Several county Farm Bureau members were with Gov. Rick Snyder last week in Lansing as he signed House Bill 5638 into law as Public Act 209 of 2018, finalizing science-based improvements to the state’s water withdrawal program.
Supported by Michigan Farm Bureau, the updated law is expected to make large quantity water withdrawal registrations less expensive and time consuming for farmers by providing an alternative to the traditional site-specific review process. The bill doesn’t change water users’ obligations to not impact nearby resources, nor does it dilute the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) authority, as some opponents have alleged.
In summary, the legislation accomplished the following:
“This bill lets data be the ruler of the process much more than it is today for site-specific reviews and for putting in high-capacity water withdrawals,” said Rep. Aaron Miller, the bill’s sponsor. “For farmers who are putting in wells in the future, hopefully data and science can be a bigger part of the process than the DEQ’s subjectivity. Subjectivity is never what we want. Science and what the best water science for a local area is, that’s what should rule the day.”
Miller praised local farmers for emailing, calling and showing support throughout the rigorous legislative process.
“The county Farm Bureaus made a huge difference talking to their legislators because not many associations do that, frankly,” he said. “And the ones who do it effectively, those are the ones who can win big changes—bills like this one.”
Larry Walton, a Michigan Farm Bureau board member and seed corn farmer from St. Joseph County, attended the signing and has been engaged in this issue for more than a decade. He’s hopeful the bill will provide a better avenue for dialog with the DEQ.
“We have to have a better understanding of what it is we’re doing and make sure we continue to be good stewards,” Walton said. “If I’m having a negative impact, I’d like to know that so we can make some adjustments…and if we’re not, then give us some freedom to do what it is we need to do to be productive in the environment we’re working in and be able to maximize the opportunities we have in front of us.”
While Walton has first-hand experience working within the water-withdrawal process, Gratiot County Farm Bureau member and MFB Natural and Environmental Resources Advisory Committee Chair Mark Daniels provided a different perspective as a potential new user.
“I’ve got a commercial greenhouse operation and we’re looking to expand in the coming years,” Daniels said. “This bill provides certainty that I know exactly what I need to do if I’m going to put a new well in and to know what scientific process will be used to review that application. It also provides a timeline so that I know my application to be able to expand that well—which my entire operation will be dependent on—will be reviewed in a timely manner.”
While the updated law takes immediate effect, it will likely take DEQ some time to implement training and update processes accordingly for water users wanting to utilize the alternate site-specific review process.