Protecting Michigan's Waters
Fresh water is, and always will be, one of the pillars of the Michigan Environmental Council’s efforts to preserve and enhance the health, enjoyment and quality of life for Michiganders.
Our work in 2013 helped re-establish a key state water protection council (and gain a seat on it); assisted in keeping oversight of wetlands in state, not federal, hands; earned partial victories in our drive to strengthen fracking laws; and helped secure funding for green infrastructure that will reduce toxic sewage discharges into local streams.
Water Use Advisory Council reconvenes
Relentless years-long pressure to reconstitute a key statewide water advisory council paid off for MEC in 2013 when Governor Rick Snyder agreed with us and reconvened the Water Use Advisory Council—disbanded since 2009.
The Council was instrumental in establishing Michigan’s pioneering water withdrawal assessment tool—which helps track water use and monitor the impacts on rivers, streams and aquifers. The newly reconstituted Council, including representation from MEC Policy Director James Clift, immediately went back to work on improving the assessment tool so that it remains a viable and cutting-edge way to protect freshwater resources in Michigan.
Some of the issues addressed by the reconstituted Council include:
- Establishing procedures and protocols for site-specific reviews of proposed water withdrawals. The reviews are necessary only when the Assessment Tool indicates there may be adverse impacts from water withdrawals.
- Assessing whether lakes, ponds and other non-flowing water bodies should be subject to analysis using the assessment tool. Currently only impacts to streams and flowing waters are included in the tool analysis.
- Analyzing research to see if there is a more effective model for predicting the impact of withdrawals on nearby waters, and if such a model should replace the current one.
- Facilitating discussions about potential voluntary watershed planning among large volume water users. Cooperatively scheduling withdrawals that don’t overlap or putting excess water back into an aquifer are among the ideas under review.
MEC fought throughout 2013 to keep state oversight of Michigan’s wetlands program. Michigan is one of two states that administers its own wetlands program, but some politicians advocate ceding that control back to the federal government or weakening state wetlands laws so drastically that the feds will forcibly remove state control.
Local control is especially important in the Great Lakes State—where wetlands help mitigate flooding, provide recreation and wildlife habitat and filter pollutants before they seep into the Great Lakes and connected waterways.
Legislation passed in 2013, ostensibly to comply with federal wetlands rules, actually weakened the state program so much that federal takeover is a possibility. MEC worked with limited success to fix that substandard law, and continues to work with state and federal agencies to protect Michigan’s wetland habitats.
Standing strong for fresh water
MEC threw its weight behind good water policy options on a number of other fronts during the year, including:
- Pressing state regulators to strengthen rules for gas drilling using advanced hydraulic underground fracturing techniques (fracking). A new era of deeper, more intensive gas drilling permanently poisons more than 100 times the fresh water than previous wells did. The new wells also increase risks to local waterways, nearby residents and first responders. State officials have agreed to modernize some rules to keep up with the fracking rush, but MEC is still working for the closure of regulatory loopholes, better monitoring of nearby water sources, more thorough disclosure of toxic chemicals, and more timely notification of communities where wells will be drilled.
- Making the Detroit water treatment plant cleaner and greener. MEC worked with a coalition of environmental groups to provide input and public testimony encouraging efficiencies and green infrastructure for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s federal permit renewal in 2013. The permit eventually incorporated many of the coalition’s suggestions, including a commitment for $50 million in green infrastructure projects that will reduce the burden on overloaded sewer pipes and treatment facilities.
- Monitoring implementation of the Great Lakes Compact. We were in close contact with allies in other Great Lakes states as we assessed implementation of the Compact—the basin-wide water agreement approved in 2008. Particularly, MEC is following the precedent-setting decision pending on whether the city of Waukesha, WI—which is outside the Great Lakes basin—should be able to withdraw Lake Michigan water.
- Proposing and advocating for closing loopholes that exempt agricultural water from registering irrigation wells in compliance with state law.
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