This bill, was introduced by Representative Aaron Miller and backed by the Michigan Farm Bureau. It is structured to fundamentally make Part 327, the regulatory program for Large Quantity Water Withdrawals, ineffectual. Currently, new large withdrawals must be screened through the online water withdrawal assessment tool, and those that are predicted to cause unlawful adverse resource impacts, or those believed to be approaching that level, are required to undergo a site specific review process. (for more information on all of Part 327 and its underpinnings visit tutorials at http://www.michigantu.org/index.php/michigan-tu-contacts-2/michigan-tu-contacts-4/water-withdrawal-a-use-policy) During the process, additional site-specific data can be considered in evaluating the level of impact the new large withdrawal is predicted to have. HB5638 proposes to give approvals for all new requests (even those predicted to cause adverse resource impacts) if the applicant's consultants submit data about the withdrawal. That's right, if they submit data, period. The bill would give the DEQ 10 days to evaluate and notify if the proposed withdrawal would cause adverse resource impacts. If they do, the applicant still gets a "provisional" approval, and basically it's up to the DEQ to try to prove it had the impact. Any data submitted in the process would be except from public transparency through a freedom of Information Act exemption the bill proposes. The result, is that none of us would ever get to know anything about new large quantity water withdrawals, the impact they are causing, or the manner in which they were approved.
Further, the bill contains several other provisions intended to allow gaming of the system by applicants, in ways that will lead to adverse resource impacts across the state's waters. The bill is proposing to allow automatic approvals for any wells intended to be drilled into bedrock. This is despite Michigan science showing that these are not routinely separated from streams and without depletion consequences for them. The State Water Use Advisory Council (
), is a committee of water user groups and conservation interests, and includes numerous scientific experts on all various related fields. This group was charged with making recommendations for the program's development, and has done so in public report. Farm Bureau is a participating voting member, and co-chair for the WUAC, and approved all of the nearly 70 consensus recommendations from its last report. Two of those recommendations specifically addressed issues of their concern, like the bedrock issue, and development of guidelines for new data and modeling tools. But despite their involvement, their bill specifically contradicts several of those recommendations they participated in developing, on the exact issues they pertain to.
Since 2009 (when the existing law took effect), there have been over 4,000 new large quantity water withdrawal requests (roughly one every other day for the last decade), approximately 90% of which have been for agricultural irrigation. Of the 3,000, only approximately 40 have been declined (due to predicted adverse resource impacts). This is despite intense demand concentrated in southwest Michigan in the same heavily demanded watersheds, where lucrative seed production contracts have driven the new withdrawals. Apparently, 40 denials out of 3,000 is too many for those looking to cash in on seed contracts. Apparently, the law (which had the support of water user groups including Farm Bureau) was supportable only if it never actually applied to anyone.
Now that the protections afforded by this law are becoming, in some areas, more than a hypothetical limitation, this bill seeks to change the rules and ensure that the protections afforded by law are never applied, impacts never proven, and that all of us never see what happens. If this bill passes, it will result in frequent adverse resource impacts, excessive withdrawals, unenforced illegal stream depletions, and will diminish fisheries. This is about the very groundwater that makes trout streams possible, this is of paramount importance to our coldwater fisheries.
What You Need to Do to Help
- Attend and give personal testimony of your opinion, at the House Committee hearing on the bill, scheduled for 9:00 am Wednesday February 28, 2016, in room 326 of the House Office Building in Lansing. Public attendance and personal testimony at this hearing is critically important to see it is not allowed to be "fast-tracked". If you or someone you know can attend, please make the effort. (http://house.mi.gov/MHRPublic/CommitteeInfo.aspx?comkey=436)
- If your Representative happens to be a member of the House Natural Resource Committee, make sure to contact them immediately to express your concerns. The committee members include Gary Howell, Beau LaFave, David Maturen, Joseph Bellino, Daire Rendon, Curt Vanderwall, William Sowerby, Stephanie Chang, and Sara Cambensy. (http://house.mi.gov/MHRPublic/CommitteeInfo.aspx?comkey=436)
- Contact your Representative to voice your concern about HB5638. (find your Representative at http://www.house.michigan.gov/mhrpublic/frmFindaRep.aspx)
- Contact your Senator to voice your concern about HB5638 (for right now this is still in the House, but could be moved out quickly). (find your senator at http://senate.michigan.gov/)
- Contact the Governor's Office to express your concern about HB5638 and urge him to veto the bill should it be sent to his desk by the legislature. (https://somgovweb.state.mi.us/GovRelations/ShareOpinion.aspx)