Bills would protect Michigan’s freshwater supply, close bottled water loophole

By: - March 17, 2022 11:33 am

Lake Michigan | Susan J. Demas

House Democrats reintroduced legislation Thursday to expand protections for Michigan’s water supply and close a loophole in state law allowing corporations to bottle Michigan’s water and ship it elsewhere.

The bill package, introduced by state Reps. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), clarifies that groundwater and surface water are held in the public trust, aims to ban bottled water from being shipped out of the Great Lakes watershed and authorizes the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to manage Michigan’s groundwater. 

“Unfortunately, we do not protect our groundwater the same way that we protect our surface water,” said Rabhi. “And as we’ve seen time and time again, between corporations coming into the state of Michigan to steal our water and polluters who have destroyed our groundwater resources … we do need more protection for the groundwater in our state.”

The Great Lakes Compact, passed more than a decade ago, is an agreement between the eight states that border the Great Lakes and Canada to regulate diversion of water from the Great Lakes basin. However, a loophole in the law allows this practice as long as the water is in 5.7 gallon containers or smaller.

“People have to question whether or not their water is safe to drink, or if they can safely eat food grown in their own backyards. Meanwhile, corporations like Nestlé, now BlueTriton, steals millions of gallons of freshwater every single year, only to sell it back to us at extortionate rates. This is unconscionable in a state that prides itself on its wealth of freshwater,” Pohutsky said. 

This isn’t the first time these bills have been introduced in the state Legislature. In 2008, when the Great Lakes Compact was completed, was the first time these Democrats brought forth bills to protect Michigan’s freshwater supply. 

State Rep. Yousef Rahbi (D-Ann) speaking at press conference on legislation to protect Michigan’s ground water on March 17, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

The bill package also includes a resolution, introduced by Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy), to commemorate March 22 as Michigan Water Day and World Water Day.

“We all went home to each of our states in order to confirm laws that protect our groundwater in the public trust. It’s necessary because groundwater is contained to different geology across the Great Lakes region. So each state had unique laws that needed to be put in place,” said Hood, who was the executive director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) at that time. “But Michigan did not complete that homework. And as a result, ever since, our groundwater has been used and abused and has become a source of profit for these international companies.”

Most recently, the bills were introduced in 2019 and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation, but never received a hearing.

But these lawmakers are confident that this issue will be supported by their colleagues across the aisle this time. 

As groundwater levels have significantly decreased, Michiganders in both urban and rural areas, who depend on the groundwater for agricultural purposes, are in need. And Pohutsky said that lawmakers from both parties are hearing about this issue from their constituents.

The bill package has yet to be formally introduced in the state Legislature, but lawmakers said it will be soon.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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