Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Great Lakes Water Package: Too Much Regulation?

Michigan is a state unlike any other in the United States; we have unlimited supplies of fresh water all around us.  We are the only state in the Great Lakes basin that is located entirely in the basin. No question, we want to protect our water, keep it clean and prevent any other state from diverting it out of the basin. That is why the legislature moved, and the governor signed Public Act 33 of 2006. I voted for this common sense legislation which provided adequate protections of our lakes, rivers and ground water. It included reasonable fees, fines and application requirements for users of large quantities of water.
This year, the Legislature is considering the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, (HB4343) which, when ratified by the seven states and two Canadian provinces within the Great Lakes basin, would prevent any non-compact state from diverting our water away from the basin.

Democrats Muddy the Waters

While many would support the Compact as a way to further protect the Great Lakes waters, the Democrats have tie-barred a nine-bill package to the Compact legislation which could be a real job killer in a state that can ill-afford further regulatory burdens on its jobs providers.  You can read the bills and analyses by clicking here.  Simply enter the bill numbers and the details will pop up on your computer screen.
In brief summary, here are some of the problems I see with these bills:

  • HB5065 would remove the definition "consumptive use" from bottled water. Thus, water bottling plants such as Ice Mountain in Evart, MI would be exposed to even more restrictive permitting requirements.

  • HB5066 would give the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) more power to regulate anyone that withdraws more than 100,000 gallons of groundwater per day.

  • HB5067 would allow for civil fines for "impairing the waters" from $1,000 to $10,000.

  • HB5068 would reduce maximum daily withdrawals of water to one million gallons or require extensive permitting processes first.

  • HB5069 would allow the DEQ to charge commercial and industrial water users $500 for a "Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool".

  • HB5070 would allow any "interested party" to petition the DEQ to investigate water users if they think the use creates an adverse condition.

  • HB5071 requires the DEQ to evaluate every municipal user of water who withdraws over one million gallons per day.

  • HB5072 requires water bottling companies who withdraw over 100,000 gallons per day to undergo extensive new permitting requirements.

  • HB5073 allows the DEQ to write and enforce new rules that have the force of law. (The problem here is that the DEQ is part of the executive branch, charged with the responsibility to enforce the law.  The Legislative branch is the one responsible for making laws.)

When considering these bills, which would further restrict water usage, we need to have an understanding of how much water is available for human consumptive or industrial use. Lake Michigan, which is only one of five great lakes, contains 1,180 cubic miles of water, about 130 quadrillion gallons. Over one trillion gallons of rain fall on the surface of the lake each year.

Water is an important component in the manufacture or processing of thousands of products made in this state. For instance, it takes 1.3 gallons of water to produce one gallon of bottled water, it requires 42 gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer. The manufacture of one automobile requires 27,000 gallons of water.

To me the issue is not one of water usage, but of responsible water usage. Ice Mountain uses 830,000 gallons of water per day to produce its bottled water products. Is that a lot of water? Consider that Pfizer Pharmaceuticals withdraws 28 million gallons of water per day at its production plant in Portage, Michigan and has been doing so for over forty years with no ill effects to surrounding lakes or streams.  The Grand Rapids Municipal water system withdraws 37 million gallons per day.

It is replenished daily by rainfall, (and in Michigan lots of snow!)  At current usage levels, we are not in danger of depleting it and we cannot produce most goods and services without it.  If we enact the package of bills described above, we will greatly cripple this state's ability to grow and create more jobs for its people. One last question: is this nine-bill package really about protection of our water or Democrats playing politics and putting more hurdles in front of job providers?

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