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E-M:/ water upfor grabs, and sale

Enviro-Mich message from "Dave Dempsey" <davedem@hotmail.com>

This week's announcement by the Michigan DEQ regarding a new Nestle water mining project in Michigan deserves some comment on Enviro-Mich. Here are a few thoughts:

* DEQ's preliminary finding of 'no adverse impact' on two trout streams in Osceola Township from the proposed 70-million-gallon per year withdrawal -- and its related finding that more than three times this amount of groundwater could be extracted without harm to native populations -- has
troubling implications.

* First, it points out a major flaw in Michigan's new law that encourages a rush to drill for water. The law's chief environmental standard for determining impact is the effect on characteristic fish populations. Tougher standards will come later, but only after a new tool is developed and finalized by DEQ and legislated. So there is a potential for the equivalent of a California gold rush for water until that new tool is in place.

* Second, the DEQ finding implies that there is a "surplus" of water affecting these two streams that can be taken without adverse impact. In rhis case, that is almost 700,000 gallons per day. Multiply that by a lot of trout streams, and pretty soon you're talking big water.

* Third, the law gives no shrift -- not even short shrift -- to the public trust values threatened by the Nestle and similar proposals. The issue of public water ownership, and the risk that Nestle-type proposals will establish a legal claim of ownership for private parties, is not addressed by the law. But the law does say that water leaving the state in containers less than 5.7 gallons in size is not a diversion.

Reform of this law is needed. With the exception of a curious failure to disclose the Nestle project in response to a FOIA from Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, DEQ appears to be following the new law. Which is the point. The law needs to be fixed.

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