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Great Lakes Article:

Senate Republicans pledge to move groundwater plan this fall
By David Eggert
Associated Press
Published in the Centre Daily on September 15, 2005

LANSING, Mich. - The state would have oversight of some Michigan farms, businesses and other groundwater users that withdraw more than 100,000 gallons per day under a plan outlined Thursday by Senate Republicans.

The legislation, which will be introduced next month, could require state permits for new and expanding large-scale groundwater users but only if their withdrawals would hurt key natural resources. Unlike a plan proposed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the GOP legislation would not apply to surface water.

Granholm's Water Legacy Act would require permits for all new or increased withdrawals from both groundwater and surface water over 2 million gallons per day. Starting in 2010, the permit requirement would apply to all new or increased withdrawals of more than 100,000 gallons per day.

"We want to move forward in a bipartisan manner," said Sen. Patricia Birkholz, a Saugatuck Republican who recently held a series of hearings on the issue around the state.

The Granholm administration said it was happy Republican lawmakers plan to take action but wanted to see more specifics of the GOP proposal before commenting further. Democrats have accused Republicans of dragging their feet, while Republicans said the issue needed to be carefully examined.

Concerns have risen that the region's waters are vulnerable to diversion outside the basin.

Birkholz said the GOP plan would require a new or expanding large-scale groundwater user to conduct an assessment of the potential environmental impact to key natural resources and wells. If it did not show any negative impact, the project could move forward, but the state could review the assessment.

If the project potentially could be harmful, the user would have to reduce the risk or apply for a state permit.

Birkholz said concepts of the GOP plan are supported by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Manufacturers Association, Trout Unlimited and Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

But at least one environmental group criticized the GOP's plan, saying the Legislature should craft a broader package to include surface water protections.

"Our concern is they are moving in the direction of only protecting trout streams," said Cyndi Roper, Great Lakes policy director for Clean Water Action.

Roper also questioned how the state would afford to conduct audits of large-scale users' assessments and how the permitting process would work.

"We shouldn't allow permits if there is going to be damage to the resource," she said.

A related issue is bottled water.

Granholm has slapped a moratorium on new or expanded bottled water operations in Michigan until the Legislature enacts a water withdrawal law.

Earlier this week, House Democrats announced legislation that would require water bottling companies to certify that nearly all of the water they are selling - 98 percent of it - will stay in the Great Lakes basin.

Birkholz said Senate Republicans probably will address bottled water operations in their legislation, but she did not commit to it.

"I don't think we can pit one product against another," she said.

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