Water withdrawal bill could affect St. Joseph County farmers

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Capital News Service
LANSING — A water withdrawal bill introduced in both the House and Senate could affect farmers in St. Joseph County.
The measure would require any new agricultural, commercial or industrial wells pumping ground water at a rate of more than 70 gallons per minute to have a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
A study would be made to determine the amount of ground water being pumped. Ground water is any water below the land surface in a particular area.
Rep. Cameron Brown, R- Three Rivers, said he is carefully watching the introduced bill.
Brown said he has been working closely with the sponsors of the measure to help them understand the possible negative effects the bill would have in St. Joseph County, a heavily irrigated part of the state.
“This legislation would devastate agriculture, horticulture and many businesses in our area of the state by requiring that any new agricultural, commercial or industrial wells have a cumbersome and expensive study performed before they are put in,” he said.
Rep. Jim Howell, R- Saginaw, one of the sponsors, said the purpose would be to prevent any conflicts that might arise when the irrigation used for farming causes residential wells nearby to dry up.
“In the Saginaw area, we were having problems with irrigation and residential wells conflicting and causing the wells to dry up,” he said.”We had a United States Geological Survey study performed, which produced information to lead us to believe enough water was being used in the summers to dry up close to 100 wells in this area.”
Howell said the bill does need work, because not all areas in the state have irrigation problems of that magnitude.
“St. Joseph County doesn’t have the same problems with wells drying up there,” he said. “We’re working on the legislation to try to come to a solution where if there is no conflict, no burden is placed upon you.”
Howell said the point of the bill is not to create complications for farmers.
“It’s not my goal to make the cost of farming go up,” he said. “As a legislator, it’s my job to meet conflicts that arise, such as this one, and solve them.”
Eleanor Iott, owner of the Nottawa Fruit Farm in Three Rivers, sees the importance of water preservation, but says the proposal is too restrictive in its terms.
“Not only farmers would be affected by this legislation,” she said. “The expense and time to enforce this would be too great. I respect that the attempt to preserve a precious resource such as water is necessary, but this bill is too limiting to not just farmers, but residents as well.”
The bill will be on the agenda for this fall’s session. If approved and signed by the governor, the bill will go into effect Jan. 1.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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