When Michiganders cast votes on November 6, remember that more than candidates are on the ballot. So are water and the public trust. We encourage all voters to put Michigan water’s stewardship agenda at the center of their decision-making. The next governor, attorney general, and legislature will face historic opportunities and challenges. Will candidates for these offices also put water at the center of their decisions?
Here are some of the key decisions that Michigan officials will face in protecting its water assets:
Shut down Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac. These antiquated 65-year-old pipelines convey almost 23 million gallons per day of petroleum products along the public bottomlands of the Straits. They pose an unacceptable risk of a spill that could cause ecological devastation and deliver a more than $6 billion blow to Michigan’s economy. Instead of focusing on a backroom deal for a tunnel that would keep Line 5 operating at least 7 to 10 years, the governor, attorney general, and legislature should work together to terminate Enbridge’s dangerous pipeline occupancy of the publicly-owned lakebed.
End Nestlé’s profiteering off public water and secure public water benefits. At a cost of $200 per year in state fees, Nestlé is making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit annually by pumping groundwater that would otherwise feed wetlands and streams and bottling and selling it. In effect, Nestlé is selling back to the public its own water at a markup of more than 2,000 percent. The governor and legislature should subject all private capture and sale of municipal water and groundwater to state regulation, impose royalties to benefit public water needs, and prohibit withdrawals that have unacceptable impacts on sensitive water resources. FLOW has prepared model legislation to accomplish this.
Prevent and remediate Michigan’s groundwater contamination. About 45 percent of Michigan’s population depends on groundwater for drinking water supplies. Unfortunately, there are 6,000 legacy groundwater contamination sites for which there is no state cleanup funding, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems, thousands of private water wells contaminated with dangerous nitrate, and a significant number of sites where our water is contaminated with toxic PFAS compounds. The governor and legislature should enact laws to address ongoing threats to groundwater quality and create a fund to clean up legacy contamination sites. FLOW’s groundwater strategy provides a useful road map.
Assure access to clean, safe, affordable water for all Michigan citizens. It is simply wrong that in a water-abundant state, thousands of households are priced out of access to basic water services in communities including Flint and Detroit. The governor and legislature should provide seed money and mandate public utility water pricing that assures all citizens can afford basic domestic water services.
Invest in drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure. An infrastructure panel appointed by Gov. Snyder found that the state faces a gap of $1 billion annually between available funding and drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure needs. These needs are not frills; they are fundamental to everything from human sanitation to healthy aquatic life. The governor and legislature should close that gap with a large-scale funding commitment.
Bring the public back into state environmental decision-making. The best environmental policy, including water policy, is made in the sunshine. Too often in the last decade, closed-door deals and private contacts have shut out the public. The governor and legislature should provide full public transparency for, and public participation in, the decision-making processes of our environmental agencies.
Even this long list is just the beginning. Many candidates profess their support for water. Your vote can put in office those who will turn that sentiment into action.