A state legislative proposal to declare Michigan’s ground water as being in owned in the public trust – a formulation similar to that of most western but only some eastern states – has begun developing heated opposition.
House Bill 5319, a one-page measure, adds a provision to state water law saying that “the waters of the state, including groundwater, are held in trust by the state. The state shall protect these waters and other natural resources that are subject to the public trust for the benefit of present and future generations.”
Prime sponsor Representative Dan Scripps was quoted as saying that “Those [existing state provisions] are important in defining how much water you can use. The top limit on where you can get a permit from the state for water withdraws is 100,000 gallons if it impacts a trout stream, two million if it impacts the Great Lakes Basin. And that’s great. It’s important that we have that in place. What this does is say even with those limits if water is being used in a way that has a local impact, an individual trout stream would run dry or somebody’s well would no longer produce, or basin wide impact, even if it falls within the limits, we have the ability to stand up and say that’s not an appropriate use.”
And he said that “We’re surrounded by 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, and with that blessing comes an incredible responsibility. We must act as responsible stewards of our waters and preserve our lakes, rivers and beaches for future generations. Our waters are not only part of our heritage, but a key part of creating and protecting thousands of jobs across Northwest Michigan and a cornerstone of Michigan’s tourism industry.”
Opposition has also developed. Russ Harding is senior environmental analyst and director of the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, offered this critique of the proposal:
When politicians talk about placing natural resources in public trust, landowners should be worried. The right to own and use private property is a bedrock principle of a free people. These rights are threatened by House Bill 5319, which would place groundwater in public trust and require landowners to secure a permit from the state of Michigan in order to use that water. The bill would essentially overturn more than a century of Michigan water law.
Property rights are often compared to a bundle of sticks. Philosopher John Locke was an early proponent of this idea, which holds that the sticks that make up the bundle are a compilation of the various rights that come with owning private property, including the rights to live on or bequeath it. Water rights are a significant “stick” in that bundle. With the introduction of House Bill 5319, Michigan property owners are threatened by government action that would steal a stick from that bundle and give it to the state. Continue Reading »