The Sixth Great Lake

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Michigan is “The Great Lakes State” but is a failing steward of the sixth Great Lake, the water lying beneath Michigan’s ground.  FLOW’s newly compiled research takes an in-depth, extensive look at the severe impacts associated with the neglect of this vital resource, both in terms of policy and practice, to promote protective changes.

Download the media release here.

About Michigan's Groundwater

The volume of groundwater in the Great Lakes watershed is roughly equal to the volume of Lake Huron. Often overlooked because it is out of sight, Michigan’s groundwater is an immense asset and life-giving resource.

Michigan has the most private drinking water wells drilled annually of any state. About 45% of the state’s population depends on groundwater for its drinking water. Daily groundwater withdrawals in Michigan total over 260 million gallons for irrigation as well as 64 million gallons from on-site wells for industrial purposes. As much as 42% of the water in the Great Lakes originates from groundwater.

For a resource so vital to human health and the economy, Michigan’s groundwater is shabbily treated in both policy and practice, putting both public health and the environment at risk.


Why Groundwater?

Michigan’s groundwater is compromised and deteriorating. Our groundwater is plagued by widespread pollution, with over 3,000 groundwater sites whose contamination is so severe that state law bars their further use. 

Some may argue it is too costly to clean up and protect Michigan’s groundwater, but it is costlier to ignore the problem. We are transferring these increasing costs to our children and future generations. The state has not yet reckoned with cleanup costs for contaminated groundwater, let alone the costs to public health and infrastructure.

The state of Michigan’s groundwater will not improve without changes in policy and practice.





“Michigan is sitting atop a groundwater resource that already serves the needs of millions of us for drinking water and so much more – but state policy treats it as if it is replaceable. It is not.”

- Dave Dempsey

Key Recommendations of the Report:

Michigan should:

  • Identify a long-term funding source to clean up > 6,000 remaining sites with contaminated groundwater and no responsible party.
  • Aggressively prevent, detect and clean up nitrate pollution & assist rural communities in obtaining safe, nitrate-free drinking water.
  • Improve groundwater data collection & reporting, including a statewide groundwater education program.

The Michigan Legislature should:

  • Stop creating legal “sacrifice zones” where groundwater use is restricted or banned. Whoever contaminates the groundwater should be required to restore it – or pay damages to the state.
  • Set aside funding so that all residential well owners can test their well water samples.
  • Require all septic systems to be routinely inspected and maintained.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality should:

  • Publish a biennial report on the state of groundwater in Michigan, mapping and ranking the 100 contaminated groundwater sites that pose the greatest risk to human health and the environment.



Downloadable Key Documents:

Full Groundwater Report


Groundwater Report Summary