Environment Picture

Compact OK’d, but important water safeguards overlooked by State Senate

Water defenders look to House to adopt stronger stewardship measures
Michigan’s House and Senate approved the eight-state Great Lakes Compact in mid-May, but protection for the state’s majestic waterways was still uncertain at press time as key additional protections remained in limbo.
The Senate passed a watered-down version of state rules for water protections that MEC and the Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition oppose. Action was shifting to the House, where the coalition was lobbying to pass stronger versions of water rules. Below is a press release issued May 15 in the wake of the Senate action.

Michigan’s streams and lakes would be left open to massive unregulated water pumping and unacceptable fish mortality under legislation approved by the State Senate today.
“Senators today approved a plan that takes some steps toward sensible water protections, but fails to reach the finish line,” said Lana Pollack of the Michigan Environmental Council. “It is a plan favored by those who want to take massive water quantities in secret, with no transparency and virtually no accountability.”
Members of the Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition—representing more than 60 organizations and businesses dedicated to water protection in Michigan—called on leaders in the House of Representatives to work to fix the flaws in today’s Senate bill.
“The Senate bills, as an example, allow up to 25 percent of stream flow in some parts of some rivers to be taken by water pumpers with no permit or oversight,” said Cyndi Roper of Clean Water Action. “They also allow excessive mortality of trout in coldwater streams and shut out meaningful public input on big withdrawal proposals. And water users would need to pump two million gallons per day to even require a permit—a threshold that would apply to no one except power plants and large municipal water systems.”
In contrast with the Michigan Senate’s two million gallon permit threshold, Minnesota has a permit threshold of 10,000 gallons.
“Why is Michigan—located smack in the middle of the Great Lakes—failing to care for its water resources better than states with much less to gain?” asked Rusty Gates, president of Anglers of the AuSable.
Additionally, the Senate plan leaves an open-ended start date for new water protections. That’s an invitation for a new “water rush” of users who might start pumping large quantities so that their operations are “grandfathered” in when protections are eventually enacted.
The Great Lakes contain almost 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. As the only state entirely within the Great Lakes basin, Michigan has a unique stewardship role in protecting the lakes and streams and groundwater that connects them.
“Within the past several years alone, two Presidential candidates and a host of others have suggested that siphoning away Great Lakes water is a good idea,” said Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., of the Michigan Environmental Council. “The Senate today had a chance to say ‘hell no!’ Instead, they shrugged and said ‘well, OK.’”
RELATED TOPICS: Great Lakes, water protection
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