53rd District State Representative Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) has recently introduced three bills and a budget amendment related to protecting Michigan’s water. In this week’s edition of "Issues of the Environment," WEMU’s David Fair discusses the bills and the ongoing challenges our Great Lakes State faces when it comes to the health and safety of our greatest natural resource.
The three bills, HB 5655, 5656, and 5657, are in the House Natural Resources Committee. He says the bills aim to ensure water resources in the state are conserved for the benefit of the people of Michigan.
HB 5657 would ensure that the waters of the state, including groundwater, are held as a public trust, to be managed in the best interests of everyone in our state. As common resources, groundwater and waterways must be protected from pollution, impairment, and destruction. HB 5657 also creates a right of action so that those who harm water quality can be held responsible.
HB 5655 is aimed at preventing water diversions outside the Great Lakes watershed. Water used inside the Great Lakes Basin eventually returns to our lakes and aquifers, but water shipped outside the watershed is a permanent loss to our region. That’s why the Great Lakes Compact generally prohibits water diversions. But there is a loophole that allows large amounts of water to be removed when packaged in small containers. This bill would remove the small-container exemption that allows corporations to pump Michigan groundwater and export it for sale as bottled water.
HB 5656 would impose an excise tax of 4% on the wholesale price of bottled water, in order to partially compensate the public for the value of public groundwater that is pumped and sold as bottled water. Currently, bottling companies pay only an insignificant permit fee for extracting large volumes of groundwater to sell at a profit. The funds would go to the Drinking Water Revolving Fund to improve water infrastructure.
A budget amendment, introduced by Representative Rabhi earlier this month, would have added funds for groundwater mapping and staff to improve the water withdrawal assessment tool. The Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT) is used to estimate whether pumping large amounts of water out of the ground will negatively affect surrounding water resources. But it is not as accurate as it could be due to poor data on the location, size, and interconnections of aquifers and surface waters.
The Farm Bureau is pushing a bill (HB 5638) that Representative Rabhi contends would severely weaken the water withdrawal assessment process. He says the better solution would be to improve the system we have. The amendment was not adopted into the DEQ budget.
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