Water Policy Teamwork Essential

January 14, 2008
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Protecting water rights involving the Great Lakes is the most important issue facing Michigan. Legal processes must be enacted to protect this state's most vital economic cornerstone. Rights to this essential resource must not be bargained away or compromised. There must be tough laws protecting Great Lakes water from diversion tactics targeted at this region's ecological foundation.

It's a big picture issue that requires hand-to-hand combat across all fronts. Battles posed by water bottlers seeking to tap into more of Michigan's water could set the stage for an unwavering defense of the largest body of fresh water in the world. Legal roadblocks must prohibit the extraction of a dwindling water supply.

The current issue in Lansing is about control. Who will have the final say in the use of water in the Great Lakes Basin? Michigan and other states in the region are struggling to set guidelines and policy. The process is essential in order to establish regional ground rules in preparation for larger geographic battles that are sure to come.

Compacts and compromises must first preserve conservation efforts regionally and guard against those proliferating "dry states" that have an eye on absorbing untold amounts of this precious resource.

Groups such as the Great Lakes, Great Michigan Coalition (see story, page 3) will play an important watchdog role in this process. The coalition seeks to preserve local decision-making in regard to use of local rivers, streams, lakes and waterways. It expresses a logical point of view that business and private enterprise should not trump the interests of local residents and property owners when it comes time to make water-diversion/use decisions. That is a rationale argument that must be met by enforceable legislation that puts such local input into the legal, hearing and decision-making process.

With support of such lawmakers as state Sen. Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Muskegon, vice chair of the body's committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, legislation sponsored by Sen. Patty Birkholz — Senate Bill 212 — has emerged as part of a larger legislative package intended to provide "stringent, yet reasonable laws, to further safeguard our waters."

Diligence must prevail to make sure written words are enough. "Assessment tools," such as those outlined by Van Woerkom, must identify harmful impacts and forbid the flow of water away from the region. Compromise shouldn't be the first option. Protection and self-defense should be.

Birkholz has been a leader of state Senate efforts to research water use issues for the past five years. It's argued there have been several successful efforts to pass bipartisan, consensus-based state legislation intended to protect the Great Lakes. Intent is one thing — actions continue to speak louder than words.

The goal and priority must be to create strong benchmarks that have legal basis, while safeguarding a world treasure for future generations.

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