Environment Picture

Protecting Michigan's Waters

Protecting our signature resource: The Great Lakes

Our majestic Great Lakes – intimately interconnected with our streams, ponds, rivers, wetlands and drinking water – are our identity. They are catalysts for industry, tourism, recreation and a Michigan quality of life anchored by our proximity to blue ribbon trout streams, idyllic swimming holes and coastline vistas that melt into shimmering horizons.

These waters define us as Michiganders. They also challenge us to be wise and careful stewards of a resource with tremendous global significance and value.

To meet that challenge the Michigan Environmental Council partnered with friends, allies and member groups to secure long-term water protections. We engaged in behind-the-scenes work on complex but vital initiatives to reduce sewage discharges, minimize fertilizer and pesticide runoff and clean up contaminated sites that threaten water supplies and public health.

The importance of that work was underscored by the year’s challenges: Record rains highlighted the inadequacy of stormwater and wastewater infrastructure; algae plumes in Lake Erie expanded as they fed off nutrients from agriculture, suburban and urban environments; and polluted underground sites continued seeping unchecked toward groundwater with little money to address the danger.

Protecting water from agricultural runoff
MEC helped strengthen a new state law – the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program – that can help protect water resources from agricultural chemical and fertilizer runoff. This program encourages farmers to audit their operations with an eye toward environmental stewardship. A representative from MEC was placed on the advisory council overseeing the program. The next critical step will be to align water quality monitoring programs to ensure the promised environmental benefits are achieved.

Requiring water assessments for fracking permits
State regulators in 2011 announced they will require oil and gas companies to use the state’s water withdrawal assessment tool when seeking permission to use groundwater for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of new wells. MEC worked with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council to push hard for the requirement, and helped develop the water withdrawal assessment tool which is used to measure probable impacts. The requirement will help ensure that nearby waterways and drinking water wells are not adversely impacted by drilling operations.

Pushing for green infrastructure in Detroit
MEC worked within a coalition pushing for a move toward green infrastructure projects to help reduce sewage overflows from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) system that services most of Southeast Michigan. Diverting stormwater through natural infrastructure like wetlands and rain gardens is both cost effective and environmentally friendly. As the agency’s Clean Water Act permit comes up for renewal this year, we hope our 2011 groundwork pays off.

Leveraging funds for water infrastructure
MEC advocated on behalf of a plan to free up dormant cash to fund a growing backlog of water infrastructure improvements in Michigan. Unspent money from the 2002 voter approved Quality of Life bonds could help local governments undertake projects that will reduce sewage runoff into streams and lakes. MEC hopes its outreach to the governor’s office and legislators pay off this year with legislation authorizing the expenditures.

Advocating for water resources advisory council
MEC partnered with allies in calling on the administration to reappoint the Michigan Water Resources Conservation Advisory Council. Earlier work by the council identified a significant list of activities which were critical to program success, including assessing the impacts of withdrawals on inland lakes and ponds, updating stream classification and resolving data base management issues, assessing the impact of gauging station closures and addressing long-term impacts of climate change. We worked with the administration to reconstitute this important committee.
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Great Lakes, Water Protection

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