Snyder's water preservation plan seeks creation of fund

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

The Snyder administration would like to create a "Water Fund" to help finance the preservation and promotion of Michigan's lakes, rivers and streams as part of its 30-year strategy released Tuesday.

The 60-page report tiled "Sustaining Michigan's Water Heritage" sets out a lengthy list of threats from non-native fish and wildlife species to outdated sewage systems that Gov. Rick Snyder would like to address.

The envisioned water fund doesn't have an identified source of money, but the administration would like the fund to address issues including water infrastructure management — expensive challenges such as historically contaminated environmental sites and municipal sewer systems.

"Water is critically important to Michigan, not only as a treasured natural resource, but as a foundation for the economy and a focal point for communities," Snyder said in a statement. "I am pleased this strategy will serve as a guide for the long-term protection and use of water in Michigan."

Among the issues that concern the Republican administration for the next three decades are algae contamination in Lake Erie, maintaining commercial harbors, cleaning up longtime environmentally contaminated sites and developing underused waterfront areas for recreation and economic activity.

The challenge for many water issues is funding. Whether the Water Fund would be financed with state money, bonds or a mixture of private and public money remains to be determined, said Jon Allan, director of Michigan's Office of the Great Lakes.

"We're going to put a group together to really try and work through the issues related to the fund," Allan said, noting the goal is not to create a single state fund that simply pays for projects. "We have some historic bond funds with some remaining money in them, but those won't last forever. The fund is really looking at building capacity over time to be able to maintain the (water) systems that we say we love."

The water fund idea is being investigated because funding for conservation projects has dwindled because less money is available in the state's General Fund, its main checking account. Money has become especially tight as the Republican-controlled House looks for existing money to shift toward fixing the state's roads and bridges — a shortfall estimated at $1.2 billion to $2 billion annually.

And the annual fight in Washington, D.C., for funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative means there is no guarantee of steady, increasing federal money.

The three-decade strategy for "ensuring the viability and sustainability" of the state's waterways includes general recommendations for assuring Michigan's water health, as well as yardsticks for gauging progress.

Other items offer specific goals and timelines, including:

■Reducing by 40 percent the phosphorous entering Lake Erie's western basin.

■Preparing infrastructure management plans for all of the state's recreation harbors by 2020.

■Increasing in water-based recreation and tourism 30 percent.

■Decreasing by 40 percent the designated uses of impaired waters by 2030.

The administration also wants to expand real-time water testing at state beaches, reaffirm the state's role as enforcer of the Clean Water Act and make "water literacy" a part of the Michigan curriculum standards.

Tuesday's report is the result of two years of work by state agencies including the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Economic Development Council.

State officials met with stakeholders from around Michigan seeking input. The water plan will be taken back to those groups for informal approval.

"We want to make sure we go back to those communities and say, 'Did we hear what you were saying?'" Allan said.

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