With neither review nor transparency, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on June 1, 2018, granted permits to Michigan Potash Operating for three deep-injection wells to dispose of brine waste in the heart of a wetland complex about five miles southwest of the city of Evart, in southern Osceola County.
The latest approval comes after the MDEQ last fall granted the Colorado-based company eight production well permits to extract nearly 2 million gallons of water per day as part of a proposed potash solution mining operation. Potash is a potassium-rich salt used to fertilize crops. The mine would use the fresh water to create a hot brine that dissolves potash underground. After it’s brought to the surface and separated, the waste brine would be injected deep underground.
As a water law and policy center dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes, FLOW (For Love of Water) remains deeply concerned about public trust and other legal concerns regarding the project’s intent and scope, which could involve use of 725 million gallons of water annually, more than triple the quantity that Nestlé is targeting just 8 miles way in the same watershed. FLOW has previously raised objections with the MDEQ over concerns that include potential harm to the water table and local wells, salt-water contamination of the aquifer from below, and reduced flows to streams, lakes, wetlands, the Muskegon River, and Lake Michigan.
Notably missing from the MDEQ’s approval of Michigan Potash’s permit is any reference to the application’s regulatory compliance with the standards of Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) and public trust common law, as well as off-reservation treaty rights to fish, hunt, and gather. MEPA prohibits agency authorization of private conduct that may pollute, impair, or destroy the environment if there is a feasible and prudent alternative. MCL 324.1705(2). And proposed actions that affect off-reservation treaty rights require the State of Michigan to consult with the relevant sovereign tribes.
Bottom line, it is the cumulative impact to our fresh water resources that we must vigilantly protect. Contamination of surface and groundwater in Michigan is very real, particularly with the recent discoveries of PFAS contamination sites in Kent County (Wolverine World Wide) and Iosco County (Wursmith Air Force Base). No matter where you live in Michigan – in the most water-rich region in the U.S. and the world – we cannot afford to take our drinking water for granted.