Planning with water in mind: Part One

Communities can help insure water availability

In 2008, the Michigan Legislature passed a series of laws including the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and laws to implement the Compact in Michigan, which created the State’s Water Use Program. The law sets guidelines for tracking large quantity water withdrawals. It also defines planning and dispute resolution pathways. This article introduces Water Resources Assessment and Education Committees (WRAECs). WRAECs are diverse stakeholder groups open to the public designed to facilitate sustainable management of available water resources. Part One explains the context of a WRAEC. Part Two describes resources for starting one. 

Tracking large quantity water withdrawals 

Under the State’s water use program, requests to withdraw large quantities of surface or ground water (withdrawals of more than 100,000 gallons per day) must be screened before they can be approved. The screening process ensures that withdrawals are not authorized if they are determined to have a significant adverse impact on aquatic ecosystems. Tracking and documenting use is an important component Michigan’s law that helps the state meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact. The State of Michigan is responsible for enforcement.

Planning and dispute resolution 

The law describes two groups that may anticipate and address disputes at the local level. The groups facilitate working together to determine a course of action based on the status of water resources. One approach devised under the law is resolution of disputes by large water users themselves through the formation of Water User Committees. Should the State discover that an adverse resource impact has occurred because of large quantity withdrawals, large water users can convene to negotiate a solution. To date, no water user committees have formed. 

The water use law (See section 324.32710) also describes the formation of Water Resources Assessment and Education Committees (WRAECs). These groups may include registered large users and others interested in water resources management within the watershed. The WRAECs would convene to “assess trends in water use” and “provide educational materials and recommendations regarding long-term water resources planning, use of conservation measures, drought management activities and other topics related to water use as identified by the committee.”

The lawmakers understood that water is essential for communities. While the State is responsible for allocating water use permits, communities can anticipate and avoid potential conflicts. Land use planning and zoning is the primary tool available to local units of government for preventing scarcity conflicts and managing growth to match available water resources. As members of WRAECs, community members and officials can learn about local water resources and revise land use plans to account for water availability. Part Two introduces resources for starting a WRAEC. 

For more information about Michigan’s Water Use Law, visit Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Use Program webpage. The links under information “Water Use Program Staff” will take you to the DEQ staff who run the water use program. The “Water Use Advisory Council” provides a list of individuals and their affiliations who are knowledgeable about the program. 

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