On August 16th the State of Michigan and Governor Engler gave their approval for Perrier to withdraw 200 gallons of ground water per minute from the Muskegon River basin and sell it in markets nationwide. The company has stated that it plans to double this withdrawal as soon as possible. At this rate of withdrawal, this diversion will eclipse the withdrawal proposed a year ago by the Nova Group. Under that proposal, which Governor Engler vigorously opposed, the company would have withdrawn surface water from Lake Superior and transported it out of the Great Lakes Basin via a tanker ship. Anyone with an understanding of the hydrologic cycle understands that surface and ground water are intimately connected and that there is little distinction between exporting surface water via tanker and exporting ground water via plastic bottles. They are both water exports.
In a recent addition to the debate, Jennifer Granholm, Michigan’s Attorney General, was asked by Rep. Julie Dennis, Rep. William O’Neil, and Senator Chris Dingell to make a legal determination of whether Perrier’s proposal to pump ground water in Mecosta County is subject to the provisions of the Michigan Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (WRDA). The Attorney General rendered her Opinion on September 17, 2001, concluding that, legally, the Perrier water withdrawal is subject to the WRDA’s prohibition against diversion or export of water outside of the Great Lakes Basin. That law states:
No water shall be diverted or exported from any portion of the Great Lakes within the United States, or from any tributary within the United States of any of the Great Lakes, for use outside the Great Lakes Basin unless such diversion or export is approved by the Governor of each of the Great Lakes states.
The Attorney General sent a letter on September 13, 2001 to Rep. Julie Dennis, Rep. William O’Neil, and Senator Chris Dingell outlining why the Perrier project is subject to and in violation of the WRDA. She concluded that the ground water that feeds the stream is tributary water of the Great Lakes, and that the proposal constitutes a diversion or export outside of the Great Lakes Basin.
Granholm encouraged Dennis, O’Neil, and Dingell to implement a comprehensive water use law for the State of Michigan that would address some of these shortcomings. She also wrote the Governor urging him to work with the legislature in establishing a water use law. These considerations are of critical importance since other additional sites are being considered for water withdrawal in Mecosta County and in other counties within the headwaters of the Muskegon River. Without consistent rules for water exports, the state leaves itself open under the new international trade laws to water withdrawal efforts from across the globe.