Legislative reports are frequently destined for the
dust bin almost as soon as they roll off the presses.
That fate shouldn't befall the Great Lakes Conservation
Task Force report issued last week. Culled from broad
citizen input, the 81-page volume provides a valuable
starting point for legislative action, and offers a kind
of state-of-the-lakes assessment that Michigan should
Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow, R-Port Huron, has
promised to turn each of the reports 66 recommendations
into law. Mr. DeGrow's ambition may be impractical, given
that he and many other senators have less than a year
left in the Legislature -- an election year at that. But
his get-it-done spirit is welcome. The Great Lakes are
signature natural resources for the state. They deserve
careful attention and conscientious stewardship.
Sen. Kenneth Sikkema, R-Grandville, chaired the task
force, which consisted of himself and seven other senators.
They held eight public hearings around the state. Addressing
the merits of each of the group's final recommendations
would be impossible. Those who want to read the full report
can find it at www.senate.state.mi.us/gop/.
A few of the proposals that merit serious debate:
-- Write comprehensive laws to regulate groundwater
withdrawals. A water bottling plant being built by the
Perrier Group in Mecosta County pointed up holes in Michigan's
groundwater laws. High capacity wells pose a potential
threat to surrounding water sources and wildlife, not
to mention other wells. Enacting laws to govern such withdrawals
should be a top priority.
-- Stop billions of gallons of raw sewage from flowing
into rivers and lakes. The task force calls for more money
for a revolving loan fund to help tackle the problem,
which mainly is in Southeast Michigan. That's fine, when
the money can be found. But lawmakers should recognize
that communities like Grand Rapids have already spent
millions of their own dollars on reducing or stopping
sewage spills. Other communities should not get a free
ride when Grand Rapids has already paid its own freight.
-- Monitor Great Lakes beaches statewide for bacteria.
Fewer than half of the state's lakeshore counties check
lake water weekly for E. coli and other bacteria.
In addition, the task force calls for reduction in airborne
toxins, measures to fend off ocean fish and other non-native
species invading the lakes and full staffing at the state's
environmental protection efforts. One of the report's
conclusions that needs re-examining is a call for a moratorium
on more directional drilling for oil under the Great Lakes.
Studies have concluded that directional drilling -- where
shoreline wells drill beneath the lakes at an angle --
poses little risk to the lakes. The state would be well
served by following science in this regard.
The report's many proposals will inevitably run up against
the reality of tough economic times and the state's shrinking
revenues. That's all the more reason to make sure it doesn't
end up on whatever basement shelf the Legislature reserves
for task force reports. Upgrading Great Lakes protections
should be viewed as a multi-year effort. Some of the report's
recommendations can and should be accomplished immediately.
Others ought to be delayed until the state emerges from
In all this, Mr. Sikkema and his task force deserve
credit for making the first comprehensive assessment of
the Great Lakes in years. No natural feature of Michigan
is as important to its citizens. Lawmakers should take
heed -- and take action.