Protect Michigan’s Waters from Excessive Withdrawals and Contamination
Clean fresh water is Michigan's most precious communal resource. It is essential to our human and ecological health, as well as Michigan’s economic pillars: agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing. It is the subject for the majority of our state’s "Pure Michigan” ads, and the reason Michigan’s unmatched sand dunes were voted the most beautiful place in America. Above all, our fresh water and Great Lakes define us as a people and a state.
But, if Michigan wants to maintain our “pure” image, we must address the unprecedented threats that our waters—especially groundwater—face from over-extraction and contamination. Of distinct concern are our state’s large-scale water withdrawal process and the water-intensive oil and gas drilling method known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing or “hydrofracking”.
In order to prevent harm to our rivers, lakes and streams, Michigan must take necessary steps to update our water withdrawal process for all large-scale water users, while strengthening oil and gas regulations to include chemical disclosure and likely impacts to Michigan’s waters.
Protecting Michigan's Water Resources
In 2008, Michigan put into law the Great Lakes Compact. This Compact committed Michigan and all other Great Lakes region states and provinces to prevent water diversions and to use responsible and science-based approaches to manage our region’s water resources. It also declared Great Lakes water a resource to be held in public trust. At the same time, laws were implemented to make sure Michigan’s large-scale water users, like public water suppliers, mining, paper and irrigation industries, were meeting production goals while not causing undue harm to our waterways through over-extraction. Our state’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT) was an important piece of this new process.
Michigan's Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool
The WWAT is an internet-based tool designed to estimate the likely impact on rivers and streams near the water withdrawal area. Using models, the tool determines if these large withdrawals will affect stream flow, groundwater levels, and fish populations. Anyone proposing to make a withdrawal of more than 70 gallons per minute is required to use the WWAT to determine the viability of the withdrawal. While Michigan is very fortunate to have the WWAT in place, after four years of experience behind us, it is time to refine and upgrade our water withdrawal process. Further, the anticipated expansion of high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a means to produce natural gas in Michigan requires an update to the WWAT, as well as common sense protections to ensure future generations have plentiful access to clean, fresh water.
The Oil and Gas Industry is not Playing by the Same Rules in Michigan
Because of the high-volume water withdrawals and chemical addititives, hydrofracking for natural gas and oil is one of the largest threats to Michigan's water. This process uses a significant amount of freshwater—5-8 million gallons per well—that cannot be returned to the water cycle. As large volumes of water are completely removed from the groundwater supplies, the water is mixed with chemical additives used for pumping and drilling, but are known carcinogens. Yet, the industry is not playing by the same rules as other large-scale water users in Michigan. In fact, key exemptions in federal laws like the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act pose challenges to regulating oil and gas development.
Water Withdrawal and Chemical Disclosure
Throughout 2010 and 2011 the conservation and environmental community worked with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Legislature to improve the water withdrawal process to include hydrofracking, and implement chemical disclosure laws. Despite these improvements, there remain key loopholes that favor the oil and gas industry over water protection. The oil and gas industry should be required to use the WWAT through Michigan’s 2008 Water Use Law, and the DEQ should require full public disclosure of all chemical constituents, and in what quantity. Full chemical disclosure is necessary in order to protect first responders, health professionals, and citizens to conduct water testing before drilling begins, and respond appropriately should contamination or exposure occur.
Most importantly, all high-level water users must recognize that Michigan’s Great Lakes and groundwater is limited. We as citizens, elected leaders, and industries must share our water not only with our state and provincial neighbors, but with our children and our children’s children. Improving the process for withdrawing this water through updating our Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool and better regulating hydrofracking in Michigan is of the upmost importance—a poignant task in a state that defines itself through water.
Download the Great Water Factsheet
Great Water Policy Asks
1. Upgrade and refine the water withdrawal process for all large water users in Michigan
- Upgrade the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool with the most up-to-date science to include site-specific reviews for sensitive areas.
- Conduct baseline studies on groundwater quantity and quality when approving large quantity water withdrawals.
- Require regional planning that considers the cumulative effects of large quantity water withdrawals.
- Level the playing field for all large scale water users by eliminating the exemption of the oil and gas industry from using the tool.
2. Strengthen and improve hydrofracking regulations in Michigan
- Require full disclosure of amounts and names of chemicals, water source and water quantity before a well is permitted.
- Require wastewater to be treated like other potentially hazardous substances, which includes additional monitoring and reporting.
- Require companies to use best management practices including baseline studies, site-specific reviews, regional planning and studies on cumulative adverse effects before wells are permitted.