Wednesday, December 24, 2008

100,000 Gallons a day are one click away

Clinton Township-On December 8, MSU’s Institute of Water Research introduced the new rules and regulations being implemented for large-scale water withdrawals. This is part of a series of workshops going on around the state. The next meeting is January 22, 2009 in West Olive.

The Institute of Water Research has created a first of its kind website that allows users to quickly see if a water withdrawal is possible. The website can instantly grant or deny access. If you are denied access then you can try from a different point on your property. Sometimes a different part of your property may be in a different watershed.

Michigan is the only state to have a website that manages all of the large-scale water withdrawals. A large-scale water withdrawal is defined as any daily withdrawal exceeding 100,000 gallons a day.

The website is based on existing data and a combination of three different models.

With an interactive map the user can zoom into their property and choose where they want to sink a well and how much water they want to withdraw. You then click a button and within moments you are told whether you can proceed with the withdrawal or not.

The USGS only monitors 142 different sites, so the rest of the 13,000 river segments have to be predicted according to the stream type and the index flow. The index flow is the median flow for the month of the lowest water levels. There are 11 different stream types in Michigan and they all have different amounts of water that can be withdrawn before it negatively affects the ecosystem.

The way that they are determining ecological harm is by whether or not characteristic fish are harmed by the proposed water withdrawal.

The online tool naturally underreports the water that is available. Since they don’t know the amount of error when combining all three of these models, they are only making half of the amount of the water available on the website.

There are four zones A-D. Zone A means there will not be an adverse impact on the ecosystem, while zone B means there will not be much of an impact on the ecosystem. Any withdrawal that falls into the C or D range will not be authorized by the website. Anybody that keeps falling into the C or D range can have the MDEQ come out free of charge to do an onsite assessment.

If the MDEQ issues a permit to anyone falling into the Zone B or C range they will have to place a notice on their website and notify other water users in that community. The MDEQ ruling can also be legally challenged by the person proposing the withdrawal or by a third party.

It is important for everyone with wells to register them with the MDEQ by February 1, 2009. After that the MDEQ will be actively seeking those who have not registered. The law officially goes into place July 9, 2009. Any wells that existed prior to February 28, 2006 are grandfathered in. Whether they cause ecological harm or not they can continue to operate. Any new wells have to receive a permit before they are installed.

The main reason that the rules are being updated on water withdrawals is due to the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says: “To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with Indian tribes.” This ignited an argument over who should regulate water, the states or Washington? The states won this argument and now water regulations are being updated in Michigan and other states throughout the Midwest. This all has a lot to do with the recent passing of the Great Lakes Compact, the legislation protecting the Great Lakes from water diversions. The states have to show initiative in managing their resources or Washington will do it for them.

Michigan's Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool

By Jason Tafilowski

No comments: