I was up north with my three young children when the Canadian wildfires sent us all inside under the threat of harmful air quality. Michiganders everywhere looked at our summer through the haze of particulate matter. Less than two months later, I witnessed the impacts of a series of storms that swept through southeast Michigan in rapid succession leaving towns and residents to pick up the pieces of flooding, infrastructure failures, power outages and all the economic hardship that results. Climate change is a threat amplifier. While wildfires and storms have always been with us, their strength, frequency and severity grow with every metric ton of carbon we release into the atmosphere.

Photo of HRWC team Daniel Brown, Rebecca Esselman, Kris Olsson and David Lossing with Governor Gretchen Whitmer
HRWC staff celebrate the signing of the Clean Energy and Jobs Act with Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Detroit on November 28, 2023. The new law is a win for tackling climate change in Michigan. Pictured are Daniel Brown, Rebecca Esselman, Kris Olsson and David Lossing.

In my role as executive director of an organization that protects Michigan’s waterways, I am acutely aware of the impacts of increasingly severe weather. When 5-7 inches of rain fell on communities in SE Michigan in August and seven tornadoes tore through the region, I checked in on our Huron river communities as news of impacts rolled in. Wixom had a sinkhole occur which closed a major road for nearly a week. Belleville had residents with basement flooding and property damage. Access to Detroit Metropolitan Airport was lost due to surface flooding of roads. There were two sanitary sewer overflows in Ypsilanti discharging almost 1,000,000 gallons of sewage to the Huron river and nearby land causing e. coli counts in Ford and Belleville Lakes that exceeded the state standards for swimming and paddling.

Downriver was the hardest hit. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell was in her district in the days the followed the storms. “We are going to have to do more to prepare. No community is prepared to handle seven inches of water in four hours, which two of mine did on Wednesday night- Belleville and Rockwood.”

South Rockwood had hundreds of residents with three or more feet of water in their basements or first floors. They saw little support from the state or the federal government to respond and recover. Families are learning homeowners insurance won’t cover their losses. Huron River Watershed Council Board Chair, and South Rockwood resident Matt LaFluer shared that “the two weather events will have a lasting impact on the budget of both the residents and the village. The DPW and Police have been very busy with emergency response and cleanup. How does a small community budget for this type of event?” We do not have a good answer to this question.

This fall, HRWC joined the voices advocating for strong climate action by the State. Earlier this month, the Clean Energy & Jobs Act passed the Michigan Senate and House. Today these bills were signed into law by Governor Whitmer! HRWC was there to celebrate. These commitments are making national news. It is a big deal and while there is still work to do, we should all celebrate.

We do this  work for South Rockwood, for Belleville, for Ypsilanti, for Hamburg and Wixom and everywhere in between. No community is immune to the impacts of climate change, including the ecological community that is the Huron River. So we fight too, for the species with no voice. Species that had nothing to do with the creation of the crisis and have everything to lose.

Michigan cannot solve the climate crisis alone, but it absolutely needs to be a part of the solution. I have let my legislators know I support bold climate action by the State and am grateful to the Michigan Legislature for passing bills that set Michigan on the path to a clean energy future and one as resilient to current climate impacts as possible. Thank you to all of you who contacted your legislators too, urging them to prioritize and pass these bills.

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We have more work to do. But I am grateful for this good news moment. We cannot forget to count our wins when tackling one of the most daunting challenges of our time.

The Clean Energy and Jobs Act is a big win for climate action in Michigan, but our work isn’t done. Make a Giving Tuesday donation to HRWC and DOUBLE your support for clean water! Your donation helps us continue our work protecting, restoring, and advocating for our home river.