Fresh water remains our region’s greatest natural resource, but a new bill pending in Lansing would threaten our state’s fresh water supply for nothing more than a giveaway to private businesses. Worse, it would also restrict public oversight into how their use of our state’s fresh water supply affects the surrounding watershed.

House Bill 5638 would allow farms and businesses digging irrigation wells to provide their own analysis of the impact their use would have, bypassing the state Department of Environmental Quality evaluation process now in place. Farms would also be exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act, keeping the public completely in the dark about their operations.

The bill is currently moving through the legislative process. A hearing by the House committee on natural resources was held on Feb. 28. Let’s not forget, that the state is still considering whether to let Nestle greatly increase the amount of our fresh water it siphons off to sell back to the public.

The impact of this ill-advised piece of legislation would be devastating. Fish, wildlife, plant life and the water quality of the world’s largest supply of fresh water could all be damaged, potentially permanently. And for what?

In 2008, I was among a number of bipartisan legislators who sponsored a 12-bill package to institute protections and guidelines on large water withdrawals in Michigan. In addition, we formally joined the Great Lakes Compact, the multistate agreement that protects the Great Lakes.

We received input from all sides of the political spectrum, from large industrial users, environmental groups and representatives of the state’s business and agricultural communities.

We approved legislation that balanced economic needs with the need to protect our precious water reserves. Under those bills, anyone seeking to siphon more than 100,000 gallons per day of groundwater, or water from our rivers and the Great Lakes, must receive approval and report the amount of water they use to the DEQ, under requirements of the multistate Great Lakes Compact.

Unlike the current industry-driven bill, that series of bills balanced the ideas and concerns of a broad number of interests from throughout our state. It also maintains public oversight our greatest natural resource.

Under the proposed bill all that balance, oversight and protection would be placed in jeopardy. I encourage my constituents, as well as citizens throughout Michigan to speak out against this bill. After all, Michigan’s lakes, rivers and streams belong to each of us.

Raymond Basham

Wayne County Commissioner

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