Legislator: Government inefficiency hurting local crop growers
State Rep. Aaron Miller’s plan to streamline the approval process for farmers who use irrigation to grow crops was approved today by the Michigan House.
Miller, of Sturgis, said the process currently used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to review water well applications is inefficient and broken, costing crop farmers time and money.
“Michigan farmers must be able to efficiently irrigate the crops they grow to feed families across the state,” Miller said. “Instead, local farmers are caught up in bureaucratic red tape due to flaws in the water withdrawal assessment tool the DEQ currently uses. Some farm families have reported waiting as long as two years before finally getting the go-ahead to withdraw water and irrigate their crops. If a grower can submit science-backed information that shows their proposal won’t have an adverse impact on the environment, the approval should be issued in a timely manner.”
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 regulations.
Miller said he was proud to see the legislation receive bipartisan support.
“Protecting the environment shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and neither should streamlining government processes for the benefit of private individuals and jobs providers,” said Miller, who spent three years working with local farmers, environmental experts and other stakeholders to develop the legislation. “We accomplish both of those goals with this bill.”
In his floor remarks, Miller acknowledged the work of the late Sen. Patty Birkholz, who developed the water withdrawal assessment tool on which the current legislation was built.
“By no means do I want to destroy what Sen. Birkholz produced about a decade ago. More so, I want this work to stand on her shoulders,” Miller said. “She built the foundation for where we are now.”
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.