By Cheryl Mendoza, Alliance for the Great Lakes
In February Governor Granholm signed Michigan’s first water use laws, after gaining critical support from a bipartisan alliance of legislators. This critical support was gained during a 15 month long campaign by a coalition of over 50 organizations. For the first time, major water users in Michigan will need to get a permit from the state that proves they will not adversely impact waterways.
“Michigan citizens should be proud of this victory,” said Becky Beauregard of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. “Through the combined effort of hundreds of thousands of citizens,we were able to win new and significant protections for Michigan’s waterways.”
Although the laws start with protections focused on trout streams, after two years every lake, river, and stream across the state will be afforded the same protection using the health fish populations as the indicator of harm. The laws also require permits for the largest water withdrawals – over 2 million gallons per day (gpd) from inland waterways and 5 million gpd from the Great Lakes. The laws require large users to develop a plan to use water efficiently and all users now must report their water use accurately.
Additionally, the laws require legislative approval for diversions of water (permanently removed from original watershed) in containers larger than 5.7 gallons. Moreover, for the first time, large water bottling operations will need to seek a permit and prove that they will not adversely impact natural resources, will protect riparian rights, and be required to undertake activities to restore the local watershed.
“To truly care for the Great Lakes, we must recognize it is a watershed that encompasses 8 states and 2 provinces and develop our laws accordingly.” According to Cheryl Mendoza, Manager of Water Conservation Programs for the Alliance for the Great Lakes.“The next step is for our legislature to pass what will be a regional water use law called the Great Lakes Basin Water Resources Compact that has been in the making over the past five years with the other seven Great Lakes states and provinces of Ontario and Quebec.”
Signed by the Great Lakes governors on December 13, 2005 the Compact aims to ban far off diversions and set ecological, sustainable standards for water use inside the Great Lakes Basin. To become a binding law between the eight Great Lakes states, Michigan’s legislature, along with the other Great Lakes states, must pass this Compact and approval from Congress must be gained. Simultaneously, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec are developing similar provincial laws.