has to make us all wonder what is really going on behind the scenes. When the common good is so blatantly compromised definitely raises the red flag warning of a new era of environmental piracy that everyone everywhere needs to be made aware of so as to raise a voice of protest.

  • Guest
    Chuck Butkiewicz Friday, 12 February 2016

    So, what can be done right now to help avert this tragedy? It's been approved. Great article, but nothing said about what actions might be taken now.

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Saturday, 13 February 2016

    Chuck, I have been told by Josh at Gates Au Sable Lodge that this hearing is an attempt to thwart the decision, and if it goes bad, then there will be appeals. I believe they are trying to gather as many voices of opposition as possible. Contact Gates Lodge or email them with a statement of opposition. Thanks.

  • Guest
    Joe Saturday, 13 February 2016

    http://www.ausableanglers.org/ Here's how you can help/find those in the fight.

  • Guest
    Faith Dandois Saturday, 13 February 2016

    I have to ask what has changed in the operation of the fish hatchery lately? It has been there for as long as I can remember and I've lived here for 34 years. Is it putting out more waste than it ever has and, if so, how can that be the case? Define "waste water" in this circumstance. Is that the inflow from the East Branch as it passes through the hatchery? Is the "waste" just the fish poop? And where does this phosphorus come from? I think you need to better research and describe the basis for your assertions. I've been there, fed the fish, and dropped a buck or two to support it when it was run by the State of Michigan. Here's a little history. Please tell me again what has changed since then?
    http://grayling-mi.com/attractions/fish-hatchery

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Saturday, 13 February 2016

    The hatchery's fish production historically never produced more than 20,000 pounds of fish per year. This new operation is seeking a permit to raise 300,000 pounds of fish per year which would produce the waste quoted in the above article. The phosphorus is produced in the putrification process of the nutrient/bio-mass sludge comprised of fish food waste and fish excrement. Excessive phosphorus in any freshwater is not good for a healthy eco-system. Elevated phosphorus levels increase algae and other organic matter growth. When the plants die the resulting bacteria/organisms intended to bio-degrade the waste uses so much oxygen that it effectively snuffs out fish life. Just as bad, where similar fish farms have been allowed in this country and Europe diseases to the river fish are almost a certainty. In this country eliminating phosphates from our water systems have been a priority since the 70s. In that light, this proposal on the Au Sable is unconscionable.

  • Guest
    Faith Dandois Tuesday, 16 February 2016

    Thank you, Jerry. I appreciate the information.

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Wednesday, 17 February 2016

    Faith, Thank you for your questions and for your concern.

  • Guest
    Tim Saturday, 13 February 2016

    Michigan gets what it votes for. The one tough nerd in the Governor 's office is a heartless businessman and puts private profits over everything else including human life. If you what to change this sign his recall petition and get him out of office before he can do any more damage!

  • Guest
    Yevette bradley Saturday, 13 February 2016

    What can we do about this?? I am appalled!How can I help!!

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Monday, 15 February 2016

    Yevette Joe's comment above gives a web www.ausableanglers.org to elicit ways to help. They are the folks fighting the fight and looking for voices of support. Thank you.

  • Guest
    Juli Wilson Sunday, 14 February 2016

    Jerry, your article is a perfect vehicle to get this situation some national attention. Have you thought about sending it to the media? I suggest that contact be made with a national media source, such as PBS news, or one (or all) of the national television broadcast stations--the media loves to report on governmental wrongdoing, especially nearing an election year, and especially when it relates to previously reported bad behavior on the part of elected and appointed officials. In light of the recent national publicity surrounding the Flint crisis, and Snyder's and the MDEQ's subsequent lack of popularity, this might be an opportunity to latch on to that issue's coattails and get national support from environmentalists all over the country.

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Monday, 15 February 2016

    Thanks for your suggestion, Juli. You are right. This should be a topic of national outrage in light of the Flint catastrophe. There have been a number of articles written about the issue, and I am surprised the story hasn't been picked up yet. I will contact some folks about it.

  • Guest
    Tom Baird Monday, 15 February 2016

    Jerry, thank you for helping spread the word. It is imperative that the public - especially anglers, conservatin groups and environmentalists - gets involved. This is another push by agricultural interests in Michigan to sacrifice a treasured resource, the waters of the Au Sable, to make a few bucks growing fish for market. The Grayling fish farm's pollution discharge permit was supported by our Agriculture Department, and issued by the Department of Environmental Quality, which figured so prominently in the Flint water crisis. If untreated, at 300,000 pounds production the facility will disgorge 217,234 pounds of suspended solids (feces and uneaten food) and 3,540 pounds of phosphorous per year just upstream from the famed Holy Waters. It will increase algae, cause disease, and lower dissolved oxygen to dangerous levels. We are litigating, and trying to raise $400,000 to cover the costs. Here's what folks can do: go to our web site; join the Anglers; make a contribution; write Governor Snyder; and spread the word. We can win this with your help. Tom Baird, President, Anglers of the Au Sable

  • Guest
    TheCarpBible Wednesday, 13 July 2016

    Great blog Jerry :)

  • Guest
    Charles Shepard Thursday, 20 October 2016

    I have been fly fishing with bamboo for 60 year all over the eastern states for trout, catch and return back to the water. It is a shame that people like us allow this to happen to this beautiful holy waters that we should protect. To all fishermen this is a gift from God! for us to enjoy. So please let us protect, not destroy! I have seen a big drop in trout over the years. I love fly fishing and sure you do to. WE MUST PROTECT THESE WATERS FOR THE FUTURE! Thanks

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