States around the Great Lakes regulate large-scale water withdrawals with one exception. Michigan – the state surrounded by the Great Lakes – does not restrict withdrawals. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm says it’s “shameful” that Michigan is the last of the Great Lakes states to require permits before pumping large amounts of water. But the businesses and farmers who use the water don’t see a need for regulation in a state that’s surrounded by the world’s largest freshwater supply. We have more from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett:
States around the Great Lakes regulate large scale water withdrawals with one exception.
Michigan – the state surrounded by the Great Lakes – does not restrict withdrawals. Michigan
Governor Jennifer Granholm says it’s “shameful” that Michigan is the last of the Great Lakes
states to require permits before pumping large amounts of water. But the businesses and farmers
who use the water don’t see a need for regulation in a state that’s surrounded by the world’s
largest freshwater supply. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:
“This is a restoration on a Model A. ’29. That’s a ’31.”
Harry Randolph runs an auto body shop in the southeast part of Michigan. He needs water to
help prep the cars for sanding and spray painting. He also needs water for his home next door. In
2000 his well went dry … like hundreds of other wells in the area. He dug deeper for water.
That worked for a while. But in 2002, his well went dry again.
He collected rainwater to wash the cars in his body shop, and had drinking water delivered to his
house. Randolph and his neighbors blame a nearby mining operation that was pumping millions
of gallons of water to get to the sand and gravel underground.
They believe that theory was proven when water came back a few weeks after the quarry stopped
pumping in early 2003.
“It’s all pretty clean. You’ll hear the pump come on in a minute. It’s come up faster than it ever
In his corner of the state, homes and businesses sit above a shallow aquifer. And Randolph says
it should be the state’s job to make sure that the big kid on the block isn’t draining too much from
a sensitive water supply.
“I mean, pump the water, sure go ahead and pump the water. But when you’re hurting a whole
community because they haven’t got the water on account of it, they should be stopped pumping
that water. Or regulated.”
But Michigan doesn’t regulate water withdrawals. It’s the only Great Lakes state that doesn’t.
There’s so much water around Michigan, not much thought’s been given to limiting use… except
when that use was simply exporting the water.
Six years ago, officials in Ontario, Canada agreed to let a company called the Nova Group ship
about 150 million gallons of Lake Superior water to Asia every year. There was an immediate
and loud protest. People didn’t like the idea of shipping Great Lakes water to other countries.
The uproar over the plan forced the provincial government to rescind that permit. But it was
enough to worry Great Lakes leaders. And later that year, they started work on a regional plan to
prevent similar threats to Great Lakes water from other parts of the world.
What came out of the governors’ and premiers’ efforts was a regional agreement called Annex
2001, an amendment to an agreement between the U.S. and Canada. It commits the states and
provinces to come up with standards to protect Great Lakes water and to regulate large
withdrawals by this year. The Annex 2001 calls for two things:
One was to require users to register withdrawals of more than 100-thousand gallons a day. The
eight states and two provinces surrounding the Great Lakes have done that. But Michigan never
met the second requirement: that states regulate withdrawals of more than two million gallons a
day. Dennis Schornack chairs the U.S. sector of the International Joint Commission which works
to prevent and resolve water disputes between the U.S. and Canada.
To this point in time today, Michigan is the only state that has not complied with that piece of the
puzzle. And it’s sort of the price of admission to participate in consultations about withdrawals.
And Michigan so far hasn’t met that price of admission.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is hoping to pony up her state’s admission price with a
new plan to regulate large water withdrawals. It calls for new farms and businesses that pump
100-thousand gallons a day to apply for a state permit by the end of the decade.
But the state’s agriculture and business lobby has resisted similar plans in the past.
Scott Piggott is with the Michigan Farm Bureau.
“The farmers in Michigan, what’s really hard to get across to them: why. What is the benefit of a
full-blown, water use, comprehensive, regulation system on an area that doesn’t see scarcity of
the resource, that agriculture is an excellent steward of the resource. I think they’d feel it’d be a
regulation not worth having.”
But for people in a few pockets of Michigan, water has been scarce. Just ask autobody shop
owner Harry Randolph. And he’s not the only one. In rural central Michigan, people say their
wells go dry in the summertime when large-scale farms pump groundwater to irrigate their crops.
But those aren’t the withdrawals people worry about.
For much of the Great Lakes region, fears about water diversion usually involve arid southwest
states, or shipping freshwater in tanker ships to other parts of the world as the Nova Group
planned to do.
But Dennis Schornack of the IJC says the real problem of water diversion is not so far away. It’s
dealing the demand for water by the growing communities just outside the Great Lakes basin.
“And the people living just on the other side of the divide can’t use the water. They can see it,
they can smell it, they can swim in it, they can boat in it, fish in it. But they sure as heck can’t
use it for drinking water, or for industrial purposes.”
And advocates for water withdrawal regulations say unless Michigan gets its own house in order,
it’s going to be hard to say no to thirsty communities – whether they’re just outside the Great
Lakes basin, or on the other side of the globe.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.