SWMTU Action Alert: Water Withdrawal Legislation

Members – Contact your State leaders NOW!

After months of negotiations including the participation of our MCTU Executive Director, Dr. Bryan Burroughs, the State House and Senate have been unable to reach a compromise on legislation regulating ground water withdrawals in the State of Michigan and as a result, each chamber has introduced competing bills.

Unfortunately, the Senate bill (SB860) falls significantly short of protecting our coldwater resources, and should be rejected. Instead, urge your State Senators and Representatives to pass the modified House Bill (HB5065-5073) which provides greater resource protection levels.

You can find a list of contact information for Senators and Representatives here.

Coldwater fisheries are our highest quality rivers and streams and part of the unique fabric of Michigan and its high quality of life, and the economic backbone for the many northern Michigan communities. Individuals purchase vacation properties and homes because of these fisheries and pay taxes which help support these communities. In-state and out-of-state residents travel to these areas and contribute money to local businesses because of these resources. The livelihood of businesses such as licensed fishing guides, fishing lodges and motels, sporting goods shops, restaurants, gas stations, and canoe liveries directly depend on the characteristics of our rivers, the amount of water flowing in them during the summer and the abundance of fish in them. In total, fishing in Michigan is estimated as having an economic impact of $7 billion a year, and supports 46,000 jobs in the state. Despite the reliance of Michigan’s economy on these current economic uses of the water, they are not “grandfathered” and are not being valued and protected like other commercial water users. Demand that they are.

First, the Senate Bill allows an unacceptable reduction in fishery abundance for cold water streams and rivers. During the negotiations, MCTU and Schrems WMTU insisted on 0% reductions in fish abundance in cold water streams for any water withdrawal. At the time that the compromise negotiations broke down, all parties had informally agreed to a less than 1% reduction in fish abundance in cold water streams. The Senate Bill has since backed away from this compromise measure and proposes to allow ground water withdrawals that could eliminate 5% of the trout in a cold water stream and up to 3% of the fish in a cold small river. Based on the model, this 5% reduction in the fish level would allow up to a 25% reduction of the water in a cold water stream from the summer low flow period! The House Bill retains the 1% threshold which still provides for the withdrawal of 15-22% of the water (from the summer low flow period) in a cold water stream. Both the House and Senate legislation allow up to 5% of the fish abundance in marginal trout streams to be reduced.

Second, the Senate Bill does not include the public in the water withdrawal process. As you know, public involvement provides a valuable check to the influence of commercial interests on the government – commercial interests such as bottlers who want their water right away. Unlike many resource protection laws, however, the public has been cut out of the process by the Senate and replaced by an untested computer model (“assessment tool”) that is used to determine if a ground water withdrawal would adversely affect fish populations in a stream. The various portions of this assessment tool have been estimated by one of its creators to be from 70% to 95% accurate. Statistically, when you combine the accuracy levels of the various sections together, the total model would be less than 60% accurate. This is an unacceptably high risk to our coldwater resources to completely rely on this untested computer model at this time. We need a phasing-n process that retains public involvement until such time as the computer model has a proven track record and its accuracy is improved. The House bill proposes a public permitting process for withdrawals approaching the allowable threshold in cool water and warm water rivers rather than relying solely on the computer model as the Senate bill does.

Third, the Senate has refused to recognize in its Bill that our ground water – the very resource that makes Michigan what it is and which supports cold water fisheries – is held by the government FOR THE PEOPLE. This fundamental concept has even been applied by the US Supreme Court to the Great Lakes but the Senate is unwilling to recognize that it applies to our ground water as well. The House bill seeks to explicitly recognize that the state has duties to protect groundwater under the Public Trust, since surface waters are a Public Trust resource and groundwater and surface waters are interconnected.

It’s time for us to send a message to Lansing – we are not going to allow commercial interests to damage our resources for their profit.

Write, email or call your State officials today and express your support for the House’s ground water withdrawal bill and that you oppose the Senate’s Bill. Below are suggestions to help you provide your legislators with useful information:
• Tell them to set a clear precedent and not allow our coldwater fisheries to be damaged. Accept nothing more than the “less than 1% impact to coldwater and coldwater transitional fisheries” standard.
• Tell them you support the opportunity for meaningful public input concerning decisions about public resources, and support permitting requirements.
• Tell them they should recognize that the waters of the state are all connected, and must be managed for the public trust.
• Tell them that you do not support SB860 as it is currently written, and expect them not to either. Tell them the House version of this legislation, HB 5065-5073, is better for the public interest and you’d like them to support it rather than the current version of the Senate bill.
• Tell them how you personally will feel about your favorite river being a 1/4th lower every summer from now on.
• Ask them to express these comments to their caucus leaders and the bill sponsors.
• Let them know that there is nothing more important than the water law, and that their actions on this will be remembered at election time and will be part of their legacy to the future of Michigan.
• Or if you are not comfortable saying much, just tell them that you are voter in their district and a member of Trout Unlimited, and you wish that they support the interests of Trout Unlimited on this issue, as they were given as testimony in both relevant committees.

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