Environment Picture

Coalition, MEC continue to pound halls of State Capitol in push for water protection

Analysis shows weak legislation could harm key Michigan rivers
The Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition continued to push for strong water withdrawal legislation and approval of the Great Lakes Compact throughout the fall and winter. Negotiations with key legislators and stakeholders were continuing at press time.

The coalition issued a damming analysis in the fall, documenting how substandard legislation introduced in the State Senate could significantly harm some of Michigan’s most treasured streams.

The analysis drew interest from media, anglers groups and even municipal governments concerned that their waterways could be negatively impacted.

“The Senate bills would rely heavily on a newly developed water withdrawal assessment tool, discounting input from local communities and other sources, including experts in the field,” said James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council. Clift was part of an advisory council that worked for 18 months to develop the assessment tool.

Meanwhile, a contrasting package of Great Lakes protection bills in the State House provides multiple safeguards for Michigan’s waters that reach beyond the assessment tool to apply reasonable use determinations and review of resource harm. Both packages include approval of the Great Lakes Compact, an eight-state agreement banning major diversions from the lakes.

The Au Sable River, one of America’s best trout streams, could see allowable reductions in stream flow of 22% in some stretches under the assessment tool.

“That’s outrageous,” said Rusty Gates, owner of Gates Au Sable Lodge near Grayling and president of Anglers of the Au Sable. “There’s no way you can take that much water out of a stream and not destroy it. I’m sure there are plenty of people and corporations who’d like to get their hands on the Au Sable’s spring-fed water, but the State Legislature shouldn’t be helping them do it.”

Stretches of other streams could see flow reductions in excess of 40%.

“The Senate version of this legislation appears to recognize the value of thriving fish species in our coldwater streams, but relies heavily on the predictions of a newly created and imperfect modeling tool which, for example, would allow approximately a quarter to a third of the summer low flow of a trout stream to be withdrawn,” said Dr. Bryan Burroughs, executive director of the Michigan Council of Trout Unlimited. “Certainly this falls short of the intended spirit of the legislation, which is supposed to assure that future water withdrawals do not have an adverse impact on our natural resources. We expect that these shortfalls will be addressed if the bills are to receive widespread support.”

The Senate legislation, relying on the assessment tool, would allow stream flow reductions of the following percentage in certain stretches of these rivers and streams:
  • 42%, Betsie River
  • 22%, Pere Marquette River
  • 25%, Sturgeon River
  • 22% and 16%, Au Sable River
  • 22%, Manistee River
  • 25%, Boardman River
  • 16%, Pigeon River
  • 25%, Jordan River
“The numbers prove that the assessment tool should be used exactly for what it was intended – as a tool, not the sole means of determining whether water users can responsibly pump huge quantities of water from the ground,” said Clift. “Balanced legislation, like that proposed under the House plan, puts multiple safeguards in place for Michigan’s water.”

For more information on proposed protections for Michigan’s water resources, visit www.greatlakesgreatmichigan.org.
RELATED TOPICS: water protection
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