Sessions will shed light on water withdrawal regulations

December 29, 2008
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LANSING — A series of workshops developed by the Michigan State University Water Team and the Institute of Water Research is intended to help participants understand the state’s new water withdrawal regulations.

Among the day-long meetings is a Jan. 22 session to be held at the Ottawa County Fillmore Complex Administrative Building in West Olive.

David Lusch, an MSU senior research specialist focusing on drinking water protection and groundwater management, said the sites were chosen because of the number of large-quantity water withdrawals there. A Macomb County location was picked because lawn and golf irrigation-type withdrawals are common in the area.

Thomas Dudek, a district horticulture and marketing agent for MSU in Ottawa County, said the West Olive location is important because of the region’s agriculture industry, one that includes blueberries, nurseries, greenhouses and corn.

“The intended audience are farmers — those folks that are irrigators or want to develop wells for their fields,” he said.

Jeremiah Asher, a geographic information systems project manager at MSU, said he expects consultants for well drillers, farmers and environmentally concerned citizens to attend.

“There should be a pretty diverse group,” he said. “The workshop will be helpful for a variety of people on both sides of the issue.”

The new regulatory system governs withdrawals that pump 100,000 gallons or more a day from surface or groundwater. It’s a result of the Great Lakes Compact legislation signed earlier this year.

“Michigan had no choice but to have some sort of water withdrawal regulatory environment in place to prevent federal action or water diversions out west,” said Lusch.

Agricultural and golf course irrigation, industrial and manufacturing facilities, including breweries and drinking water suppliers, are typical large-quantity users.

Legislation passed in 2006 authorizes the removal of large quantities of water if it has no “adverse resource impact,” but the law didn’t specify how that impact could be measured. An “adverse resource impact” means disrupting fish populations, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

The 2006 regulatory system gave rise to a water assessment tool that allows users to screen sites in advance. The system is available online, and its use will become mandatory in July.

Lusch said the computer-based program is easy to use and more convenient because most large-quantity withdrawals won’t upset local environments. It’s expected to curb the need for thousands of requests for DEQ evaluation each year.

The tool uses fish populations to measure potential environmental impact. Fish were chosen as a marker because of the large amount of data the Department of Natural Resources has on their populations in Michigan, said Lusch.

The system alerts users if water withdrawal will upset the ecology near a proposed site. If there is no problem, users can register for permission to withdraw water.

Asher created the system that’s been running on an introductory basis since October. He said the site averages 50 hits per day.

“The model runs in real time and provides a response back to the user, letting them know if there would be an adverse resource impact,” said Asher.

He will explain how the system works at the workshops through a hands-on demonstration.

Lusch said the seminars will give all attendees a better understanding of the new regulations and the tools used in large water withdrawal assessment. “Our intent is to give the public a comfort level in that Michigan’s way to regulate water withdrawal is the most science-based and unique system that no other state has attempted to use,” he said.

Information about the workshops and registration is available at

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