Should Michigan law make it easier for special interests to grab large amounts of water without public oversight?
Most citizens would say no, but the Michigan Legislature is considering a “yes.” The State House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday, February 28 at 9 a.m. on a bill, HB 5638, giving automatic approval to proposals for major water extraction projects by agribusiness – shifting the burden to the state DEQ to prove such proposals will be harmful.
Even worse, the data justifying the extraction would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. The public would be denied the critical information used to decide new large quantity water withdrawals, the impact they are causing, or how they were approved.
As FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said of this and other recent legislation, “I think what these new bills represent is a new strategy to just wholesale remove the state of Michigan’s oversight of its public water resources.”
You can help protect Michigan’s water by:
- Contacting members of the House Natural Resources Committee (scroll down to “Natural Resources”).
- Contacting your own State Representative.
Our water wealth supports and sustains multiple water-dependent sectors of Michigan economy – industry, tourism, recreation, commerce, and agriculture. The Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT) is a vital tool in ensuring that water remains plentiful and available to fulfill future needs.
HB 5638 circumvents the WWAT by allowing a company to secure a water permit based on a presumption of no harm backed by its own hydrogeological reports and information. This information would be exempt from FOIA; in effect this is a license to steel water from our creeks, watersheds, wetlands, a license to cause harm.
In MCWC v. Nestle, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that under our common law any water use or withdrawal must maintain adequate water in the stream to sustain the ecology of the stream and to sustain the other uses made of the water by others. HB 5638 violates this rule of law.
Moreover, Art 4, Sec. 52 of our State Constitution mandates that the legislature “shall provide by law for the protection of water and other natural resources from impairment or destruction.” HB 5638 will result in impairment and destruction of water resources of state, and therefore violates the Michigan Constitution.
Availability of data to state and federal agencies and local governments is essential so that government can administer our water laws sustainably and provide proper oversight and stewardship. We now have the data and analytical tools and capabilities to exercise extraordinary foresight in ensuring that water is used sustainably and is always available for our future needs and future generations.
HB 5638 undermines the legacy of good governance to which you have aspired. The bill is a step backward – instead of supporting a more robust understanding of water availability, it reduces the amount of data and information available, interfering with our ability to make informed decisions.