LANSING — State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) introduced three bills today to ensure that Michigan’s irreplaceable freshwater resources are managed in the public interest. The legislation affirms that all the waters of the state — including groundwater — are held inalienably in the public trust. A four percent wholesale tax would apply to bottled groundwater for which bottling corporations currently pay only an insignificant permit fee. Sale of bottled groundwater outside the Great Lakes watershed would be banned.

“Michigan’s unique freshwater resources belong to all of us, and they need to be managed in the best interests of the public,” Rep. Rabhi said. “Responsible management includes ensuring that water isn’t shipped out of the watershed and lost from the Great Lakes forever. We should also stop giving groundwater essentially for free to bottling companies that profit off its sale.”

House Bill 5657 would amend the Natural Resources Protection Act to clarify that the waters of the state, including groundwater, are held in the public trust. The bill directs the Department of Environmental Quality to review current rules to ensure they are protecting the public’s interest in the waters of the state. The bill also creates a civil right of action so that those who harm water quality can be held responsible.

House Bill 5655 is aimed at preventing water diversions outside the Great Lakes watershed, removing the small-container exemption that gives corporations a loophole to remove large amounts of water that are then permanently lost to the region.

House Bill 5656 would impose a wholesale excise tax of four percent on corporations selling bottled water, in order to partially compensate the public for the value of groundwater that is pumped and sold. Currently, bottling companies pay only $200 a year for extracting millions of gallons of groundwater to sell at a profit. Funds from the excise tax would go to the state’s Drinking Water Revolving Fund, which helps municipalities pay for improvements in drinking water infrastructure.

“As Michiganders, we understand the importance of our water,” Rep. Rabhi said. “We are but stewards of this great resource, and we must ensure that it will be available for future generations.”