Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Michigan Compromise Reached On Compact & Water Management Bills

Jun 23: Senator Patty Birkholz (R-Saugatuck Twp) and Representative Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) announced that they had reached consensus on Michigan’s landmark water protection legislative package to adopt the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and implement a new standard for evaluating large quantity water withdrawals. Birkholz, chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee said, “This is a great day for the Great Lakes and everyone who lives near them. We started our journey toward water protection more than five years ago when we created the Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council. During that time, we have had one simple mission -- to protect our waters, the water dependent natural resources and the rights of those who use water wisely. The agreement we have reached will help us accomplish this mission.”

While most interest groups are pleased with the compromise, the major unsettled issue remains the lack of a "public trust" doctrine provision that was the central concern of former Governors William Milliken (R) and James Blanchard (D) and many environmental interests [See WIMS 6/13/08]. Governor Milliken said previously, "Without protecting the public trust in our waters, Michigan's sovereign power to safeguard our vital interests against outside forces will be diminished." Others had said without public trust language, the State's and Great Lakes waters are at risk of sale and export because of NAFTA and GATT -- international trade agreement provisions which prevent bans or strict regulation on water once it is a commodity.

Environmental organizations said, "The bipartisan compromise left some shortcomings, but keeps intact core principles. . ." The Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition members said they would regroup in coming months to fight for additional protections not included in the package. Cyndi Roper of Clean Water Action said, “We are extremely disappointed that the legislature failed to strengthen our important public trust protections, which affirms that water is a public resource that belongs to Michiganders and not to corporations or profit-takers. We intend to revisit this issue.”

In a release from Senator Birkholz, she said, the Great Lakes Compact will develop common measures for each of the eight states in the basin to regulate in-state withdrawals and prohibit out-of-basin water diversions. In addition to the compact, the legislation would adopt the water withdrawal assessment process developed by the groundwater council. The automated point-and-click computer tool will allow new large volume water users to determine if a proposed withdrawal will have an adverse resource impact on state water levels and other natural resources.

Birkholz indicated that, "Once the compact has been approved, Michigan will have done what no other state has accomplished by passing the compact along with a water withdrawal tool based on sound science." Representative Warren, Chair of the House Great Lakes and Environment Committee said, “As protectors of 20 percent of the entire world’s fresh surface water, the actions we take to preserve this great resource will have long-lasting, widespread impact. Michigan’s Great Lakes, inland lakes, and streams play a vital role in our special way of life and are a driving economic force in our state, providing for thousands of jobs in the shipping, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing industries. This plan will keep our most precious natural and economic resource healthy and strong.”

The two legislators said the key changes in the legislation include: Creating language to confirm the State’s existing rights for water resource management and protect private property rights; Clarifying the implementation process of the water withdrawal assessment tool; and Lowering the water withdrawal permitting threshold to one million gallons a day. They said the legislation would protect Michigan's unique and popular trout streams by preventing withdrawals that would cause more than a 3 percent reduction in the stream's thriving fish population; and ensure that new standards for protecting against adverse resource impact will be in effect by February 1, 2009.

The legislation is supported by many organizations, including the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), and The Water Works Coalition made up of 15 groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Manufacturers Association; Michigan Environmental Council, Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club.

Doug Roberts, Jr., the director of environmental and energy policy at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said, “We appreciate the opportunity to work with Sen. Birkholz and Rep. Warren and their willingness to gather input from Michigan’s business community in developing the water compact legislation. From the start, our goal has been to implement a process that continues to foster economic development in Michigan while protecting our state's natural resources for future generations.”

Access a joint release from Senator Birkholz and Representative Warren (
click here). Access a second joint release (click here). Access a release from several environmental organizations (click here). Access a release from National Wildlife Federation (click here). Access the status of various state compact legislation from the Council of Great Lakes Governors (click here). Access links to various media reports on the compromise (click here).