Legislation would turn water use decisions in Michigan over to Nestlé and other large water users

Legislation that essentially gives a free pass for large water withdrawals and eliminates public input on large water withdrawals is on a fast track in the Michigan House of Representatives, receiving a hearing within a week of being introduced.

House Bill 5638 allows the state’s biggest water users to withdraw large volumes of water with minimal oversight by greenlighting large new water withdrawals by default.

“This bill takes decision-making away from the state and places it in the hands of the company that would profit off taking Michigan’s water,” said MEC Policy Director James Clift. “If this bill becomes law, Nestlé or any other large water user has the authority to hire a consultant who makes a final decision on whether a proposed water withdrawal will harm a trout stream or other water resource in the state.”

The bill throws out the carefully crafted, award-winning program designed by scientists at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, United States Geological Survey, and the State of Michigan. That program received multiple national awards for its application of science to regulatory decision-making. Scientists working with dozens of interest groups across the state reached a consensus that was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by the legislature in 2008. None of those scientists have endorsed the approach taken in HB 5638.

The bill allows for a decision to be made that would potentially violate a neighboring property owner’s right to water with no recourse other than filing a lawsuit.

“The property owner would have no right to examine the consultant report which is the basis for the decision, no right to public comment, and no right to a public hearing,” said Clift. “The only avenue for redress would be for a person to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit against the neighboring property owner. The bill undermines communities across the state and the current system that encourages efforts to reach a compromise when available water resources must be shared.”

“This bill takes decision-making away from the state and places it in the hands of the company that would profit off taking Michigan’s water.” - MEC Policy Director James Clift.

“This legislation is made worse through a provision which shields from any public review analysis done on behalf of the agriculture industry,” said MEC Agriculture Policy Director Tom Zimnicki. “Despite being responsible for 90% of new large water wells in Michigan, this bill essentially gives the agricultural sector a free pass for large water withdrawals and shields producers from public transparency and reporting.”

“Industries that profit from their use of Michigan’s waters should not be the ones to decide whether the amount they use is appropriate,” added Clift.

Image Courtesy Steven Deplo

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