2017-07-17 / Opinion

What about water?

Editor’s note: The following guest editorial was written by Carl Bednarski, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Do we want all water use to be held to the whim of activists?

Water is one of our most important assets. We are all responsible for its appropriate use. Here in Michigan, we’re incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by this great natural resource.

Most other states approach water use through regulatory permitting for all large uses. In Michigan, most farms register using the state’s nationally-recognized Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool.

The tool attempts to determine the risk of an adverse impact to rivers and streams from a surface or groundwater withdrawal. It admittedly needs improvement, but we still think — and so do our members as of our latest annual meeting — that a science-based system has far more advantages than permitting.

If signing a petition can stop a permit (or a water withdrawal registration), then every time a there is a request for water use, it could be subject to public opinion.

Let science address the amount of water we can safely withdraw, and not make any hasty decisions.

Our state has an impressive history of ensuring that we manage our waters appropriately. Michigan, along with the other Great Lakes states, Ontario and Quebec, is required to manage water under the Great Lakes Compact, but our state is the only one that has developed a science-based process instead of arbitrary use limits.

With this approach, we can factor in the unique circumstances of our state’s resources. Some areas of the state have limited water, and other areas have tremendous amounts. So the science is important for protecting water resources while still allowing adequate access to it.

As farmers, we show how much we care about the resources we use by implementing conservation practices. Farmers will not use more water than is necessary. We have the tools and technology to maximize efficiency and minimize loss.

The largest water uses do require a permit in Michigan, but the basic process is the same as a registration under the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool: users must demonstrate their uses will not cause an adverse resource impact.

Case in point: Nestle Waters North America has applied for a permit to expand its bottling operation near Evart. Some people who oppose the withdrawal think citizens should not have rights to water on or under the land they own. They are putting pressure on DEQ to abandon science in favor of a decision to appease activist opinions.

Farmers, industries, and municipalities depend on a consistent enforcement of water use law in the state. It’s important to remember that what applies in one case could apply to all. We don’t want an end to reliable science-based decision-making or collaboration with entities working to protect the same resource we all access and enjoy.

We’ve always believed that government shouldn’t pick winners and losers for water access. With that in mind, Michigan Farm Bureau is working with the DEQ, MDARD, and the DNR to make sure we continue to use natural resources in a responsible way.

The DEQ needs to demonstrate that they use science-based methodology to determine both water use registrations and applications for permits, whether it be for a farmer’s irrigation, a permit for bottling water, a new water source for a municipality, or even for food processing.

In our current free-market system, we follow the rules and monitor use with sound scientific practices. We reap the benefits of accessing a resource that should continue to be available to all. Isn’t that the American way?

By taking a proactive approach and putting sensible guidelines in place, we all win.

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