LANSING, Mich.—A groundwater dispute resolution program designed to mediate arguments over water usage between small-capacity well owners and large water consumers may soon be reinstated.
Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, added an amendment funding the program to House Bill 5400, a supplemental appropriations bill recently passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.
“After the drought conditions of this summer and the resulting conflicts between residents and farmers in my district over water usage, it became clear that this program not only worked, it was desperately needed,” Green said. “The program consistently kept these disputes out of court, saving taxpayer dollars and freeing limited court resources to focus on other priority cases. The program paid for itself.
“Because agriculture and agri-businesses are critical to Michigan’s economy, crop irrigation is absolutely necessary. At the same time, nearby residents should have access to clean, running water from their wells. This year’s water conditions affected farmers and residents alike, and the dispute resolution program helps find the appropriate balance.”
The Groundwater Dispute Resolution Program was passed into law in 2003, but it was later repealed in 2009 as a result of budget constraints. The program allows small-capacity well owners to file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Agriculture if they believe their wells are drawing low water levels due to the activities of a nearby large-capacity well used in agriculture.
The department can then conduct an investigation and attempt to equitably resolve the disagreement. A last resort solution, under limited circumstances, allows for water withdrawal limits or expense reimbursements between parties to be set if the dispute cannot be resolved otherwise. Any party may contest such a determination through circuit court. From 2003 to 2009, no mediated complaints ever rose to this level and all cases were settled through discussion.
While Green’s amendment funds the program, it still must be re-established under state law. SB 1008, sponsored by Sen. John Moolenaar, would do just that, and is currently making its way through the legislative process. Green said he expects SB 1008 to pass before the end of this legislative session.