Jan 23, 2004

Michigan Governor Initiates Water Offensive

Permit Process for Large-Scale Water Withdrawals Proposed

Governor Jennifer Granholm is seeking approval from the Michigan State Legislature on an ambitious, broad-ranging water protection offensive.

The cornerstone of the offensive, which was launched Tuesday, is a permitting process designed to regulate large-scale water withdrawals from the state's lakes, streams ang groundwater stores.

According to the Detroit Free Press, it also proposes protections for some small wetlands, beefed-up standards for septic systems, a prohibition on disposing of contaminated dredge spoils in lakes, and new fees on municipalities and businesses that discharge pollutants to waterways. Granholm also vowed to lobby for more federal funds, and possibly to join a lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate ship ballast water -- a major source of Great Lakes invasive species.

The Michigan Water Legacy Act, as Granholm dubbed the plan's centerpiece, would require permits for water withdrawal that exceeds 2 million gallons per day -- or 100 million gallons per year -- from the state's lakes, streams or groundwater.

This legislation was written in response to controversy surrounding the Nestle Waters/Ice Mountain water bottling plant, which activists say is depeleting the state's watere supply too quickly. However, under the Legacy Act, existing water users would be grandfathered and not subject to the permits unless they seek an expansion of pumping capacity, Granholm aides said.

Still, the governor's actions have met with approval on many fronts.

"We've been critical of the governor's role in [some] areas, but today we're incredibly excited," said Noah Hall, water resources program manager with the regional office of the National Wildlife Federation.

Former DEQ Director Russ Harding, on the other hand, said the plan is regulatory overkill.

"We have abundant groundwater. This could have a chilling effect on industry," Harding said.