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Great Lakes Article:

Senate plan would hurt Michigan rivers, critics say
By John Flesher
Associated Press
Posted on MLive.com on November 13, 2007


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A plan before the state Senate would let farms, factories and others pull enough water from some rivers and streams to reduce their flow rates significantly, environmentalists said Tuesday.

The legislation's chief sponsor said its critics were exaggerating.

The plan is contained in a package of bills that would give Michigan's approval to a regional compact to prevent Great Lakes water from being sent to water-poor regions. All eight states adjoining the lakes must ratify the compact for it to take effect.

Aside from endorsing the pact, the bills deal with managing large-scale water withdrawals from the lakes and Michigan's inland waterways. Competing legislation is pending in the House. The measures are under committee discussion and no votes have been taken.

A coalition of environmental and outdoor sporting groups said the Senate plan would allow so much water to be taken from the Betsie River that its flow would drop 42 percent. The river winds through portions of Benzie, Grand Traverse and Manistee counties.

Stream flow reductions of 22 percent or more would be permissible in other popular northern Michigan rivers such as the AuSable, the Pere Marquette, the Jordan, the Sturgeon and the Boardman, the groups said.

"This is a serious threat," said Rusty Gates of Grayling, president of an advocacy group called Anglers of the AuSable.

Sen. Patricia Birkholz, chairwoman of the Senate's Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, said the environmentalists' numbers were inflated. The potential flow reduction on the Betsie River was overstated by more than 80 percent, she said.

"This attempt at grandstanding does nothing but erode the confidence of those who are diligently crafting legislation for our next generations," said Birkholz, a Republican from Saugatuck.

Under the Senate bills, officials considering whether to approve large withdrawals would rely too much on a newly developed system for measuring the ecological effects, said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

The computer-based "water withdrawal assessment tool" is helpful but inadequate, Clift said. It focuses on how fish populations would be affected while ignoring other signs of ecological health, he said.

Clift is a member of an advisory panel that developed the system. He said officials should use it, but also inspect places where large withdrawals are sought and take local residents' opinions into account.

Birkholz said the package was designed to protect aquatic resources while allowing water use to help the economy.

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