Michigan’s farmland and cities depend on adequate drainage to protect public health and safety and improve soil conditions. Drain/Water Resource Commissioners, as county-elected officials, manage thousands of county and intercounty drains, stormwater systems, lake levels, and many state and federally regulated waters.
In addition to managing drainage, Drain/Water Resource Commissioners also have to follow state and federal laws for water quality and environmental protection. These actions can include requiring or obtaining permits from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for drain work, ordering threatened and endangered species studies, and requiring engineering for design and work on drainage projects.
Drain/Water Resource Commissioners have the ability to assess cities, counties, road commissions and landowners for project costs. They need the ability to act quickly, without overly burdensome oversight that would prevent them from doing their primary job – maintaining drainage. However, that authority can cause problems for landowners if Drain/Water Resource Commissioners do not have good communication, assess landowners for projects with a high cost for the benefit derived, or perform work in places and times that disrupt farming operations.
The election process that controls Drain/Water Resource Commissioners’ authority may lose effectiveness if large urban populations with little financial stake in assessments outvote rural residents who pay the majority of the costs. However, the Drain Code and environmental regulations are complex and difficult to change without creating additional problems for farmers elsewhere. Farmers’ drainage needs also differ across the state, so determining the best balance of Drain/Water Resource Commissioners’ authority must account for the varying needs of landowners in different regions.
MFB: #73 Agricultural Drainage
Michigan Drain Code
Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act Parts 31 (Water Resources Protection), 301 (Inland Lakes and Streams), and 303 (Wetlands Protection)