Above: The clear waters of Great Sand Bay on Lake Superior north of Eagle River, Michigan, on the Keweenaw Peninsula. (Photo/Kelly Thayer)
You will not find the word “water” on Tuesday’s statewide general election ballot in Michigan. That hasn’t always been true. In 1968, 1988, 1998, and 2002, water appeared in the form of statewide voting on over $2 billion in environmental bond proposals. Voters approved all four by wide margins. No such issue will be put before statewide voters this year, extending a 20-year gap.
But you will find water on the ballot in various local communities and in different, more subtle ways across the Great Lakes State.
You will not find the word “water” on Tuesday’s statewide general election ballot in Michigan—extending a 20-year gap—but you will find water 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 will consider new regulations to safeguard water resources and taxes for sewer and drinking water system improvements. In northwest Michigan’s Leelanau Township, for instance, voters will decide on zoning amendments proponents say are designed to protect water quality, while an opponent calls the amendments a “spectacular display of government overreach.”
In Ann Arbor, residents will vote on 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, which already is contributing to floods and overwhelming Michigan’s underfunded water infrastructure. The funds would come from a $1 million increase in city property taxes over the next 20 years. At the county level, the choice of commissioners could affect whether these jurisdictions take on one of the problems most threatening the state’s waters, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems.
Ann Arbor voters will consider a tax to curb climate change, which is contributing to floods and failure of water infrastructure in Michigan. Leelanau Township voters will decide on zoning amendments designed to protect water quality.
In races for three statewide offices, especially governor and attorney general, officeholders have enormous influence on the quality of water and other natural resources. As an example, incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have teamed on a legal strategy to shut down Line 5, Enbridge’s risky, antiquated twin petroleum pipelines located in the Straits of Mackinac. Whitmer’s Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, has called the proposed shutdown part of a “radical” state energy strategy and says, if elected, she will drop the bid to shut down the pipelines.
In races for Michigan’s top spots—governor and attorney general—the outcome will impact the fate of the dangerous Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, the investment of several billion dollars in federal aid for water infrastructure needs, and whether Michigan finally will regulate failing septic systems.
All 148 seats in the Michigan legislature—110 in the State House of Representatives and 38 in the State Senate—are up for grabs. In the 2023-2024 session of the legislature, lawmakers will decide whether to enact a statewide law to control failing septic systems, whether to spend a part of several billion dollars in federal aid on water infrastructure needs, and more.
Finally, all 13 of Michigan’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be contested on Tuesday. 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 color Michigan election choices. When we cast votes in November, we should remember that more than candidates are on the ballot. In a very real way, so are water and the public trust.