If you have never been to or do not plan on visiting Northern Michigan during the summertime, then you have never lived, nor do you truly ever plan to. I have experienced the timeless, suave waters of Michigan that are extraordinary in their own respect and are only a part of Michigan’s breathtaking nature that keeps its inhabitants here year-round. I recall the crystal blue water that you can see shimmering within the vast expanse of Lake Huron, while standing only steps away from the shore on the rocks surrounding Mackinac Island. You can feel the chill of Lake Michigan just viewing it from the sand dunes, remembering the Legend of the Sleeping Bear as you see the silhouettes of the North and South Manitou Islands contrasting the setting sun. You can feel the essence of a land defined by water. It’s never going to be the place for everyone, but it will forever be the roots of those lucky enough to call it home.

We stay here because we’ve been raised to appreciate the natural beauty Michigan gives throughout each season. This beauty has been prioritized and maintained by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality — agencies of the state of Michigan that manage the use of natural resources within state parks, for recreation and in industry. Specifically, the protection of Michigan’s water resources has been the subject of the Michigan Water Strategy, a 30-year plan created by the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes in collaboration with other departments to sustain Michigan’s globally unique water heritage. The plan addresses several demands from the government and the people, some of which include restoring and protecting aquatic ecosystems, investing in water infrastructure and building governance tools to address future problems that surface with Michigan’s water resources. While this strategy specifically aims to address the forefront environmental and economic concerns we have for the Great Lakes, it also pertains to the quality of Michigan’s remaining water bodies by nature.

Though the Office of the Great Lakes is responsible for carrying out the objectives of the water strategy, the actions of this group within the Department of Natural Resources is influenced by the department’s director, which is appointed by Michigan’s governor. With a 53.3 percent majority, Democratic candidate Gretchen Whitmer was elected Michigan’s newest governor on Tuesday. As a person who is wholeheartedly invested in using practical methods to improve the environment and ensure its quality remains at the forefront of our lifestyles, I am elated to know that she has assumed this government position that directly influences the workings of the department with the capacity to progress our environment. While there are always logistics of a politician’s stance that are questioned by opponents or skeptics, her general mindset for the environment should be argued as our best ticket to a brighter future for the Great Lakes and other encompassing natural settings.

In particular, Whitmer has expressed her dissent toward the continuation of Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Great Lakes due to the potential risks that it poses to water quality. Several recent cases have demonstrated the pipeline’s questionable durability and its susceptibility to the mechanisms of other methods of water transportation. For instance, a vessel that contributed to the mineral oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac due to an anchor strike in April 2018 is believed to be the same vessel that created three small dents in Enbridge’s pipeline, forcing it to shut down until it could withstand sufficient pressure after repair. While no catastrophe occurred in this scenario, Whitmer sees that it is only a matter of time before the risk of an oil leak or spill in the Great Lakes becomes reality and that the people who are served by the pipeline are not exactly the ones who will suffer the consequences. She has also expressed dedication toward finding solutions to Michigan’s other water crises, admitting the reprehensible failures of the government that led to the crisis in Flint and failures of managing contamination sites that led to the outbreak of polyfluoroalkyl substances.

In addition to her intention to address the broad goals outlined by the water strategy, Whitmer also plans to focus on innovative freshwater transportation and infrastructure, statewide education on water economies and natural resource conservation with the EPA’s Department of Great Lakes and Freshwater and the U.S. Climate Alliance. She believes in the sheer power of collaboration when it comes to accomplishing the necessary steps toward protecting our waters and our ecosystems: “We can’t unilaterally control the federal government, but what we can do is get every congressional member and every governor of all the Great Lake states and all the states that rely on the Great Lakes and create a caucus that will have some might. Because every time Donald Trump introduces a budget that cuts oversight funding for our Great Lakes, we need to be active, rolling up our sleeves.” With Governor-elect Whitmer showing determination and focus on the quality of our water, I trust that her intentions for the Great Lakes will translate to the various other environmental components that make up our gift of a home, and we will stay because she will uphold these values that define us.

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu.

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