With bipartisan backing and Michigan Farm Bureau’s support, legislation making significant science-based improvements to the state’s water withdrawal registration program passed the Senate 30-7 this week and now awaits Gov. Rick Snyder’s final approval. See who voted yes and no.
House Bill 5638 provides clarity for water users and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) staff, and addresses farmers’ concerns with the site-specific review process used to determine if a new, large-quantity withdrawal will cause an adverse resource impact (ARI).
“The bill provides the means to make water withdrawal registrations less expensive and time consuming,” said Matt Smego, MFB’s Government Relations manager. “It does not change farmers and other users’ obligations to not impact nearby resources, nor does it dilute DEQ’s authority over the process.”
Throughout the process 147 members from 52 county Farm Bureaus generated more than 1,400 emails to legislators on the issue.
In a previous statement, sponsor Rep. Aaron Miller explained why fixes were needed.
“Michigan farmers must be able to efficiently irrigate the crops they grow to feed families across the state,” Miller said. “Instead, local farmers are caught up in bureaucratic red tape due to flaws in the water withdrawal assessment tool. Some farm families have reported waiting as long as two years before finally getting the go-ahead to withdraw water and irrigate. If a grower can submit science-backed information that shows their proposal won’t have an adverse impact on the environment, the approval should be issued in a timely manner.”
“This is a practical solution that takes subjectivity out of the process and inserts science,” he added. “It allows the DEQ to focus on water withdrawal applications with higher risk potential, streamlining the process, but most importantly still protects the environment.”
Amendments made since the bill was introduced, (in summary) include:
- Adding language affirming the DEQ has 20 working days to review data submitted through the alternate SSR process. If the DEQ doesn’t respond within the timeframe the user can move forward with their withdrawal.
- Clarifying that withdrawals from bedrock formations with limited hydrologic connection to surface tributaries, will be approved under the process.
- Adding language requiring the DEQ to provide written reasoning why a proposed withdrawal can’t move forward if they believe it will likely cause an ARI. This must include evidence the data was wrong, the consultant used the wrong model, or that cumulative impacts will cause an ARI.
- Not changing the exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests under current law.