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Lawmakers introduce anti “water theft” bills

water faucet
Flickr user Bart

New bills in the state House would put Michigan’s water – including groundwater – in a public trust. That means that the waters would have to be reserved for the public’s use, and the state would have to protect the water for that purpose.

Elaine Isley, Director of Water Programs for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, said during a press conference that the state has not protected the groundwater as much as the Great Lakes – and that has caused issues with contaminated drinking water in the state.
“We need protection of our groundwater,” she said. “We need to make sure that we have the same levels for everybody so that we can have clean and safe surface water and drinking water.” 
Sean McBrearty is with Clean Water Action. He said in an interview that these bills would help protect one of Michigan’s most important resources.
“It recognizes that our water in Michigan is not a commodity,” McBrearty said. “It is something that belongs to the public and that the state needs to protect for the public’s enjoyment and use, not just today but into the future.”
Lawmakers sponsoring the bills, like Representative Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), emphasized the recent controversy in Michigan involving Nestlé. The company has been attempting to expand its pumping of Michigan groundwater in order to bottle and sell it.
“We want to stop the theft of our water,” said Rabhi.

In a statement sent to Michigan Radio on Friday, December 6, 2019, Alan Upchurch, a Nestlé North America spokesperson, wrote,

The proposed package of bills in the Michigan House unjustly targets the bottled water industry. It is unfair to single out one industry, one type of water user, for such restrictions. According to data compiled by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), Michigan’s nearly 40 bottled water companies account for less than .01% of water used in the state. Our water use in Michigan ranks us far down on the list of the state’s top water users.

A bill tailored to that end would prevent corporations from taking water from non-municipal sources and selling it in bottles outside of the Great Lakes Basin.
The final bill in the package would specifically charge the Department of Natural Resources with protecting the state’s water.

This post was updated on Friday, December 6, 2019.

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Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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