State Rep. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) led a town hall meeting at Palmer Commons yesterday to garner support for legislation that would regulate water usage in the state of Michigan.
Thirteen people, including some students and employees of Warren, attended the discussion.
Warren said Great Lakes freshwater supplies are at risk because there aren’t adequate restrictions on who can dump into and take from the lakes.
Warren, who also heads the House Committee on Great Lakes and Environment, said the bill’s supporters are trying to find a bipartisan, bicameral solution to the problem with Michigan water.
Implementation of a bill package, “Great Lakes, Great Michigan,” would keep large-scale water users like the University in check.
The bill also seeks to ratify legislation that prohibits most sales of Great Lakes basin water to other states and nations.
Under the new legislation, for example, a bottling company would need to obtain a permit before extracting hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from certain areas. Permits would then be reviewed in a “public comment period,” during which residents of the area could voice any objections before sending the permit request to the Department of Environmental Equality for approval.
LSA freshman Seth Soderborg, Warren’s employee, said because the University would have to more closely monitor its water usage, students living in residence halls might have higher room and board costs if the bill passes.
“If you live in the dorms, this is obviously going to affect your housing costs and your living costs,” he said.
The bill package has already been passed in Illinois and Minnesota, and Warren said it’s “days away” from being passed in Indiana.
Though she strongly supports the bill herself, Warren acknowledged that some aren’t as optimistic.
“There is some opposition to the movement of these bills – those that would like to get their hands on Michigan’s water and claim private ownership on what is a public resource,” she said.
Opponents of the bill argue that it could hurt economic development and levy administrative fees on an already depressed state economy.
But Warren said these costs would be offset by the conservation of tourism, Michigan’s second-strongest industry.
Since fresh water is a relatively scarce resource, Warren said, it’s especially important that states monitor how they use it.
“Water is invaluable – there’s no way you can put a price on it,” said Christy McGillivray, a panel member and representative of the nonprofit group Clean Water Action. “But multi-national corporations will try to do that. You can’t underestimate that incentive.”
– Charles Clinton contributed to this report.