LANSING – State Reps. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) introduced legislation today to protect Michigan’s water resources and ensure they are managed in the interests of the people of the state. The three-bill package affirms that all the waters of the state are held inalienably in the public trust, bans the diversion of bottled water outside the Great Lakes watershed and explicitly authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to protect water in its jurisdiction.
“As climate change endangers freshwater supplies around the world, the Great Lakes State’s unique water resources become ever more valuable,” Rep. Rabhi said. “We need to manage our water responsibly for the benefit of the people of our state, instead of allowing it to be diverted, polluted or exploited for corporate profits.”
Rep. Rabhi’s bill clarifies that the waters of the state, including groundwater, are held in the public trust. This means they belong to the people of the state collectively and must be protected from pollution, impairment and destruction. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy would be required to review current water rules to ensure that they are sufficiently protective of the public interest.
“Michigan’s wealth of freshwater is central to our culture, our economy and our very survival,” Rep. Pohutsky said. “These bills are needed to ensure that the people of Michigan have clean water for generations to come.”
Rep. Pohutsky’s bill would expand the DNR’s authority to manage water in areas under its control. The department’s current authority is exercised largely indirectly through conservation of waterfowl and fisheries.
“Our groundwater and the Great Lakes are all one hydrological body,” Rep. Hood said. “We should not be allowing corporations to profit off of permanently removing massive quantities of the water that belongs to all of us.”
Rep. Hood’s bill would ban shipping bottled water out of the Great Lakes watershed. The Great Lakes Compact already prohibits most water diversions because water sent outside the watershed is forever lost to our region. However, a loophole allows unlimited amounts of water to be removed when packaged in small containers. This bill would remove the small-container exemption that allows corporations to take water from non-municipal sources and sell it in bottles outside the Great Lakes Basin.
The representatives were joined at today’s press event by groups supporting the legislation including the Anishinaabek Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, Clean Water Action, For Love of Water, the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.
“The public trust doctrine is what protects public ownership and uses of water for drinking, swimming, fishing, boating, and other activities vital to the people of Michigan,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water. “We urgently need to prevent attempts by special interests to capture these shared public water resources for private control and profit.”
“We in West Michigan have suffered the consequences of our state’s failure to protect both groundwater and surface water,” said Bill Wood, executive director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. “As we face a major challenge from groundwater polluted with ‘forever chemicals,’ it’s time for meaningful policy changes to put the people of Michigan back in charge of our water conservation and management.”
“Anishinaabek people acknowledge a responsibility as a community to protect and care for the water,” said Andrea Pierce, chair of the Anishinaabek Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party. “Advancing legislation to care for our water is one of the main reasons we have formed the Anishinaabek Caucus so that we can protect the culture and traditions of the original people of Michigan.”