Not surprisingly, in this time of
continued economic distress, Michigan lawmakers are looking to
preserve one of the state’s most important assets.
Surprisingly, this asset is not the auto industry, but the water
supply. Michigan borders and relies upon one-fifth of the
world’s freshwater, yet continues to lack the regulations
necessary to protect its most valuable natural resource. The state
Legislature is now considering two pieces of legislation designed
to help remedy the situation. The first is a proposed state
constitutional amendment that would ban new water withdrawals from
the lakes. The second is a set of initiatives known as the Water
Legacy Act. While the amendment is not likely to pass, the Water
Legacy Act is a long overdue measure necessary to standardize and
effectively regulate Great Lakes water.

In 1986, the governor signed an agreement on water withdrawal
with the other Great Lakes states and Canada; however, Michigan
remains the only state not to adopt its own statewide regulations.
The proposed constitutional amendment would officially prohibit new
water withdrawals from the lakes. Though the amendment passed the
house with only 10 votes against it, it’s primary purpose
seems to be as an election-year ploy, and it is not expected to
pass the Senate in the upcoming weeks.

The Water Legacy Act, however, is a series of initiatives
designed to do more than be just election-year political
statements. Proposing these initiatives have been Gov. Jennifer
Granholm, Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) and State Sen. Liz Brater
(D-Ann Arbor). While the proposed amendment focuses on ending all
new development, the Water Legacy Act is far more comprehensive,
regulating all existing and new uses of Great Lakes water. In
particular, the act would require those pumping more than 2 million
gallons per day or 100 million gallons per year from the Great
Lakes and its their tributaries to obtain a permit from the
Department of Environmental Quality. This would effectively cap
significant nonregulated use of Great Lakes water. This approach to
the issue is an important one because it allows Michigan to search
for state-specific solutions to water conservation, while it also
fulfills agreements made with the other Great Lakes states and
Canada, including them in the regulation of a shared resource.

Instead of acting immediately on the issue, the state has
allowed the act to sit in committee for seven months pending the
results of a state-funded survey concerning the state of
groundwater in Michigan. Meanwhile, droughts and poorly regulated
withdrawals have left lake levels at all-time lows. A recent poll
by the National Wildlife Federation found that about 80 percent of
likely voters in Michigan support the initiatives put forth by the
act. While the results of the study are indeed important, Lansing
should not sit idle while the state’s most important natural
resource continues to be exploited.

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