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Re: E-M:/ Who's in charge?

Enviro-Mich message from joonmck <joonmck@gateway.net>

Sue, absolutely! Drain Commissioners have been the Historic Foes of

My research into Ingham County's wetland loss, reveals that over the
past 200 years wetlands have declined in Ingham County from about 20% of
total surface area to just over 3%. This is a wetland loss rate of
nearly 90 percent, much higher than Michigan's overall loss rate (an
estimated 50%).

As you know, to many a farmer over this century a wetland was considered
"too thick to drink and too thin to plow." Once considered as having
little or no value, wetlands are today recognized as important for
wildlife habitat, floodwater retention, protection of the land from
erosion, the filtering of contaminants and river flow.

The loss of Ingham County wetlands probably contributed to "The Great
Lansing Flood" of April 18-24, 1975 which severely crippled the city and
surrounding areas. In Williamston and Lansing 4 to 5 inches of rain fell
in 7 hours on April 18.  The Red Cedar River reached 12 feet, (five feet
above the flood stage), its highest level since 1904. About 4,700 homes
were damaged. The total estimated loss in Ingham County was $50 million.

As you know, wetlands act as nature's kidneys and so help reduce
flooding. They do this by acting as a hydrologic sponge, temporarily
storing flood waters and then slowly releasing them. This reduces flood
peaks and helps protect downtown property owners from damage. 

Did earlier wetland loss in Ingham County contribute to the severity of
the flood? According to Steve Blummer with the USGS, "probably, but I do
not know of any work that has measured the effect of wetland reduction.
You would hope that much of the zoning and planning that has occurred in
the past couple decades will aid in reducing damage associated with
floods." But proactive environmental zoning to address water quantity
and quality has been rare in past decades, though current initiatives
seek to change that.

It's An Old Story

Since at least 1819, when Michigan enacted it earliest drainage law to
clear wetlands for highways, local drain agents have interfered with the
natural wetland landscape of the county. By mid-nineteenth century, most
local Ingham County  townships were appointing their own drain
commissioners, and by 1899 Ingham County elected its first Drain
Commissioner. For most of their tenure, local drain commissioners spent
a good deal of time emptying the landscape of wetlands. In some areas
they helped to make an impassable swamp passable, and thus were an aid
to farmers and other developers. A chief concern of the time was
clearing "swamp and overflow" areas that were "too wet to profitable
cultivate." But they also destroyed thousands of acres of "clayey" soils
that were "usually rich in available plant foods but too wet to farm" in
the Spring. At the time it was thought that destroying, ditching and
draining were the only ways to make a region habitable or cultivatable.
In hindsight the commissioners of the time were throwing the baby out
with the Pathwater. Many designated "drains" were creeks and streams
that were transformed into barren ditches.

As you note, this of course still happens today. One reason that so many
wetlands, farms and open spaces are disappearing is because state law
encourages their destruction. And state law is easily circumvented by
the Drainage Code which permits Drain Commissioners to act as Land
Commisars, independently determining where to ditch and dredge with
little public oversight. If a developer's drainage request to the DEQ is
denied, folks torn to the drain commissioner. HB 4803 will only make
things worse!

Did you ever hear that children's song, "All Around the Mulberry Bush?"
Well it has a unique meaning for Ingham County!

With the loss of wetlands there has been a parallel assault on many
lovely plant and animal species in the County. There are 17 threatened
species, 15 plants including goldenseal and ginseng, and two animals,
the spotted turtle and the least shrew. There are also two federally
endangered species, the Indiana bat and the King Rail, a snake.

Poetically speaking:

"The sweet berrylike fruit of the red mulberry tree, the gentle swaying
of the Cat-tail sedge, the baying Bog bluegrass. Nearly gone."

It is not merely the loss of habitat that is the culprit, a common
refrain. Sometimes it's just the carving up of a wetland that does the
deed. For example, according to Pat Lederle, a wildlife specialist with
the DNR, the King Rail rattlesnake needs a highland area to reproduce
before it travels back down to the lowland part of a wetland.
Unfortunately developers frequently take the high ground to build

Though historically the majority of wetland loss was due to farming,
much of the more recent loss -- in areas like East Lansing, Okemos and
Haslett -- has been due to new home construction and stores. Urban
sprawl is a big part of the problem. Unlike the pre-World War Two era,
when communities were compact and people often walked to work or the
store, new residential development is very low density and car
dependent. The total number of housing units in Ingham County more than
doubled, from 49,693 in 1950 to 108,542 in 1990. In 1960 there were 3.27
people per household; by 1990 that dropped to 2.55. And we own more cars
per household in the county. In 1970 the number was 1.22, by 1990 it was
1.66, an increase of 36 percent in just twenty years.

Still, many folks have the wrong idea about wetlands. Many folks think
of wetlands as mosquito infested areas, but in fact they are quite
diverse natural phenomena, and mosquitoes are often exaggerated as a
problem. In Michigan there are various varieties of wetlands: bogs,
fens, sloughs, wet meadows. Many are without standing water for a good
part of the year, while others frequently evidence no standing water of
note. It is important to keep in mind that most Ingham County wetlands
were not destroyed because of the mosquitoes (which were troublesome in
many areas), but because of farming.

And our number one crop in Ingham County is corn, which is treated with
the herbicide atrazine (banned in many European countries because of its
carcinogenic nature). And much of the corn goes to feed cattle and hogs
which help spread the McDonald's way of life around the globe...but
that's another story!

I've done alot of research into the environmental health of the Lansing
area. Wetlands are just one tiny sample of the work. Anyone who wants to
know more, PLEASE let me know!


Dr. Brian McKenna
Michigan State University

Sue Julian wrote:
> Mr. McKenna, thanks for the follow-up posting to "Who's in Charge?."
> The Drain Code is one of those loopholes that makes wetland destruction
> LEGAL.  That's what a Drain Code is for--draining.  Drain Code is not part
> of NREPA and the rules governing the size of any wetlands destroyed are
> irrelevant   Section 10  of the Drain Code states up front:
>         "Drains may be laid or extended into or along or from any lake or other
> body of water surrounded wholly or in part by a swamp, marsh or other low
> lands for the general purpose of drainage comtemplated by this act, but not
> so as to impair the navigation of any navigable river."
> Now the proposed bill HB 4803 will allow as few as five people from one
> parcel of land to petition for drainage. This "protects minority interests"
> say the drain commissioners.  You bet--development interests!
> At 09:01 PM 11/25/00 -0500, joonmck wrote:
> >-------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >Enviro-Mich message from joonmck <joonmck@gateway.net>
> >-------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> >The DEQ certainly isn't in charge. They provide the red carpets for the
> >developing class. As many of you know, in October 1980 the State of
> >Michigan enacted a landmark wetland statute that changed the rules for
> >developers. Certain wetlands were regulated, including all those that
> >were contiguous with (connected to in some manner) a permanent inland
> >lake system. For counties with a population greater than 100,000 (like
> >Ingham County) all non-contiguous (or isolated) wetlands greater than 5
> >acres in size were also regulated. Everything smaller than 5 acres was
> >unregulated, meaning that anyone could do whatever they wanted with
> >them.
> >
> >Regulation did not mean protection, however. Developers -- of a housing
> >project, industrial park, a Walmart etc. -- and homeowners could apply
> >for a permit to develop property. If they were granted permission to
> >destroy a wetland they were required to replace it by building another
> >wetland in another place. They had to build a bigger wetland, at a ratio
> >of 1  new wetland acres to 1 old wetland acre.
> >
> >How has the program gone? Not very well. Unfortunately, the wetland
> >mitigation rule has been poorly enforced. First of all, for most of the
> >program's history, the DEQ never kept records of the permitted sites.
> >Moreover, DEQ representatives rarely, if ever follow-up with a developer
> >to check whether or not that had actually created a new wetland as they
> >were required to do by law.
> >
> >In the past three years, the DEQ has placed more effort into getting its
> >house in order, and record keeping has improved. As of June 1999, the
> >DEQ only had records of 23 permitted acres lost to 35.5 mitigated acres
> >(replaced) for Ingham County. But the DEQ does not know whether those
> >35.5 acres (listed on paper) were indeed replaced, in reality. According
> >to Rob Zbciak, a surface water quality specialist for the DEQ, wetland
> >mitigation did not begin in earnest until the mid-1980s, and even then,
> >many  people didn't know about it. Even today the wetland overseers have
> >"a limited staff stretched too thin."
> >
> >Zbciak said that the number of 23 wetland acres lost to development was
> >"probably low." He said that a better indicator of sprawl was wetland
> >lost illegally; however he admitted that this number is hard to
> >ascertain.
> >
> >Moreover, the EPA reports that there has been "a high level of wetland
> >loss in the Upper Grand River Watershed during 1982 and 1992." The loss
> >of wetlands -- which are natural storm water buffers -- has come at the
> >same time that the Grand was continuing to discharge tons of raw sewage
> >into the Grand River after a storm event. In 1997 there were 713 million
> >gallons of raw sewage that swept into the Grand River due to combined
> >sewer overflows.
> >
> >As Nietzsche said, "Insanity in individuals is rare, in nations, epochs
> >and eras it is the rule."
> >
> >Brian McKenna
> >
> >
> >Sue Julian wrote:
> >>
> >> Proposed Drain Code Changes Who is in Charge:
> >>
> >> Current Federal Regulations
> >> Protect Streams and Wetlands
> >>
> >> [Image]
> >> (Sign: "Stream Buffer Zone: No Grubbing, No Grading")
> >>
> >> [Image]
> >> (Sign: "Wetland Boundary")
> >>
> >>
> >> Current Drain Code Maintenance on the Same Stream.
> >> Environmental Safeguards are missing.  DEQ is not involved.
> >>
> >> [Image]
> >> A Recent World Resources Institute study found that freshwater species
> >> are going extinct 20 times faster than other species due to
> >> environmental degradation.
> >>
> >> Proposed Drain code HB 4803 further limits DEQ involvement.  Current
> >> law requires DEQ review and approval of pollution plans.  HB 4803
> >> strikes that approval.  Additionally, neither individual citizens nor
> >> environmental groups are able to appeal the scope of a drain project.
> >> Drain commissioners are left in full control.
> >>
> >> Why give more authority to the people who have allowed sewage and
> >> sedimentation to flow into the Great Lakes?
> >>
> >> To protest this bill, call or fax your Senator now.  The bill is up
> >> for a vote on Nov. 28.
> >>
> >> Senate contact information can be found at the Michigan Senate
> >> website.
> >>
> >> Thanks for taking time to voice your opinion about Michigan Drain law.
> >>
> >> -Sue Julian and Willliam Bishop, Michigan Drain Code Coalition
> >> (248)634-3513
> >
> >
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