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Michigan releases first installment of state water strategy

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The state has unveiled the first part of a strategy to protect what it calls Michigan’s “globally unique water resources.”

The 30-year water strategy is a product of the state’s Office of the Great Lakes, which is part of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

It’s a vision for water stewardship that mixes social, environmental, and economic goals.

The first parts of the plan focus on inspiring stewardship and community involvement in the state’s waterways, and sets goals to protect and restore them.

The strategy is a broad, non-binding action plan.

But Gov. Snyder has identified five top priorities to address: ensuring safe drinking water; preventing the introduction of new invasive species; investing in commercial and recreational harbors; developing the state’s water trails system; and cutting phosphorous in the Western Lake Erie basin.

Snyder says the state is already working on that last point, with a voluntary program that helps farmers minimize agricultural runoff.

“We actually have an arrangement going, a partnership with Ohio and Ontario, to look at reducing phosphorous in the Western Lake Erie basin by 40% over the next few years,” Snyder says. “That’s very important.”

Phosphorous and other chemical nutrients have led to chronic, toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Eriein recent years.

The strategy also calls for investing in water infrastructure, though Snyder declined to put a price tag on what’s needed.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Macomb County, says the state has undervalued its “invisible” water infrastructure for too long. And she says that’s starting to show up everywhere, from much-causing sewage overflows to the Flint drinking water crisis.

“We just don’t have to live this way. My goodness, it’s 2016,” said Miller, who believes the full strategy will restore a real-time water monitoring system in Southeast Michigan that was mostly allowed to crumble after an initial federal grant ran out.

“We just haven’t had the political will,” Miller said.

Remaining pieces of the plan will be released throughout the year.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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