The Business of the Bay: Watery livelihoods work to protect their resource

For 21 days this summer, more than 4,000 kayakers will launch on the region’s waters for a floating pub crawl.

The six-hour Paddle for Pints tours, which feature stops at six breweries for beers and snacks, sell out quickly. A late-winter Facebook post about the sale dates ended with, “Who’s ready to party?!?!”

But for owner Troy Daily and others like him who make their money off the region’s water, stewardship of the bay and its river systems has become central to his business.

To help keep the waterways clean, Daily partners with Boardman River Clean Sweep to do monthly river cleanups from August to October. His companies – which include TC Brew Bus and Kayak, Bike & Brew – have paid for everything from garbage cans along the Boardman to an outhouse at Hull Park. To fight erosion on the Boardman’s banks, Paddle for Pints paid for a staircase up to Right Brain Brewery.

Clean water drives his business, but last year contamination at Clinch Park Beach temporarily forced Kayak, Bike & Brew to stop its tours on the Boardman River behind Paesanos instead of the beach. To date, tours have only been altered, not cancelled, because of water contamination.

Regional businesses that rely on water for revenues are doing their part to protect the resource. According to Christine Crissman, the executive director for the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, the involvement and commitment of local businesses is going to be crucial for the next stage of local water conservation.

Right now, the Watershed Center is right in the thick of its busiest season. As temperatures climb and tourists flock to Traverse City – especially the public beaches – matters of clean water become a top local concern. A lot of that responsibility falls to the Watershed Center, which does beach cleanups and monitors the water quality at local public beaches throughout the summer. The organization occasionally closes public beaches if they test positive for E. coli – something that can happen after heavy rains, when storm water washes contaminants into the bay.

Crissman says that the Watershed Center has been monitoring beaches for about 15 years now. In that time, the organization has been able to flag beaches with recurrent issues and get funding for relevant improvements. For instance, at both East Bay Park and Bryant Park, it was the Watershed Center’s efforts that led to new storm water drainage systems. Those systems filter the water before it gets washed out into the bay, reducing the risk of dangerous contamination.

Still, beach monitoring is only a piece of the puzzle to protect the bay and maintain it as an attraction. Another big part is education, which Crissman says is an “especially large” challenge. Teaching tourists best practices about beaches – in particular, the heightened contamination risks that come with swimming after a storm – isn’t always easy.

That’s one area where local businesses could lend a hand, she said.

“We’re trying to work on an initiative with the beach monitoring program to involve more of those folks,” Crissman said. “Possibly expand the beach testing. Possibly do more education and outreach to help tourists learn best practices about beaches.”

One important link would be the hotels that line the bay, she said.

“If they’re staying at a hotel, how do we connect more with the hotels to provide that information to people? How do we make sure that those hotels know which beaches are closed, so they can tell their patrons?” said Crissman. “Right now, we are actively working to make more of a connection between the tourism industry – the folks that benefit from those tourists – and the environmental aspect of it.”

According to Crissman, the region’s growth and the construction that goes along with it is one of the biggest problems facing water conservancy in northern Michigan.

“Right now, as our area grows and expands, the spots that are ‘easy to develop’ are gone,” Crissman said. “What you’re looking at now are places with steep slopes, or proximity to a water body, or soil types that are difficult … [a]nd those are the areas where most of our new developments tend to be happening these days.””

Crissman says she believes that business owners in the area understand the importance of the bay and are doing their part to protect it, citing in particular Hotel Indigo. Prior to construction, the Warehouse District hotel site had to undergo a complicated process of groundwater removal and the reduction of a sizable chemical plume.

“When you get those challenging sites, if you have the folks that are willing to work with it and clean it up, that has a big impact – not only on that particular site, but also on neighboring properties and the bay itself,” Crissman said.

Crissman said the flourishing beer and wine industry in northern Michigan could help lead the charge for water conservation in the coming years. Dozens of brewers from throughout the state – including regional businesses like Short’s Brewing Company and Right Brain Brewery – are part of Brewers for Clean Water, an initiative created by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to promote the federal Clean Water Act.

The Brewers for Clean Water motto is “You can’t make great beer without clean water.” In 2012, the Bellaire-based Short’s Brewing Company introduced a double IPA called Superfluid to mark the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

At the beginning of 2018, Short’s brought Superfluid back as its first seasonal beer of the year, as part of a resolution “to make our commitment to projects aiming to protect our water an even greater priority.”

According to Short’s founder Joe Short, that resolution has so far taken the form of activism. The company recently held a pub event to spread awareness about the Clean Water Campaign for Michigan, an initiative intended to put clean water issues and candidates at the forefront of the conversation leading up to the 2018 election.

Priorities of the campaign include addressing the Flint water crisis, emphasizing public water rights over those of private corporations and shutting down Enbridge Line 5, the oil pipeline that currently runs underneath the Straits or Mackinac.

“We’re trying to communicate the things that we believe in,” Short said. “We want to get people who are already voting and also historical non-voters out to the polls to get behind candidates who are putting action toward clean water and water preservation.”