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10 Water-Wise Recommendations

Rebuilding Michigan’s economy means sustaining the Great Lakes

December 28, 2005 | By Andy Guy
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service


Belle Isle’s Scott Fountain frames nighttime Detroit’s skyline.

Earlier this month, Great Lakes leaders took several tremendous steps toward securing the region’s world-class water supply. First, local, state, and federal officials inked the most comprehensive deal to date for rehabilitating the degraded waterways of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. Then, the governors of the eight Great Lakes states signed an agreement that aims to prevent projects that divert water out of the basin and establishes some basic regulation of large-scale withdrawals. And even the Michigan Legislature, after many months of inaction, is considering several laws that offer additional protection for groundwater sources and the rivers they feed.

These initiatives are encouraging steps toward a sustainable water use strategy for the Great Lakes. But much remains to be done. The governor, the Legislature, and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Labor and Economic Growth must quickly develop a much more aggressive, inclusive, forward-looking state water policy fit for the 21st century. Water is Michigan’s defining strength in the global economy and smart water use is essential to economic achievement, social progress, and ecological stewardship.

The basis for a truly sustainable, prosperous society in the Great Lakes Basin will be factories, farms, and communities that use water in ways that celebrate, protect, and improve the natural resource. Toward that end, Michigan must embrace sustainability as the guiding principle for water use decisions, invest in businesses and local governments that practice sustainable water use, and establish significant financial disincentives to discourage water pollution and waste. The state must also acknowledge the growing worldwide challenge of preserving clean, fresh water and then appropriately value the basin’s unique supply.   

The strategy will inspire cutting-edge innovation, accelerate job growth, strengthen the economy, and enhance the magnificence of the globally unique Great Lakes ecosystem. To advance the strategy, the Michigan Land Use Institute urges the state Legislature, the governor, and various state agencies to quickly begin collaborating on these 10 steps:  

  1. Immediately and fully implement the citizen-based recommendations of Michigan’s 2002 Great Lakes Conservation Task Force report in order to confront the current threats to water quality, quantity, and natural habitat in the Great Lakes ecosystem. Recent legislative efforts barely scratch the surface of that excellent bi-partisan report.
  1. Establish a Water Resources Trust Fund, similar to the existing Natural Resources Trust Fund, to finance and enhance research, stewardship, quality, conservation, and restoration efforts for Michigan’s waters. Raise $3 billion annually for the fund by charging one cent for every gallon of water consumed—i.e., withdrawn from, but not returned to, the Great Lakes ecosystem—by municipalities, industrial manufacturers, and power producers.
  1. Develop a strategic vision and plan for Great Lakes water use that are based on economic and ecological sustainability.
  1. Establish state water goals and spending priorities that promote effective water use and speed the restoration of diminished water resources.
  1. Shift taxation away from economic benefits such as profits and toward activities such as wasteful water extraction and pollution that degrade the water supply and ultimately cost Michigan taxpayers real money. 
  1. Establish other economic incentives that strongly encourage manufacturers, farmers, cities, and other large-scale water users to proactively install sustainable water use measures consistent with the state vision. Incentives might include temporary tax credits, low-interest loans, matching grants, accelerated permitting, and similar policies that reward improved water use, waterfront rehabilitation, and other activities that have far-reaching fiscal, environmental, and cultural benefits. 
  1. Link land use planning with water use planning to encourage new growth in appropriate locations and advance development that respects a clean, robust water supply.
  1. Enact comprehensive water withdrawal standards that promote conservation, shield interconnected resources such as wetlands and rivers from ill-advised projects, and actively restore the Great Lakes and their tributaries.
  1. Expand the state’s Technology Tri-Corridor initiative to attract and grow companies that develop, commercialize, and implement water-friendly technologies in wastewater treatment, biotech, and related fields.
  1. Analyze water-pricing policies that promote conservation by residential and industrial users; design a uniform, effective, statewide price structure for Michigan; and direct municipal water providers to adopt it.

Andy Guy directs the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Great Lakes project; he can be reached at aguy@mlui.org. This article is a slightly revised excerpt from Water Works: Growing Michigan’s Great Lakes Opportunities, published in May 2005. Click here to read, download, or order the complete report.

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