State Rep. Aaron Miller’s plan to streamline the approval process for farmers who use irrigation to grow crops was signed into law today by Gov. Rick Snyder.
Miller, of Sturgis, said the new law fixes a broken process previously used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to review water well applications.
“Government inefficiency was unnecessarily costing our local crop farmers a tremendous amount of time and money,” Miller said. “Under the old, broken system, some farm families reported waiting as long as two years before finally getting the go-ahead to drill a well and water their crops – even though all of the data showed no risk to the environment. It’s time for the government to get out of the way so our farm families and other businesses can get back to work.”
Under the plan laid out in House Bill 5638, the DEQ would have 20 working days to review these alternative water withdrawal applications. The following rules would then apply, depending on the type of watershed that contains the potential well:
- If an application isn’t flagged by the DEQ within 20 days, the property owner may register the withdrawal and proceed.
- If the DEQ classifies the application as a “Zone C” withdrawal, the property owner must submit documentation from a certified geologist or hydrogeologist stating that they are implementing environmentally sound and economically feasible water conservation measures. They would then be allowed to register and proceed with the withdrawal. Five sets of water level recovery measurements would also be required within two years.
- If the DEQ classifies the application as a “Zone D” withdrawal, the property owner would not be allowed to make withdrawals unless they obtain a special permit. The DEQ would be required to provide justification for denying the withdrawal.
“This is a practical solution that takes subjectivity out of the process and inserts science,” Miller said. “It allows the DEQ to focus on water withdrawal applications with higher risk potential, streamlining the process, but most importantly still protects the environment.”
The rules do not apply to municipal water systems or bottled water companies, which fall under different permitting.
Miller, who spent three years working with local farmers, environmental experts, and other stakeholders to develop the legislation, said he was proud to see the legislation receive bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. He pointed out that this was entirely a team effort over the last three years.
He also acknowledged the work of the late Sen. Patty Birkholz, who developed the water withdrawal assessment tool on which the current legislation was built.
“Sen. Birkholz built the foundation for where we are now, and I want this work to stand on her shoulders,” Miller said. “I would also like to thank the dozens of people – especially the farmers from Cass and St. Joseph counties – who helped develop this solution. They deserve the credit for this reform and I did this for them.”
The legislation is now Public Act 209 of 2018.