George Weeks /
Article courtesy of The Detroit News
December 3, 2001
there are parks, waterfront open spaces and other public
enhancements financed by oil and gas royalties distributed
through the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Now comes a candidate for governor --
a Republican -- who argues the day is coming when water
"very possibly" should be subject to royalties when pumped
from Michigan for large-scale commercial consumption, especially
for export out of local basins.
The subject came up during an interview
with Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus in which he touted his idea
of a "Marshall Plan for Water."
It's only vague concept at this point.
But he's right to put a high priority on water resources
at a time when they are being targeted by what the Michigan
Land Use Institute calls a "liquid gold rush."
Posthumus said of the current stewardship:
"We've done a pretty good job, but we've tended to do it
on sort of an ad hoc basis, sort of a regulatory basis.
But we're now at the point where we need to develop a long-term
strategy approach to the protection of all of the waters
-- the Great Lakes, the underground waters and the inland
waters -- so that we can better handle individual issues
when they come up, like the Perrier issue, like slant drilling,
for example. That's why I'm calling for a Marshall Plan,
which is the long-term protection and development of our
The reference to Perrier was to the permit
the state gave to the Perrier Group of America Aug. 15 to
pump 105 million gallons of water per year from wells in
Mecosta County for bottling as drinking water.
Posthumus broke with Gov. John Engler
in opposing slant drilling from under the Great Lakes from
on-shore rigs. Will he now join opponents of the Perrier
project? He has not yet fully studied it, although he says
"it appears that it is comparable with a what a small city
would take out of the ground."
The real issue, apart from impact on local
groundwater, is diversion of water out of the local basin
and the Great Lakes basin.
Democratic candidates for governor have
weighed in. U.S. Rep. David Bonior says the project "sets
a dangerous precedent." He calls on the Army Corps of Engineers
to study its impact.
Atty. Gen. Jennifer Granholm says failure
to investigate the diversion issue "could trigger a massive
water grab as users seek to remove Great Lakes water before
such removals can be scrutinized."
I asked Posthumus if he thought the day
will come when there will be some kind of royalty on drawing
water for projects such as Perrier's. He replied:
"I think that is very likely -- I won't
say likely -- very possible. A hundred years ago, nobody
would have ever thought that oil would have value that it
has today. But I believe that 50 years, 100 years from now,
I don't know when it will be, that water will have that
same kind of value because water will be used to run our
automobiles -- it will be used for all kinds of things,
and so there is that possibility."
Asked specifically if he would consider
royalties on water, he said:
"Certainly, because I think we have to
look at the whole issue from the broad range. I'm not saying
we would do it, or recommend it, but I think all options
ought to be open here as we look at a Marshall Plan for
water. Our water resources are among the most important
things we have in our state."
As Posthumus drafts his Marshall Plan
for Water, he would do well to study recommendations of
the Benzonia-based Michigan Land Use Institute on what Michigan
should do in the face of emerging global water markets.
The institute says, "Without adequate
water supply protections and clear rules for withdrawals
and exports, Michigan leaves itself open not only to water
marketing schemes from across the globe but also to shortages
and environmental damage at home."
The institute has long been a critic of
the Engler-Posthumus administration on the environment.
But it should be pleased that Posthumus recognizes the need
for going beyond ad hoc regulatory actions and developing
a long-range strategy that more clearly defines the state's
As the state sheds its Rust Belt image,
it must also defend its water resources from assault from
the Parch Belt.
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