Tag: groundwater

How Are We Using Great Lakes Water and Groundwater?

Above: Watershed art by Glenn Wolff.


By Bob Otwell, FLOW Board member

A Great Lakes water use report recently released by the Great Lakes Commission provides an important snapshot of the kinds and volumes of water withdrawals in the region.

Annual Report of the Great Lakes Regional Water Use Database – 2021 data-Jan 2023

The report found that an average 37.5 billion gallons of water per day were withdrawn from the Great Lakes Basin in 2021. Most of this water (71%) was utilized for cooling of power plants. The next highest use was 14% for public water supply. The primary source for both of these two categories is Great Lakes surface water.

The report found that an average 37.5 billion gallons of water per day were withdrawn from the Great Lakes Basin in 2021. Most of this water (71%) was utilized for cooling of power plants.

The report included water use data from eight Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec).

Water use was presented from three sources; Great Lakes surface water, other surface water (rivers and lakes), and groundwater. Levels in the Great Lakes have ranged from an all-time low to all-time high over the past decade. Our societal usage of Great Lakes surface water has negligible effect on their levels. Levels in the Great Lakes are primarily influenced by precipitation and evaporation.

Water use was presented from three sources; Great Lakes surface water, other surface water (rivers and lakes), and groundwater.

Groundwater levels have been dropping in some parts of Michigan in recent decades due to overuse. Groundwater was only about 3% of total basin water use. Groundwater withdrawals occurred mostly in three categories: public water supply (41%), industrial (26%), and irrigation (23%). Of these three, irrigation had by far the highest consumptive use (88%) of total use, whereas public water supply and industrial consumptive use comprised just over 10% of total use. Consumptive use refers to the portion of the water withdrawn or withheld from the basin that is lost, or otherwise not returned, to the basin due to evaporation, incorporation into products, or other processes.

Groundwater levels have been dropping in some parts of Michigan in recent decades due to overuse.

Ontario has the largest land area in the basin, and the largest total withdrawal of the 10 jurisdictions. Michigan has the second largest land area but has the largest groundwater withdrawal volume of all states and provinces, 44% of the total. In Michigan, 39% of all groundwater withdrawal is for irrigation.

There are areas in Michigan, like Ottawa County, where groundwater demands exceed sustainable groundwater supply. In Southwest Michigan, the acreage irrigated for agricutlure has increased over the past decade. As we start to use more groundwater in Michigan, care should be taken to improve monitoring and reporting of groundwater levels, along with groundwater usage, on an annual basis.

There are areas in Michigan, like Ottawa County, where groundwater demands exceed sustainable groundwater supply.

The state legislature has recently approved funding for some of this work. The funding provides an educational program to increase agricultural water use efficiency. In addition, a database is being created to help with hydrogeologic data collection and modeling and increasing the availability of existing data in a common format. In 2022, the Michigan Groundwater Table convened by FLOW unanimously approved and encouraged the legislature to embrace these recommendations.


About the Author: Bob Otwell, who has served on FLOW’s Board of Directors since 2013, is a hydrologist, civil engineer, and founder of Otwell Mawby engineering in Traverse City, Michigan. 

Keep Michigan’s Water Affordable and in Public Hands

Photo: Liz Kirkwood is Executive Director of FLOW (For Love Of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, Michigan. Reach her at liz@flowforwater.org.

Editor’s note: The following op-ed originally appeared Jan. 17, 2023, in Bridge Michigan.


Michigan is a water wonderland — think Great Lakes, 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, groundwater that supplies 45 percent of our state with drinking water, and more than 6 million acres of wetlands.

But these waters face a daunting array of challenges, everything from microplastics to toxic “forever chemicals,” inadequate infrastructure funding to the stresses of climate change. The impact on residents includes soaring water bills, water shutoffs and widespread concern about lead and chemical contamination.

In 2023, Michigan needs an inspiring vision for Michigan’s water. I urge Gov. Whitmer in her Jan. 25 State of the State message to declare 2023 the Year of Keeping Water Public and Protected for All in Michigan.

In 2023, Michigan needs an inspiring vision, championed from the highest places inside our government and out. In her State of the State message set for Jan. 25, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has a chance to show the way by articulating bold proposals for Michigan’s water. I urge her to declare 2023 the Year of Keeping Water Public and Protected for All in Michigan.

Our water fares best when it remains in public control.

Privatization of water and sewer services elsewhere has led to inferior maintenance and higher costs to customers. Allowing private interests to commodify groundwater drains a vital public resource without benefit to the public. The future of our water is too important to leave to short-sighted, profit-seeking private interests.

Michigan should ban residential water shutoffs, impose royalties on water bottlers who take waters owned by the State of Michigan at practically no cost, and maintain public control on water services.

Here are a few steps Michigan must take to keep our water public and protected:

Secure Affordable Rates and Public Control

  • Water affordability and access: Water is essential to sanitation, health and life itself. No Michigander should be denied public water service because of inability to pay. Michigan should enact legislation to ban residential water shutoffs, fix the affordability crisis and address water injustices.
  • Public water legislation: The state should enact legislation imposing royalties on bottlers who commodify waters owned by the State of Michigan at practically no cost and reap extraordinary profit on the resale. The royalties should make up a clean water trust fund to serve Michigan residents and communities for dedicated public purposes, including ending water shutoffs and helping people whose wells are contaminated.
  • Keep municipal water utilities public: Michigan must draw a clear line against any plan to privatize public water services, which weakens local control and can ratchet up rates while maintenance lags.

Protect Drinking Water and Public Health

Michigan should dedicated more funds to the cleanup of toxic sites and prevention of groundwater contamination, develop new long-term funding sources for our water infrastructure, and require chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals before they can be authorized for sale.

We have made considerable progress in dealing with the kind of pollution the 1972 Clean Water Act targeted, but new threats continually emerge for which our laws are ill-prepared. The governor should call for actions to address not only these threats but also the mistakes of the past:

  • Groundwater: These vital but largely invisible waters are contaminated in over 15,000 localities. Another $50 million a year should be dedicated to the cleanup of toxic sites and prevention of groundwater contamination.
  • Climate resilience and water infrastructure funding: Climate change is putting unprecedented stress on already-faltering water systems. Despite a one-time infusion of federal funds last year, our water infrastructure faces a multi-billion dollar investment gap. We need long-term funding sources, and new water projects must be designed for an era of intensifying storms.
  • A new approach to chemical contamination: We can no longer deal with chemicals like PFAS one-by-one and after they have done environmental harm. Instead, the precautionary principle should be the foundation of our chemical policy, requiring chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals before they can be authorized for commerce.

Our actions now will define and shape the future of the Great Lakes. This future demands a new relationship with water, and recognizes, in the words of Jacques Cousteau, that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

Imagine a future where we place water at the center of all decision-making. And imagine the profoundly positive impacts that result in energy choices, food systems, the transportation and housing sectors, urban development, manufacturing and more.

Safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value and, keeping our water public and protected for all can help secure Michigan’s future.

Safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value and, despite daily indications of bitter polarization in our politics, this important area of common ground bridges political divides. Prudently conceived and boldly implemented, keeping our water public and protected for all can help secure Michigan’s future.

2022 Year in Review: FLOW Makes Advances along the Waterfront

Above: A burst of sunshine and Lake Michigan’s power at the shore in Frankfort, Michigan. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)


Michigan’s water bounty is vast—touching four of the five Great Lakes, more than 10,000 inland lakes, 36,000 river miles, 6 million acres of wetlands, and groundwater that is the drinking water source for more than 4 million Michiganders.

At FLOW, we envision a future where healthy waters sustain healthy communities in the Great Lakes Basin, and together with our supporters and partners, we are bringing that vision to life.

Such an abundant heritage requires protection from a host of threats, and creative thinking about opportunities to keep water public and protected. These, in turn, require vision. At FLOW, we envision a future where healthy waters sustain healthy communities in the Great Lakes Basin, and together with our supporters and partners in 2022, we are bringing that vision to life.

The clear waters of Great Sand Bay on Lake Superior north of Eagle River, Michigan, on the Keweenaw Peninsula. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)

The view Michiganders enjoy of expansive, seemingly infinite Great Lakes waters is mirrored in our work, which spans all of Michigan’s public waters and includes all beings who depend on them. FLOW protects the Great Lakes—and our public trust rights to access, swim, drink, fish, and navigate these magnificent fresh waters—from threats that include climate change and the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, while strengthening protection of our vital groundwater and securing clean water for all.

FLOW protects the Great Lakes and our public trust rights, while strengthening protection of our vital groundwater and securing clean water for all.

In 2022, FLOW’s sustained efforts to ensure safe, clean, affordable, and public water for all resulted in measurable, immediate achievements, as well as in steps toward long-term goals. Here’s a summary of the impact, as well as hope for an even better 2023 in the fight to protect 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water and a way of life for all of us who depend on it for our well being.

Line 5: Preventing a Petroleum Disaster in the Great Lakes

The continued presence of Enbridge’s nearly 70-year-old Line 5 petroleum pipelines crossing in the Straits of Mackinac is a navigational hazard and a clear danger to the Great Lakes, communities, tribes, and businesses. The dented and decaying pipeline is owned and operated by Enbridge, the same Canadian corporation responsible for the 2010 spill of more than 1.2 million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall, Michigan.

Line 5 shown in red runs from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ont., as part of Enbridge’s larger pipeline network in yellow running the Alberta, Canada, tar sands to Montreal.

The nearly 70-year-old Line 5 petroleum pipeline crossing in the Straits of Mackinac is a navigational hazard and a clear danger to the Great Lakes, communities, tribes, and businesses.

Acting on the public trust doctrine legal principles articulated by FLOW, Attorney General Nessel filed a lawsuit to shut down LIne 5 in 2019. In 2020, Governor Whitmer revoked and terminated the 1953 easement Enbridge relied upon to operate Line 5, while recognizing that alternatives to Line 5 exist for supplying oil and propane.

The State of Michigan and the public, however, must remain vigilant until the oil stops flowing for good because Enbridge is defying the shutdown order, and Line 5 remains exposed to exceptionally strong currents, lakebed scouring, new anchor and cable strikes, and corrosion. At the same time, Enbridge is seeking permission to locate a tunnel to carry the petroleum under the Straits, posing another set of unacceptable risks.

 In 2022, to shut down Line 5 and stop the ill-advised oil tunnel, FLOW:

  • Spurred Public Engagement & Comment—Spurred, as a founding steering committee member of Oil & Water Don’t Mix, vigorous public engagement and public comment last fall as part of  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review of the proposed oil tunnel; and FLOW also prepared final comments submitted to the federal agency on October 14.
  • Helped Reopen the Record on Proposed Tunnel—Helped persuade the Michigan Public Service Commission in July to reopen the record to receive more safety details on the tunnel proposal and Line 5 pipelines.
  • Hosted a Line 5 Livestream—Co-hosted, in partnership with Oil & Water Don’t Mix and the Bay Mills Indian Community, a July livestream event on the status of the Line 5 struggle that drew nearly 600 registrants and reached thousands more people through social media and our e-newsletter.
  • Released a New Fact Sheet—Published a new Line 5 fact sheet.

    Groundwater: Strengthening Protection of Our Sixth Great Lake

    FLOW’s 2022 reportBuilding Consensus: Securing Protection of Michigan’s Groundwater.

    The volume of groundwater in the Great Lakes Basin is comparable to the volume of Lake Huron—in essence, it’s the sixth Great Lake. Groundwater supports industry and agriculture, recharges our streams and the Great Lakes, and provides drinking water to millions of people.

    But because it is out of sight, and therefore often out of mind, groundwater is the least protected arc of that cycle. Limited protections and underinvestment in monitoring have allowed contamination to plague groundwater in tens of thousands of locations in Michigan. Since 2018, FLOW has advanced groundwater as a top priority, bringing new attention and momentum to its stewardship.

    Since 2018, FLOW has advanced groundwater as a top priority, bringing new attention and momentum to its stewardship.

    One of the biggest threats to Michigan’s groundwater is 130,000 failing septic systems. They pollute groundwater with pathogens and household toxic materials, yet Michigan is the only state lacking statewide requirements for inspection, maintenance, and replacement of failing septic systems. FLOW and our partners are striving to remedy that unacceptable fact. 

    In 2022, to protect groundwater, FLOW helped lead the way with these actions:

    • Helped Pass a Countywide Septic Ordinance—Helped in August to persuade the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners, in northwest Michigan, to enact a countywide ordinance preventing and defending against septic system pollution of groundwater.
    • Published a New Groundwater Report—Released in June, as the culmination of 15 months of work, our report, Building Consensus: Securing Protection of Michigan’s Groundwater, and accompanying story map. The report expresses the consensus of multiple stakeholders critical to the state policy process that the state must do more to gather and analyze data fostering an understanding of the condition of groundwater. Key recommendations from the report have helped to form FLOW’s 2023 groundwater policy agenda.

      FLOW’s immersive Groundwater story map.

    • Hosted a Groundwater Livestream—Hosted a livestream in March featuring FLOW staff and five partners, including State Rep. Padma Kuppa and experts on groundwater from academia, the scientific community, and the state. In all, 180 people registered for the event, which offered perspectives on the critical importance of our groundwater resources and the work of the Michigan Groundwater Table convened by FLOW.
    • Collaborated on a World Water Day Resolution—Worked with Rep. Kuppa on a World Water Day resolution that was adopted by Michigan’s State House of Representatives.
    • Guided Water Infrastructure Funding—Engaged last spring with national, regional, state, and local partners, to determine the most impactful policy interventions to ensure the equitable distribution of state and federal funds for water infrastructure, including a $35 million appropriation to help address failing septic systems.

    Clean Water for All: Keeping Water Public and Protected

    Access to clean water for all is a human right and even more vital during emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, household water shutoffs in Detroit and elsewhere, and the Flint lead-tainted water crisis. The cost of inaction and the failure to fund public water infrastructure continues to result in water insecurity, flooding, pollution, and costly patchwork repair.

    Access to clean water for all is a human right and even more vital during emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, household water shutoffs in Detroit and elsewhere, and the Flint lead-tainted water crisis.

    In 2022, to ensure equitable funding for public water systems and to prioritize water access and affordability, FLOW:

    • Helped Advance Public Water, Public Justice in New York—Worked with New York State lawmakers in support of the newly introduced  Public Water Justice Act, based on FLOW’s groundbreaking 2018 model legislation to extend public trust protection to groundwater, establish a royalty and public justice trust fund from bottled water companies, and pay for water infrastructure priorities.
    • Supported Equity in Water Infrastructure Funding—Engaged statewide with Michigan lawmakers and the Whitmer administration on legislative and other proposals to equitably distribute an historic, short-term increase in federal funds for water infrastructure.
    • Participated in an Environmental Justice Livestream—Presented at an Environmental Justice livestream event hosted by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative in March.
    • Celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act—Published original insights and perspectives throughout the year about keeping water protected and in public hands, including a series of articles in October on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and its importance, and asked in November, What Do the Election Results Mean for the Great Lakes State?
    • Hosted a Livestream with Maude Barlow—Hosted a livestream event in June with lifelong and world-renowned champion of water, Maude Barlow, who has written a memoir built on her career of activism. Its title, appropriately, is Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. In the book, Barlow vividly details her work on many issues, perhaps most importantly her successful advocacy of water as a human right.

    In March, FLOW supported the introduction of three related public trust bills on groundwater, bottled water, and natural resources. 

    • Supported Public Trust Bills in Michigan—Supported in March the introduction of three related public trust bills to expand public trust protections to groundwater, end the bottled water loophole of the Great Lakes Compact in Michigan, and direct the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to be strong public trustee stewards. 
    • Collaborated on a Public Trust Resolution—Worked with state lawmakers to declare water as a public trust in a World Water Day resolution.  
    • Upheld the Human Right to Water & Sanitation—Continued our efforts to build upon the successful passage of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation Resolution in Traverse City. Promoted statewide and regional engagement on this resolution work with We the People, Michigan Municipal League (MML), Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.
    • Drafted a Model Ordinance on Green Infrastructure—Drafted a model green infrastructure ordinance that would require municipalities to evaluate the economic and environmental effectiveness of green infrastructure alternatives—assisted by MML, SEMCOG, and City of Grand Rapids.
    • Advanced Green Infrastructure in Communities—Continued to work with Traverse City and Marquette on advancing green infrastructure as part of their new master plans to benefit the environment and save taxpayer dollars.

    FLOW’s Commitment: Lifting Up Young Leaders on Water Protection

    FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

    Too often we hear that members of Generation Z, those born between 1997-2012, mistrust government, worry about the future of democracies, and feel overwhelmed by the weighty burden of climate change they are inheriting. But from the depths rise the leaders of tomorrow—our beacon of hope.

    “Protecting our precious waters is a multigenerational mission,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

    “Protecting our precious waters is a multigenerational mission,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “We put that mission into practice not only by pursuing solutions to water problems that will pay off for generations to come, but also by engaging young people who will carry forward the work as part of a rising generation.”

    In 2022, to lift up the youth water movement, FLOW was proud to engage with:

    Lucy Jones enjoys a Lake Michigan sunset.

    • Water&—Bebe Schaefer and Rachel Roberts, two students at American University in Washington, D.C., recently launched the nonprofit organization Water&, on a “constant journey of collective action.” We at FLOW were thrilled to join hands with Water& and other young adult-led organizations in the Great Lakes Basin, and in our nation’s capital, to expand hope and leadership in the protection of our public waters.
    • Mackenzie Joseph—Our highly productive summer 2022 Milliken Intern for Communications was Mackenzie Joseph, a native of Johnstown, Ohio, and rising senior at Ohio University in Athens, who is majoring in Communication Studies with minors in History, English, Writing, and Political Communication. 
    • Mary Basso and Irene Namae—Our ambitious and talented summer 2022 Milliken Interns for Law and Policy were Mary Basso and Irene Namae. Irene was born in Uganda; after finishing a Bachelor of Law there from Makerere University, she served as a magistrate judge. She currently is pursuing her PhD in law at the University of Arizona, focusing on Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy.  Mary Basso is from Owosso, Michigan. After finishing a bachelor’s degree, Mary moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to study law at Vanderbilt University Law School.
    • Lucy Jones—When FLOW first wrote about Lucy Jones—the inspiring Traverse City teen who creates and sells jewelry to benefit the Great Lakes—last February, our supporters were moved by her environmental ethic and enterprising spirit. So we thought it was fitting to catch up with Lucy at year’s end with her holiday sales in full swing. FLOW thrives on these creative collaborations with teens and young adults—the Next Generation—who take action and lead the way to protect fresh water.

    Looking to 2023: Abundant Opportunity to Protect Fresh Water for All

    Now comes the next phase of the work that we all must do together: Hold our elected officials accountable to ensure the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are healthy, public, and protected for all. As the Great Lakes State, Michigan must lead on every imaginable freshwater policy to protect this fragile, water-rich ecosystem and to secure safe, affordable drinking water for all.

    “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

    “Michigan must seize this window of opportunity to think about systemic changes needed and make the greatest gains we can to protect fresh water, the environment, Pure Michigan economy, and our way of life in the face of impacts from unrelenting climate change and a water-scarce world,” said Kirkwood. “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it.”


    P.S.—Your Inside Look at FLOW with Liz Kirkwood Starts Now. Take an exclusive look behind the scenes at FLOW’s work, made possible by our generous supporters:


     

    Dave Dempsey Reflects on Lessons Learned after 40 Years of Environmental Advocacy

    Above: Appreciating the water cycle and all the many forms it takes, including snowflakes and rainbows over Lake Michigan. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)


    By Dave Dempsey

    Last month marked the end of my 40th year of environmental advocacy. Looking ahead to 2022 in 1982, I may have thought humans would have colonized the moon by now—or better yet, humans would have become such good stewards of the Earth that professional environmental advocates would be out of jobs.

    Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor

    I never thought my career would span four decades, but now that it has, looking back—as well as forward—seems fitting. My lens has smudges and blind spots, so consider that as you read. Here are a few lessons of 40 years.

    We need laws that consider the whole—and require reduction in pollution in air, water, and land from a single source. Or better yet, laws that prevent pollution in the first place. 

    Lessons Learned

    As long as we regard the environment in pieces, we will not achieve a healthy and lush Earth. Perhaps in 1970 it made political sense to treat air, water, and land as separate spheres.  But even then we knew—and it is ever clearer now—that we live in a world where all of these are connected. Laws that clean up industrial processes by sending hazardous wastes to landfills or incinerators merely transfer a problem to another medium. Said John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

    We need laws that consider the whole—and require reduction in pollution in air, water, and land from a single source. Or better yet, laws that prevent pollution in the first place. 

    Our understanding of economic growth is childish, and clinging to it will delay or prevent the environmental recovery we must have. I’ve heard the tiresome refrain from business lobbyists since the day I began working at the Michigan Environmental Council in November 1982: “You can’t have a healthy economy and a healthy environment at the same time.” There was hope that this false dichotomy would change after the release of a United Nations report in 1987 that spoke for the first time of sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

    We can no longer operate on the premise that constantly increasing Gross Domestic Product, in a world of exhaustible resources, is the goal of public policy and personal conduct.

    But ask anyone on the street what “sustainable development” means, and you will mostly be met by puzzled faces. We can no longer operate on the premise that constantly increasing Gross Domestic Product, in a world of exhaustible resources, is the goal of public policy and personal conduct.

    The people lead, and the leaders follow. It’s been said a multitude of times by a multitude of people—if you wait around for presidents, Congress, governors, state legislatures, or your local board of trustees to take the lead on environmental protection, your hair will turn gray before you get action. The Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972 did not happen because of enlightened, futuristic politicians—instead, those politicians were responding to public outrage about waters that were unsafe for swimming and air that was unsafe to breathe.

    The business of making laws is not pretty, but it is always better when citizens are driving it and monitoring it.

    The business of making laws is not pretty, but it is always better when citizens are driving it and monitoring it.

    Future Generations

    What about the future? Where should Michigan go now in light of these lessons?

    Bold transformative changes are necessary to meet the interconnected challenges of water stewardship and climate change.

    First, now is not the time for half measures or tweaking. Michigan has a rare opportunity in 2023 to show national leadership on the environment. That has not been true since the early 1980s, the last time that Democrats in Michigan—who often favor more environmental protections than state Republicans do—held the governor’s office and both chambers in the state legislature. We cannot keep tinkering with the old laws and making minor changes. Bold transformative changes are necessary to meet the interconnected challenges of water stewardship and climate change.

    It is just plain wrong that Michigan has 25,000 groundwater contamination sites, rivers and streams don’t meet health and/or water quality standards, and scores of communities whose sewage or drinking water treatment systems are old and underfunded.

    Second, clean water must get more than lip service. The public wants clean water, and the state’s residents must communicate that to Governor Whitmer and the legislature. These elected officials, in turn, have the responsibility to enact measures that provide the billions of dollars in state and federal funding needed to make the promise of Pure Michigan real. It is just plain wrong that Michigan has 25,000 groundwater contamination sites, hundreds of places where rivers and streams don’t meet health and/or water quality standards, and scores of communities whose sewage or drinking water treatment systems are old and underfunded.

    On such issues as climate change, we have a duty to take decisive action to make the world habitable for our descendants.

    Third, Michigan must think more often about its air, water, land and other resources through the lens of 2062 rather than 2022. Elected officials need a vision that goes beyond the next election cycle. This has happened before in Michigan. The forestry pioneers of the late 1800s and early 1900s took the millions of acres of land clearcut and abandoned by the lumber barons and shaped it into a 3.9 million acre state forest system.  None of them lived to see their work come to full fruition. They cared about us. We must do the same for our descendants. On such issues as climate change, we have a duty to take decisive action to make their world habitable.

    Will Michigan do this? I have my doubts. Forty years of cynicism are hard to shrug off. But the people of Michigan have shown leadership before, and we can do it again if we choose to do so. Our children and their children are counting on us.

    What Do the Election Results Mean for the Great Lakes State?

    While the word “water” was not on the November 8 statewide general election ballot in Michigan, it was present on the ballot in various local communities and in different, more subtle ways across the Great Lakes State.

    In some of Michigan’s 276 cities and 1,240 townships, voters considered new regulations to safeguard water resources and taxes for sewer and drinking water system improvements. In northwest Michigan’s Leelanau Township, for instance, 60% of voters approved zoning amendments designed to protect water quality; and Leelanau County is poised by month’s end to implement a county-wide septic code ordinance after the county board’s bipartisan vote in August following years of rancorous debate and unsuccessful attempts at passage.

    In Ann Arbor, a whopping 71% of voters favored a proposal to fund the City’s A2 Zero Action Plan, which aims for a transition to carbon neutrality by 2030 to curb climate change. The funds will come from an up to 1-mill ($1 for every $1,000 in taxable value) increase in city property taxes over the next 20 years, which will raise an estimated $6,800,000 in the first year levied. Authorized uses include year-round composting; expanded residential/multifamily recycling; community and rooftop solar programs; rental and low-income household energy programs; bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure; neighborhood resource centers; electric vehicle infrastructure; and tree plantings.

    In some of Michigan’s 276 cities and 1,240 townships, voters considered new regulations to safeguard water resources and taxes for sewer and drinking water system improvements.  A whopping 71% of Ann Arbor voters favored a proposal to fund the City’s A2 Zero Action Plan, which aims for a transition to carbon neutrality by 2030 to curb climate change.

    At the county level, decisions made by voters on whom to elect as commissioners in each of Michigan’s 83 counties could affect whether these jurisdictions in the near term take on one of the problems most threatening the state’s waters, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems. Michigan remains the only state without a statewide law to set minimum standards for inspecting, maintaining, and replacing broken septic systems to protect surface water and groundwater and safeguard public health, so regulation is limited for now to a patchwork of local ordinances.

    Historic Shift in Michigan’s Government

    For the first time since the 1980s, Democrats have won the governor’s office, with the re-election of Gretchen Whitmer, and majorities in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, albeit by just two seats in each chamber, which Republicans had controlled during Whitmer’s first term. The historic shift, along with the re-election of Dana Nessel as attorney general, promises to have enormous influence on the quality of water and other natural resources of the state.

    enbridges-line-5-under-the-straits-of-mackinac-4f9997139d321d60

    A diver points to a segment of the dual Line 5 oil pipelines operating under in the Straits of Mackinac since 1953.

    As an example, Whitmer and Nessel have been partnering on a legal strategy to shut down Line 5, Enbridge’s risky, antiquated twin petroleum pipelines operating in the Straits of Mackinac, while their Republican opponents had pointedly promised to drop the litigation if elected. And Gov. Whitmer will have the opportunity to speed up progress on her climate action plan, restore polluter-pay cleanup laws weakened under former Republican Gov. John Engler, and protect and restore the Great Lakes. Widespread PFAS contamination, E. coli pollution, and harmful algal blooms also remain key priorities.

    In the 2023-2024 session of the legislature, lawmakers will likely decide whether to enact a statewide law to control failing septic systems and whether to spend a part of several billion dollars in federal aid to maximize Michigan’s historic investments in clean drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and other water infrastructure projects – including aging dams on Michigan rivers.

    FLOW: It’s Time to Seize the Opportunity to Protect Fresh Water for All

    As the Great Lakes State, Michigan must lead on every imaginable freshwater policy to protect this fragile, water-rich ecosystem and to secure safe, affordable drinking water for all.

    FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

    “For the first time in almost 40 years, the Whitmer administration and the legislature have an opportunity to profoundly shape water policy in the Great Lake State,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, reflecting on the recent election results. “A lasting watermark would include securing clean, safe, and affordable water for all and protecting groundwater for the health of our lakes and communities.”

    “For the first time in almost 40 years, the Whitmer administration and the legislature have an opportunity to profoundly shape water policy in the Great Lake State,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, reflecting on the recent election results. “A lasting watermark would include securing clean, safe, and affordable water for all and protecting groundwater for the health of our lakes and communities.

    Public Water, Public Justice

    Governor Whitmer should play a leading role to close the bottled-water loophole in the Great Lakes Compact that presently allows diversions of water in containers less than 5.7 gallons. To do so, Kirkwood called on the governor and legislature to adopt FLOW’s “Public Water, Public Justice” model legislation that would generally prevent diversions by requiring small container diversions to be aligned with Public Trust principles, licensed by the state, and subject to royalties that would generate state revenue for Michigan’s vast water infrastructure needs.

    “Michigan must seize this window of opportunity to think about systemic changes needed and make the greatest gains we can to protect fresh water, the environment, Pure Michigan economy, and our way of life in the face of impacts from unrelenting climate change and a water-scarce world,” said Kirkwood. “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it.”

    “Michigan must seize this window of opportunity to think about systemic changes needed and make the greatest gains we can to protect fresh water, the environment, Pure Michigan economy, and our way of life in the face of impacts from unrelenting climate change and a water-scarce world,” said Kirkwood. “Big, bold ideas for a vibrant future vision are necessary to generate public engagement and support. So if there ever was a moment, this would be it.”

    On the Federal Front

    Finally, all 13 of Michigan’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives were contested in the November 8 election, with all incumbents who ran winning re-election, and Republicans gaining a slim majority in the chamber. Democrats retained narrow control of the U.S. Senate, and all Midwest governors on the ballot were re-elected.

    The U.S. House will consider legislation in 2023 to address PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals,” which have contaminated over 200 sites in Michigan, and renewal of federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

    Everywhere you look, water issues colored Michigan election choices and outcome. Now comes the real work that we all must do together: Hold our elected officials accountable to ensure the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are healthy, public, and protected for all.

    Michigan Legislature on Wednesday Will Consider Bill to Control Waste from Septic Systems

    Editor’s note: FLOW supports the consideration of newly introduced legislation to control septic system sewage and looks forward to helping strengthen the bill’s provisions to ensure the strongest possible protections for public health and public waters. Please read the article, and use the links to contact the bill’s co-sponsors using the information below to express your support.


    Wednesday marks an important moment in the decades-long effort to protect Michigan’s public health, wells, and water from pollution caused by failing septic systems. At 10:30 a.m. on Weds., Sept. 28, a state legislative committee will take up a bill requiring inspection of septic systems at the time a property is sold.

    FLOW encourages the public to contact the bill’s co-sponsors—Rep. Yaroch and Rep. Rendon—to express support for their legislation to protect public health and public waters.

    The House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation will hear testimony on House Bill 6101, which was introduced by Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Macomb County, and Rep. Daire Rendon of Lake City, in Missaukee County. While the committee bill is not expected to vote on the measure Wednesday, the hearing could lay the groundwork for action after the November election, during the lame-duck session, or early in the 2023 legislative session. FLOW encourages the public to contact the bill’s co-sponsors—Rep. Yaroch and Rep. Rendon—to express support for their legislation to protect public health and public waters.

    Michigan is the only state lacking a law to require inspection of septic systems. It is an urgent priority, with an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems in Michigan releasing approximately 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment each year.

    Michigan is the only state lacking a law to require inspection of septic systems. An estimated 130,000 failing septic systems in Michigan each year release approximately 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment.

    How Did We Get Here on Septic?

    For two decades, proponents of the legislation have unsuccessfully attempted to secure passage by the legislature of such a law. FLOW and many of our allied organizations support a statewide septic code, working for years to lay the groundwork for passage. FLOW supports the introduction of H.B. 6101 and looks forward to helping strengthen the bill’s provisions to ensure the strongest protections for public health and public waters.

    One of the witnesses scheduled to testify on Wednesday is Dr. Joan Rose, a Michigan State University researcher and microbiologist, who co-authored a study finding human fecal indicator bacteria in every river tested in a 64 river systems that drain approximately 84 percent of the Lower Peninsula. 

    Dr. Joan Rose, a Michigan State University researcher and microbiologist, will testify Wednesday on the septic bill.

    Rose was a key presenter at the Michigan Septic Summit, hosted in November 2019 by FLOW and our partners and allies and attended by over 150 public health experts, scientists, local government representatives, nonprofit organizations, and interested citizens. At the Septic Summit, Dr. Rose spoke about her study’s finding on septic pollution.

    The results were clear, Rose said. “The more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source tracking bacteria in the water. If we want to keep E. coli and other pathogens out of our waterways, we need to address the problem of septic systems that may be failing to adequately treat our wastewater.”

    FLOW continues to educate and empower the public on the need for a statewide septic system policy in order to protect public health, local communities, lakes, and ecosystems—especially groundwater, the source of drinking water for 45% of Michigan’s population.

    Learn More

    To learn more, dive into FLOW’s original articles, videos, and other content on the need to stop septic pollution, including materials published Sept. 19-23 during SepticSmart Week, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency annual educational initiative, at www.ForLoveOfWater.org and on FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

    SepticSmart: Can Michigan Move from Last to First?

    Editor’s note: During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. (If you are unsure about what a septic system is or how it works, start here).

    Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW.


    For a long time, Michigan was regarded as an environmental leader among the states.  We were the first state to ban the pesticide DDT, the first in the Great Lakes region to limit phosphorus pollution to protect sensitive waters like Lake Erie, and the first to create a trust fund from oil and gas revenues to buy public recreational and scenic land.

    But there’s a big gap in Michigan’s body of environmental law.

    We are the only state without a sanitary code that applies to septic systems—despite knowing that pollution from failing septic systems is detected in scores of rivers and lakes across Michigan.

    Click here to learn how a conventional septic system works. (Click image to see larger version).

    The link is clear, said microbiologist Dr. Joan Rose of Michigan State University. She led a study that sampled 64 river systems that drain approximately 84 percent of the Lower Peninsula, looking for E. coli and the human-specific source tracking marker bacteria called B-theta.

    The results were clear, Rose said. “The more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source tracking bacteria in the water. If we want to keep E. coli and other pathogens out of our waterways, we need to address the problem of septic systems that may be failing to adequately treat our wastewater.”

    Closing the gap should be an urgent priority for Michigan policymakers. State law needs to require periodic pumping and inspection of septic systems and replacement of those found to be failing.

    But Michigan shouldn’t be satisfied with a law that does just the basics. We should add money to a new state low-interest loan program assisting homeowners with the cost of replacing those failing systems. And we should bump up public education so that more Michigan residents know about the problem and solutions.

    If we’re going to be an environmental leader again, we can no longer refrain from sanitary code legislation.


    Learn More about Why Michigan Must Move from Last to First on Control of Septic Waste

    Here is today’s SepticSmart guidance from NatureChange, FLOW, and partners: 

    Michigan’s Lack of Septic Maintenance Requirements Threatens Public Health (One-minute trailer)

    Flushing the Future-The Challenge of Failing Septic Systems (16-minute video)

     

    Get SepticSmart to Stop Pollution, Save Money

    Image courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


    Editor’s note: During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW: SepticSmart Week: Progress on Protecting Public Health and Fresh Water and SepticSmart: Leelanau County Board Wisely Votes to Protect Fresh Water and Public Health from Septic Pollution.


    Michiganders who rely on septic systems to treat and discharge their sewage don’t need to wait for a state law requiring them to maintain those systems. Their voluntary acts and practices can help prevent further groundwater and surface water pollution from failing and malfunctioning septic systems, and save them money and headaches too.

    Most importantly, owners of homes with septic systems should have tanks pumped and examined at least once every three years. If the inspection yields evidence of a failing system, the tank should be replaced. Replacing failing systems is expensive – but the cost of not doing so includes risking the health of the household if a drinking water well is in the path of the slowly moving waste. It also puts neighbors and recreational users of contaminated streams at risk from fecal bacteria and household chemicals.

    The State of Michigan is launching a $35 million low-interest loan program to assist homeowners in defraying the cost of septic system replacement.

    U.S. EPA–Top 10 Ways to be a Good Septic System Owner (Click for larger version).

    Top 10 Ways to Be a Good Septic Owner

    Other SepticSmart quick tips on protecting your septic system from failure:

    • Have your system inspected every three years by a qualified professional or according to your local health department’s recommendations.
    • Have your septic tank pumped, when necessary, generally every three to five years.
    • Avoid pouring harsh products (e.g., oils, grease, chemicals, paint, medications) down the drain.
    • Make efficient use of water and do not operate several water-intensive appliances at the same time. Doing otherwise can lead to a septic system backup into your house.
    • Keep the surface over a septic system drain field clear. Roots and heavy objects can disrupt the treatment of waste in the septic system.
    • For the full list of Top 10 Ways to Be a Good Septic Owner, click here or on the image.

    Have your septic tank pumped, when necessary, generally every three to five years. Source: U.S. EPA. (Click for larger version).

    If all homeowners with septic systems follow these tips and others, their potential bill for system replacement will be lower, and Michigan’s public waters will be cleaner.

    Scientific studies have found human fecal contamination affecting 100% of our river systems in the Lower Peninsula and that substandard, failing, or nonexistent septic systems are the primary driver of human fecal bacteria found in our rivers and streams.

    FLOW’s action on septic system pollution began with our 2018 groundwater report, The Sixth Great Lake, which emphasized that in addition to releasing an estimated 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment each year, failing septic systems release household chemicals that residents pour down their drains. Our report called for a uniform statewide sanitary code in Michigan.

    Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates. To get you started, here is today’s tip from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminding all of us to Protect It and Inspect It!

     

    SepticSmart: Leelanau County Board Wisely Votes to Protect Fresh Water and Public Health from Septic Pollution

    Image courtesy of Leelanau.gov.


    Editor’s note: This opinion article by FLOW Legal Advisor Skip Pruss was originally published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on Sept. 4, 2022. During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW: SepticSmart Week: Progress on Protecting Public Health and Fresh Water and Get SepticSmart to Stop Pollution, Save Money.


    By Skip Pruss, FLOW Legal Advisor

    In August, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners voted to task the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department with drafting an ordinance requiring the inspection of septic systems upon the transfer or sale of a home. The bipartisan vote endorsing this ordinance came after years of rancorous debate and unsuccessful attempts at passage.

    Skip Pruss, FLOW Legal Advisor

    The vote was a hopeful sign of progress, demonstrating an understanding that malfunctioning septic systems can affect surface water and groundwater locally and statewide, potentially burdening communities with avoidable harmful economic, health and environmental outcomes.

    Scientific studies have found human fecal contamination affecting 100% of our river systems in the Lower Peninsula and that substandard, failing, or nonexistent septic systems are the primary driver of human fecal bacteria found in our rivers and streams. A study this year found that as many as 27 percent of all septic systems in Michigan households may be failing.

    Scientific studies have found human fecal contamination affecting 100% of our river systems in the Lower Peninsula and that as many as 27 percent of all septic systems in Michigan households may be failing.

    The Great Lakes surrounding Michigan hold 95 percent of all fresh surface water in the United States and 84 percent of all fresh surface water in North America. Leelanau County, a peninsula within a peninsula, has the most freshwater shoreline of any county in the Lower Peninsula.

    Remarkably, Michigan, seated at the very heart of the Great Lakes, is the only state without a state law setting minimum standards for the construction, maintenance and inspection of septic systems. Counties and local governments have had to step up, enacting local ordinances in recognition that a septic system inspection requirement would help identify failing systems, protect groundwater, reduce contaminated wastewater migration to our beautiful lakes and protect property values.

    Remarkably, Michigan, seated at the very heart of the Great Lakes, is the only state without a state law setting minimum standards for the construction, maintenance and inspection of septic systems. Counties and local governments have had to step up, enacting local ordinances.

    The good news is that, despite daily indications of bitter polarization in our politics, our community’s concern for safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value, an important area of common ground that bridges the political divide — as affirmed by the vote of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners. The State of Michigan and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also have proclaimed Sept. 19-23 to be SepticSmart Week and are providing outreach materials encouraging homeowners and communities to inspect and maintain their septic systems.

    For Love of Water (FLOW), the Traverse City-based law and policy center, has focused on the protection of groundwater and its relationship to Great Lakes water quality. FLOW’s recent work includes creating and moderating the Michigan Groundwater Table, an 18-month collaboration among local government organizations, state agencies, environmental and justice organizations and Michigan’s universities to identify key groundwater-protection strategies and make recommendations for their implementation (See related storymap here).

    FLOW continues to focus on the protection of groundwater and its relationship to Great Lakes water quality.

    Among the findings of the Groundwater Table is that septic system performance writ large is, in fact, an infrastructure issue.

    With the influx of state and federal funding targeted at water infrastructure support, this may be a particularly opportune time to revisit statewide solutions, including provisions for low-income assistance to address substandard systems.

    Meanwhile, hats off to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners for recognizing that protection of this extraordinary, globally unique natural endowment that is our Great Lakes is an environmental, economic and public health imperative.

    About the author: Skip Pruss is a legal adviser with FLOW and formerly directed the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. You can reach him at pruss@5lakesenergy.com.


    Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates. To get you started, here is today’s tip from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminding all of us: Don’t Strain Your Drain! 

    SepticSmart Week: Progress on Protecting Public Health and Fresh Water

    Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


    Editor’s note: During SepticSmart Week, which runs through Friday, FLOW is sharing updates on efforts to protect fresh water and public health from uncontrolled septic system waste, as part of an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants. 

    Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest articles, videos, and fact sheets. In case you missed it, here is additional coverage this week from FLOW for:


    U.S. EPA–Top 10 Ways to be a Good Septic System Owner (Click on image for larger version).

    Michigan’s lack of a statewide sanitary code ranks the state dead last in preventing pollution from failing septic systems. With an estimated 130,000 failing or malfunctioning septic systems in the state, the status quo is a threat to public health and Pure Michigan. That’s why FLOW has been taking action with you and key stakeholders during the last few years to educate and empower the public and key stakeholders and pursue solutions.

    This week presents another key opportunity to make a difference. Join FLOW starting today through Friday for SepticSmart Week, an annual educational campaign that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a decade ago, with the State of Michigan, other states, communities, and organizations, including FLOW, as partners and participants.

    Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates.

    State of Michigan’s 2022  Proclamation on SepticSmart Week 2022 (Click on image for larger version).

    Each day this week, FLOW will release SepticSmart Week content, including original articles and videos providing facts, tips, and inspiration to help you be part of the solution to this shared challenge of not only septic system pollution, but also the broader challenge of surface and groundwater contamination in Michigan. (If you are unsure about what a septic system is or how it works, start here).

    Slow, But Perceptible Progress on a Septic Code

    FLOW’s action on septic system pollution began with our 2018 groundwater report, The Sixth Great Lake, which emphasized that in addition to releasing an estimated 9.4 billion gallons of poorly or untreated sewage into the soil and environment each year, failing septic systems release household chemicals that residents pour down their drains. Our report called for a uniform statewide sanitary code in Michigan.

    In November 2019, FLOW and our partners and allies hosted a Michigan Septic Summit, attended by over 150 public health experts, scientists, local government representatives, nonprofit organizations, and interested citizens. We noted that the Summit “underscored a growing resolve in the state to do something meaningful about septic system pollution. Historically, when Michigan’s various interests have come together in good faith to solve an environmental problem, they have succeeded.”

    The Michigan Septic Summit “underscored a growing resolve in the state to do something meaningful about septic system pollution. Historically, when Michigan’s various interests have come together in good faith to solve an environmental problem, they have succeeded.”

    Since then we have continued to educate and empower the public and key stakeholders with the information and impetus to take action on septic system policy in order to protect public health, local communities, lakes, and ecosystems—especially groundwater, the source of drinking water for 45% of Michigan’s population.

    The Michigan Groundwater Table Builds Consensus on Need for Protection

    FLOW in January 2021 created and for a year convened the Michigan Groundwater Table, composed of 22 knowledgeable and influential stakeholders from local government, academia, and regulatory agencies.

    The Groundwater Table’s work culminated with FLOW hosting a livestream event—Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible on World Water Day & Every Day—last March and then in June with our release of a report, Building Consensus: Securing Protection of Michigan’s Groundwater, and accompanying story map. The report contains consensus findings about the status of Michigan’s groundwater and also recommendations on how to improve its protection. The Groundwater Table agreed it should be a priority to develop a statewide initiative to enable inspection and repair of septic systems, including funding to empower local health agencies to conduct periodic inspections and facilitate compliance and to assist homeowners in replacing failing systems.

    FLOW continues to educate and empower the public on the need for a statewide septic system policy in order to protect public health, local communities, lakes, and ecosystems—especially groundwater, the source of drinking water for 45% of Michigan’s population.

    Progress on statewide septic policy in Michigan has been slow, but it is perceptible and continues. Acting on a recommendation from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and with the backing of FLOW and many other environmental groups, the Michigan Legislature this year approved $35 million in low-interest loans to help homeowners pay for replacing failing septic systems. It’s a down payment on a problem that will require much more investment to fix.

    Contact State Representative Jeff Yaroch, a Republican from Macomb County, to express your support Michigan House Bill 6101, which would create a statewide septic code.

    Additional progress is the tentative scheduling in Lansing of a September 28, 2022, meeting of the Michigan House Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Committee to consider a proposed statewide sanitary code. Although House leadership to date has not signaled an intent to pass the legislation–Michigan House Bill 6101–this year, its introduction and potential consideration is a recognition that the problem is not going away—and that state level action is vital. Contact the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Jeff Yaroch, a Republican from Macomb County, to express your support for a statewide septic code.

    FLOW continues to work with the public and partners—community leaders, scientists, public health experts, academics, environmental advocates, realtors, and state and local lawmakers—to seek solutions to unregulated, polluting septic systems. Public education is vital to solving the longstanding problem. 

    Stay tuned during SepticSmart Week to www.ForLoveOfWater.org and FLOW’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for daily updates. To get you started, here is today’s tip from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminding all of us to “Think at the Sink!”