Monday, May 26, 2008

Michigan Water - Public Trust or Product?

The Sunday Record-Eagle had more background information on the water bills before the Michigan Legislature. George Weeks summed up the situation like this:
In Lansing, there's debate about whether Michigan can say "no" to large water withdrawals, including by those who export huge amounts in small containers.

Yes, we can say no, insists Michigan Director Cyndi Roper of East Lansing-based Clean Water Action, who is among those whose voices under the dome are politically faint compared to well-funded interests pushing for commercialization and privatization of our water.

At issue: The state Senate passed legislation related to the Great Lakes Compact that is weaker on withdrawal of groundwater for bottling than action by the House. Said Roper in a Detroit Free Press commentary:

"The Senate legislation requires only those pumping more than 2,000,000 gallons per day to ask permission on that water use. Compare this to Minnesota's permission trigger, which is 10,000 gallons per day, or Wisconsin's, at a million gallons. Both states have created a system to allow public input and oversight at levels up to 200 times more protective than the Michigan Senate approved. Michigan's senators thumbed their noses at the public's rights to have a meaningful voice in decisions about massive water withdrawals."

Late last week, with further legislation pending in the House, Roper sent e-mail missives to environmentalists urging them to "inundate lawmaker offices demanding they fight for our water and stand up to the corporate interests wishing to seize control of our water."

Traverse City attorney Jim Olson, advocate of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation's long legal fight against Nestle's bottling operation in Mecosta County, called the Senate action "the great give-away of Michigan's water -- 25 percent of it! Other countries, private investors, will be thirsting to get their taps into Michigan. It'll be like the Oklahoma Gold Rush, only this time it's the Michigan Water Rush."

Olson says MCWC and others are "holding fast to the principle that water in Michigan, because it is the source of all streams, lakes, and most of inflow into the Great Lakes, is subject to a public trust. This means the state owns the water and must protect and manage it for citizens, not privatize or hand over control to private interests for profit as the primary purpose of a water project."

Water -- a public trust, not a product. A quaint, but correct, notion.
I usually don't use those boilerplate messages when writing to my legislators; I think a more personalized message is more effective. But time is of the essence in this case, so I broke down and used the message at Progress Michigan:

The time to stand up for Michigan's waters is now. Unfortunately, the State Senate voted last week to allow up to 25% of some of our precious lakes and rivers to be open for withdrawal.

If that wasn't bad enough, the Senate also allowed proposals that undermine public control over our water. Without strong laws that support public control of the Great Lakes, our state is vulnerable to corporations and special interests that seek to export and misuse our water.

That's why I urge you reject the Senate Bill 860. Don't allow our inland lakes, rivers and aquifers to be available to the highest bidder. As Michiganders, we have a special duty to protect our lakes, rivers and aquifers - our drinking water sources.

Instead please take action now and support legislation that will protect our precious Great Lakes. Please support a bipartisan legislative package, House Bills 5065-5073, that will safeguard our freshwater supplies. HB 5065-5073 gives citizens a voice in decisions affecting the withdrawal, shipment and misuse of Michigan
waters. This bipartisan package protects Michigan's water users - boaters, property owners, farmers, industry, tourism, fishers - from outside water takers.

We urge you to send a clear signal that Michigan's Water is NOT FOR

There is a short window of opportunity to make your opinions on this issue known. I know I want to keep the water in our lakes.

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