In the Great Lakes region, the idea of not having enough water is ridiculous to most people. But that’s beginning to change. Environmentalists are sounding the alarm that water tables are being threatened in some areas. And they’re calling on policymakers to rein in the farms and industries that are putting the biggest drain on those resources. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett has this report:
In the Great Lakes/Midwest region, the idea of not having enough water is ridiculous to most
people. But that’s beginning to change. Environmentalists are sounding the alarm that water tables
are being threatened in some areas. And they’re calling on policy makers to rein in the farms and
industries that are putting the biggest drain on those resources. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Sarah Hulett has this report:
In a region that holds the world’s largest freshwater supply, worries about water scarcity are
beginning to creep into dinnertable discussions. Here in rural central Michigan, about 200
households have complained that their wells have dropped or gone dry during the summer months.
“Most kids are looking forward to summer vacation, getting out of school. My kids dread
Susan Rodriguez is the mother of six children. She says her well first went dry about three years
ago. That was shortly after two large-scale farms began watering their crops with high-capacity
irrigation wells. Those farms together can use as much water as 11,000 households. Since then,
the summers have been dry, and difficult – because there’s no water in the house. Rodriguez says
they do what they can to get by. They don’t have the money to put in a new well. So during the
irrigation season, she and the kids go to a cemetery. It’s about a half-mile from their house, and it
has a hand pump. The family fills five-gallon buckets to bring home so they can flush the toilet…
“We buy bottled water for drinking, we buy paper plates and paper cups so I don’t have to wash
dishes. We go to neighbors for showering, for bathing. We eat out a lot because you can’t really
cook without water. It gets real expensive.”
Rodriguez and several other families began lobbying their state lawmakers for relief. And this could
be the year that they get some. Legislation introduced by Michigan lawmakers takes two
approaches. One would set up a means for people to take their grievances to state officials. The
other would require industries and farms with high-capacity wells to apply for a state permit if they
want to operate in areas where there are groundwater disputes.
Business groups are reacting with skepticism to any plan that would impose limits on water use.
Mike Johnston is with the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
“Our first position would be there’s no regulation needed at all. Having said that, we recognize the
political will is going in a different direction.”
And that different direction is being led by environmentalists. Noah Hall is the water resource
program manager for the National Wildlife Federation.
“Right now, the state of Michigan has basically no protections in place for our groundwater and
aquifers. Nothing that protects well owners, or protects the rivers and streams that depends on
underground aquifers. Other states in the Great Lakes region do have some protections in place.
And so Michigan is pretty far behind the curve right now on this.”
None of the regulations being considered in the Michigan Legislature would be as strong as what’s
already on the books in Wisconsin and Minnesota. But the Manufacturers Association’s Mike
Johnston says Michigan’s deep glacial cavities hold an ample supply of water. He says any
regulation should be very narrowly crafted.
“Michigan has vast groundwater supplies. There are a few areas of the state, very specific and
limited areas where they have certain geologies that cause challenges for groundwater. That’s just
not true across the state.”
Susan Rodriguez doesn’t care how it gets resolved. She just wants to make sure she and her family
have water once the irrigation pumps start back up in the summer.
“My oldest son, he hears a lot and he watches the television, and he was having nightmares that
people were coming in and taking him and his sister away. Taking them out of their home, because
we didn’t have water. That was really hard.”
(sound of water running)
In the few months left until the growing season, when irrigation starts up again, Susan Rodriguez is
storing water. Her friends at work bring her milk jugs and orange juice containers that she fills from
her well while she still has water.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.