Shrinking Water Supply
(Editor's note: The shrinking of water resources - once
considered an unthinkable problem - is becoming a real
concern locally, nationally and globally. Today, The Oakland
Press introduces a two-part series with a look at potential
water problems locally and statewide.) It doesn't look
like much - just a 10-foot-deep hole with 2 inches of
water in the bottom. But the dry pond in Amy Amthor's
Groveland Township back yard is in some ways representative
of shrinking global water resources.
For one thing, says Amthor, the dry pond didn't have
to be. She and her neighbors believe that their dry ponds
and depleted drinking water wells were caused by what
they consider a spectacular waste of water.
Using a study they paid for, residents contend that a
gravel mining operation lowered the water table by pumping
2.6 million gallons of water a day out of the aquifer
that feeds their ponds and wells, draining it into a local
creek. Throwing that much water away is almost unthinkable,
think it's terrible, because water is going to be globally
a major issue," she said.
But Michigan, blessed with abundant surface and underground
water sources, appears to be woefully unprepared to deal
with that issue. Amthor and her husband, Mark Shaffer,
discovered during research into their water problems that
once the permits are issued, there are no practical limits
on how a well owner uses the water.
only way the state will get involved is if it's contaminated,"
Amthor added that "Michigan and one other state, I think
it's New Jersey, are the only states that don't have water
laws (governing how much water can be taken from an aquifer).
we've always had such a large water supply, we've been
very arrogant here in Michigan with our water."
David Dempsey, a policy adviser for the Michigan Environmental
Council in Lansing, echoes their concerns.
legislatively has been living in a fantasy land for the
past 15 years," he said. "We're the only state in the
region that doesn't have legislation limiting water withdrawals.
can basically take water from Michigan and do anything
you want with it."
A shrinking aquifer was the least of Amthor's worries
when she and Shaffer moved to the property on Widgeon
Way 12 years ago. The builders of their home actually
struck water when they were excavating the building's
The pond, which once contained bluegill and perch, had
both an inlet and an outlet.
In 1997, however, the couple noticed the pond was no longer
flowing. The water level, Amthor said, has dropped continuously
since, despite a second well dug specifically to keep
the pond full. She said the local ecosystem also is suffering.
really educated ourselves on dewatering and what it does
to the environment," she said. "All the wetlands around
here dried up."
In December, Groveland Township trustees voted to require
that Midway Sand and Gravel, the operator of the gravel
mining operation, start restoring the water table, a project
that is under way. The township had one big stick in its
dealings with Midway: Either restore the water table or
risk not getting a renewed mining permit for 2002.
Robert DePalma, Groveland supervisor, said the township
received little help from the state.
went to the (Department of Environmental Quality) early
on on this and asked if they would get involved, and they
told me point blank that there is no law on the ground
water," he said.
He stressed the state needs to have a role.
small township like ours is not in a position to have
a staff available to work on something like this," DePalma
state is in a much better position to determine what are
the impacts on an aquifer and who should be able to take
the water from it and, I guess, how much, which is the
The Groveland situation, in some respects, mirrors a much
more controversial case involving ground water in rural
Mecosta County near Big Rapids. There, the state has OK'd
a plan by Perrier to pump up to 720,000 gallons per day
from an underground aquifer to be bottled and shipped
under the Ice Mountain brand.
While most environmental groups have focused on surface
water diversions from the Great Lakes to thirsty regions
in the Sun Belt, underground aquifers also need protection,
said Brad Wilson of Clean Water Action in Clinton Township.
Perrier will not stay in Michigan but will be shipped
out to other parts of the country and perhaps to other
countries," he said. "That's a back door if you will.
state of Michigan has to stand up to say this is not a
Perrier is going ahead with its plans to build a bottling
plant, despite lawsuits filed by residents, said the MEC's
Dempsey, who calls the proposal "a great threat to our
But he also worries that the state's other water resources,
specifically the Great Lakes, could be affected negatively
by the thirst of surrounding areas.
trend suggests that water is the issue of the 21st century
and our water is going to be coveted not just by Sun Belt
states and other countries, but by the Great Lakes states
themselves," he said.
He said while billboards around Michigan portray Sun Belt
stereotypes sucking up Great Lakes water through straws,
"I'm much more worried about the short-term prospects
of Cheeseheads from Wisconsin or Buckeyes from Ohio sucking
our water dry."
Michigan's geography makes it vulnerable - it is the only
one of the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces
that is entirely within the Great Lakes Basin. States
such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, for example, are mainly
in the Mississippi River Basin.
Dempsey and others worry that there will be increased
pressure on Michigan to allow water transfers within the
Great Lakes states, but outside of the basin. The concern
is that the water after it is used will not be returned
to the basin, but will instead be treated and then released
into a different basin - such as the Mississippi or the
the next 10 years, I think the real threats are going
to be from our Great Lakes' neighbors as well as ourselves,"
A report by the International Joint Commission, a body
representing both the United States and Canada on issues
involving the Great Lakes, bears out his worries.
did not believe in the short run, over 25 years, that
there would be a big demand for Great Lakes water (from
outside the basin)," said Tom Baldini of Marquette, chairman
of the U.S. section of the IJC.
thought, however, that there would be an increased demand
from nearby communities.
have other states like Indiana, Pennsylvania that are
in the basin but just a little corner of them," he said.
"That's where we see the biggest demand for Great Lakes
water in the short term."
The commission also is concerned about ground water, said
Baldini, because aquifer depletion can affect surface
water and ultimately the Great Lakes.
Currently, any single Great Lakes state can veto any proposed
diversion of surface water from the Great Lakes to another
state - including another Great Lakes state. Baldini,
Dempsey and others, however, are concerned that the veto
power might not stand up in court.
thought governments could prohibit the export of water
if they don't discriminate," said Baldini.
Currently, there are no standards for when a diversion
of water would be allowed or not allowed. The IJC, he
said, is working toward a set of standards acceptable
to all the states and provinces and the two federal governments.
Those standards, if adopted, would be applied to the Great
Lakes states and provinces as well, Dempsey said.
Ultimately, he said, the state will have to change how
it uses water if it wants to keep others from taking it.
He said it will take a "revolution" in how Michigan manages
its surface and underground water resources.
legal reasons as well as simple fairness, if Michigan
wants to stop exports of water we're going to have to
demonstrate a conservation ethic," he said. "We're going
to have to show a disinterested jury that we're doing
the best we can to conserve and manage our water resources.
can't do that today."