Water quantity webinar addresses water availability and use
Local decision-makers play a key role in managing our freshwater resources.
Our freshwater resources are vital to our quality of life, and local government officials play a critical role in helping to conserve and protect them. In the first webinar of the Michigan State University Extension Water School webinar series, viewers learn about the sources of water in Michigan and some of the challenges and successes associated with maintaining those supplies for future use.
What are our sources of water?
Michigan residents rely on two primary sources of water – surface water found in lakes, rivers and streams, and groundwater found in aquifers.
A little over half of the state’s population uses surface water for its drinking water supplies. Most of the 60 public water supplies using surface water are drawing water from the Great Lakes and connecting channels, although a handful use inland surface water supplies such as rivers and lakes. The rest of Michigan’s citizens rely on groundwater for their drinking water.
What are the sources of water to our lakes, streams and groundwater?
The Earth’s hydrologic or water cycle depicts the movement of water between the atmosphere, the land surface and the subsurface. Water enters our rivers and streams through four main sources. The two dominant sources are overland flow (runoff) where precipitation lands on the Earth’s surface and runs downhill by the force of gravity to a waterbody, and baseflow, which is groundwater that discharges to rivers and lakes. The other two less dominant sources are interflow (the lateral movement of water in the unsaturated zone) and direct inputs of precipitation into the surface water.
Groundwater and surface water are interconnected, although this connection is not always readily apparent. Water School uses a groundwater flow model to show how groundwater moves beneath us. The video provides a good visual demonstration of the connection between groundwater and surface water.
What questions should local officials be thinking about with respect to water availability and use?
The availability of freshwater supplies varies throughout Michigan and is influenced by land use, geology, climate, and other factors. To protect this resource, communities need to address issues such as natural variability, competing uses and poor water quality, which can include naturally occurring or manmade contamination.
The Water School Water Quantity webinar includes a panel discussion with experts from MSU, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the Huron River Watershed Council discussing critical questions about water availability and use, including:
- How do groundwater withdrawals affect surface water?
- Are our water withdrawals sustainable?
- What are the implications of climate change for water availability?
- How can communities respond to water availability challenges?
How can local officials respond to water availability concerns?
Significant opportunities exist for decision makers to implement programs and options that will help protect water resources. These include:
- Assessing your water resources. Take the time to learn about Michigan’s water resources and the water in your local community. Consider how your community might build upon existing data, information, and programs to address water availability challenges.
- Establishing (or enhancing) existing land use planning and local programs. In some cases, there may be little opportunity for local control (for example, due to state and federal regulatory programs), but initiatives such as source water protection planning, watershed management planning and specialized studies and programs can protect water resources.
- Negotiating, mainly when there are specific conflicts between users. There may be potential to establish water user committees at the local level to address competing demands.
MSU Extension Water School Webinar Series
The Water Quantity webinar is the first webinar in the MSU Extension Water School Webinar series. It will help viewers understand the sources of our water and limits to availability, which is an important first step in the development of sound local planning and management decisions.
The Michigan Water School program from Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension was developed as a policy-neutral fact-based program. In 2020 this program was moved to an online webinar series to provide decision-makers with critical, relevant information needed to make sound water choices. View this four-part webinar series to learn more about water quantity, quality, finance, policy, planning, and economics in Michigan. Take a deeper dive into these topics to learn how you can impact Michigan’s largest resource. The webinar series is free to all and contains additional resources, webinar FAQs, and the Water Policy Toolbox. The toolbox is a document that provides links to information and laws about water-related programs implemented at different levels of government.
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