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Water Use in the Great Lakes Basin #89


The Great Lakes Basin represents the largest reserve of fresh water in the world. This unique resource should be used in a responsible manner and protected for future generations and the future of Michigan agriculture. Food and fiber production is in the public interest, is a reasonable use of water, and provides economic and ecological benefits to the Great Lakes Basin.

Michigan Water Law and Policy

Management of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin does not require water use permitting. Burdensome regulation is not necessary to protect the Great Lakes and could challenge the competitiveness of Michigan farms. Any laws regarding water use permitting must be carefully examined and opposed if they do not include the following provisions:

  • No fees may EVER be charged for agricultural water use.

  • Existing documented surface and groundwater uses and sites must be grandfathered.

  • Public hearings must take place in the watershed areas before consideration of any reclassification. 

  • All reclassification notices should be given at a minimum of 180 days before hearings.

  • Water use permits for withdrawals supplying a common distribution system of less than two million gallons per day in any 90-day consecutive period for agriculture must be handled by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).

  • Municipalities or other governments with jurisdiction over artificial impoundments, such as ponds and lakes, should be allowed to reduce water levels to remove accumulated sediments.

We support:

  • An increased role in any current or future state water use committees due to the diversity of Michigan agriculture.

  • The State of Michigan making every effort to approve agricultural water withdrawals in a timely manner.

  • MDARD being the primary department for agricultural water use reporting and conflict resolution.

  • Basing all water use policies and regulations on validated scientific research.

  • Landowners receiving water recharge credit for maintaining open, undeveloped ground. Water use reporting should include “water in” (rainfall) provisions. We encourage the development of incentives for farmers who recover more water than they use.

  • Legislation strengthening Michigan’s authority to conserve and protect the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

  • Including agricultural water uses in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). The state should be required to have a greater burden of proof in determining a water use is causing an adverse resource impact if the verified producer is addressing applicable water conservation measures through MAEAP.

  • The inclusion of scientifically sound, environmentally protective and economically feasible water conservation measures in Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices.

  • Increased development and use of Michigan’s Wellogic database of well drilling logs. Accurate records of existing uses including residential wells are needed to assess Michigan water supplies and use.

  • Seasonal exemptions in Michigan’s Well Code for shallow aquifer water withdrawals regardless of well depth.

Water Withdrawal Assessment

Michigan has implemented an online science-based water withdrawal assessment tool (WWAT). As there are significant differences between Michigan regions regarding water availability and use, we recognize a “one size fits all” solution may not be the best answer. The process has experienced complications and technical difficulties. According to the Michigan Geological Survey, the current data used in the WWAT is insufficient to adequately map and assess Michigan’s groundwater resources and consider applications for groundwater withdrawal. Although the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (MDEGLE) reported the WWAT provides automatic authorization for withdrawals in nearly 70 percent of all applications statewide, Michigan Farm Bureau believes continued improvement of the WWAT is needed, including but not limited to the following:

  • Continued MFB leadership in implementing the state’s water withdrawal assessment law in accordance with MFB policy.

  • Additional data collection and model enhancement with the latest scientific data so streamflow depletion predictions agree with actual results of water withdrawals.

  • Continued refinement of the WWAT accounting for regional variability and privately collected data.

  • University research to verify accuracy of the WWAT.

  • An exemption from the WWAT for withdrawals where the potential for adverse resource impact is negligible based on the collection and analysis of field data using industry standards, methodology and practices.

  • Privately researched data collected in accordance with standard research protocols being included into the WWAT and accepted by the MDEGLE, as well as MDARD.

  • MDARD and MDEGLE, with input of stakeholders, developing and using a standardized template for site specific reviews of high-capacity agricultural water withdrawals.

  • Completing the comprehensive water use study in Southwest Michigan to collect the data necessary to make appropriate changes within the WWAT.

  • The changes made by PA 209 of 2018 to provide an optional alternate process for site specific reviews of high-capacity water withdrawals. This law is based on updated scientific modeling and provides a more accurate reflection of the regional variability of water use impacts. Additionally, the law clarifies MDEGLE’s role and timeframes for review and approval of withdrawal applications under the new process. We encourage MFB to oversee the implementation of the law and develop educational information about the process for members.

Aquifer Conflicts

We support the Aquifer Conflict and Dispute Resolution law and further support the following changes to the process:

  • MDARD shall certify well drillers to verify complaints by onsite inspection. These contracted well drillers will be ineligible to replace, repair or modify any well they are sent to inspect.

  • The owner of a high-capacity well should not be assumed at fault until proven otherwise.

  • The law should establish a statute of limitations and release from future claims.

Research and Education

We support:

  • Research enhancing the understanding of water resources, validating the ecological benefits of agriculture’s role in the water cycle, and leading to increased agricultural water use efficiency.

  • MFB developing partnerships to increase education and promoting the value of agricultural water use to the public.

  • MFB and partners such as conservation districts facilitating the formation of farmer collectives to gather and share data and develop regional models to assess and predict water use impacts.

  • Increasing education, financial and technical assistance for farmers who participate in voluntary, incentive-driven water use conservation programs.

  • The voluntary use of monitoring wells.

  • Seeking new and expanded opportunities to reclaim and recycle water.

  • Water use record keeping on farms to increase water use efficiencies, protect producer rights to water access and validate agricultural water use as a high priority.

  • Working with well drillers to ensure they have sufficient understanding of geological and hydrologic processes to provide the best possible knowledge and service to clients and the most accurate and useful reporting of data to the State, including groundwater location and availability, and soil and geological formations. We encourage landowners voluntarily submitting geological samples to the Michigan Geological Survey and developing a trust fund to protect participants against liability for negative sample analysis findings.

  • Investigating funding sources for geological mapping.

  • The findings of the Southwest Michigan Water Resource Council, which was charged with studying water resources in the region.

We oppose:

  • Any water allocation system preempting surface water riparian doctrine or groundwater rights.

  • Applying a “public trust doctrine” to groundwater.

  • Diverting water in its natural state from the Great Lakes Basin.

  • The definition of consumptive use as applied to agriculture.

  • Legislative or regulatory efforts resulting from federal, regional, state and/or local initiatives that adversely impact agriculture.

  • The State of Michigan removing dams located on drains and waterways recharging aquifers of the state and not requiring owners of existing dams to maintain them.

  • Attempts to limit efficient agricultural water use.

  • Water use prioritization.

  • Filing fees for agricultural water use reporting.

  • Using collected agricultural water use data for regulatory purposes or to advance agendas in opposition to efficient agricultural water use.

  • Well code changes placing economic or regulatory burdens on landowners in the absence of sound science.

  • Any attempt to turn water into a commodity.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency designating interstate aquifers as “sole source aquifers.”

  • Fraudulent use of the WWAT to register a water withdrawal.


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