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E-M:/ News Release: As Water Use Debate Heats Up, PIRGIM Exposes Costs of Michigan's Water Free-For-All

------------------------------------------------------------------------- Enviro-Mich message from Jason Barbose ------------------------------------------------------------------------- September 20, 2005
Mike Shriberg/Jason Barbose
(734) 662-6597
As Water Use Debate Heats Up,
PIRGIM Exposes Costs of Michigan’s Water Free-For-All
Lansing – PIRGIM held a press conference with a coalition of environmental organizations and victims of water abuse on the steps of the Capitol today to release Left Out to Dry: How Michigan Citizens Pay the Price for Unregulated Water Use, a case study of how Michigan’s water use free-for-all has impacted citizens and natural resources.  The report comes as Republicans and Democrats press forward with their own proposals to strengthen Michigan’s lax water use laws.   
“Lack of effective laws has allowed water users to treat Michigan’s waterways and the Great Lakes like their own private wells,” said PIRGIM Director Mike Shriberg.  “Our state is overdue for comprehensive water use laws to protect our greatest resource and our quality of life.”
Left Out to Dry examines five instances in which unrestrained water withdrawals had negative impacts on surrounding residents, communities, and natural resources.  The five case studies are:
  • Monroe and Washtenaw Counties’ Dry Decade: Rock mining quarries in Monroe County extracted 20 million gallons of ground water per day, drying up the wells of more than 2,000 homes in a 200 square mile area.
  • Nestlé’s Thirst Drains Waterways: Citizens in Mecosta County have spent close to $1 million and over four years entangled in a lawsuit with Nestlé, as the company’s withdrawals cause lake levels, streams, and wetlands to decline.
  • Saginaw’s Water Blight: Increased irrigation by potato farms in Saginaw County caused hundreds of wells to go dry during peak irrigation months.  Local citizens convinced their legislator to pass a law to help resolve water use conflicts once they arise.
  • Oakland Ponds Drained for Gravel: Owners of a gravel pit in Groveland Twp increased their water use, depleting the water table to the point of drying up ponds, killing trees, and creating sinkholes on nearby residents’ properties.
  • Selling Public Water for Personal Gain: In Livingston County, a developer claimed the rights to groundwater and sold it to three local townships for $3 million, profiting off a public good at taxpayer expense.
The report shows that these cases are not isolated incidents, but rather the result of a systemic problem in our water use laws.  “Large water users and water profiteers have fought long and hard against any form of control,” said Shriberg.  “Consequently, we have Michigan citizens and natural resources footing the bill for irresponsible and unregulated water use in our state. It’s time to stop bowing to special interest pressure and partisan bickering and create strong protections for Michigan’s water.”
PIRGIM has joined with 19 other organizations to form the Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition, and together they have proposed a platform that pulls from the best ideas in Sen. Sikkema’s water use legislation proposed in 2002, Governor Granholm’s proposed Water Legacy Act, and a workgroup of stakeholders.
PIRGIM and the Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition are urging the state legislature to pass laws this year that:
1.      Make large water users prove they need the water and will not harm water resources and other users before they can get a permit
2.      Make large water users prove they are using water as efficiently as possible and are helping to restore our waterways before they can get a permit
3.      Prohibit new diversions of Michigan’s water out of the Great Lakes Basin whether in a pipe, tanker, or bottle
4.      Require all large water users to report their usage to the state
These laws would prevent water conflicts and put the burden of proof on water users rather than citizens impacted by large-scale water withdrawals.  “Water is Michigan’s greatest natural resource, and yet those users who place the greatest strain on our water resources have been getting a free ride while Michigan citizens and natural resources pay a heavy price,” Shriberg said.
“We need to be stewards of our freshwater and pass laws that protect our citizens, our lakes, our streams, our wetlands, and the Great Lakes,” Shriberg concluded.  “We need to ensure that we will have water to serve our needs into the future.”
PIRGIM is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy organization
Copies of “Left Out to Dry” are available at www.pirgim.org
Additionally, the individuals profiled in “Left Out to Dry” are available for interviews.  Please inquire with PIRGIM for their contact information.
Jason Barbose
PIRGIM Field Organizer

103 E. Liberty St., Suite 202
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
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