Great Lakes Compact Would Hurt Michigan Agriculture, Economy

Published April 1, 2008

When it comes to the production of fruits and vegetables, the state of California leads the nation. Many people know that. But when asked which state ranks second, few would correctly identify Michigan.

It is therefore unfortunate, and difficult to understand, why the state would knowingly move to limit, if not ultimately cripple, its valuable agricultural economy. This unfortunate result is quite possible as the Michigan legislature is poised to join the Great Lakes Compact.

Joining the Great Lakes Compact will force the state to behave as if it is surrounded by desert instead of abundant water resources. It will limit Michigan farmers’ ability to irrigate their crops and will thus undermine this hugely important part of the state’s economy.

Preemptive State Action

Michigan may be the most water-rich of our 50 states. Ninety-nine percent of the state lies within the Great Lakes Basin. Yet its elected officials are moving to support a new “Annex” to the Great Lakes Compact that, if approved by the U.S. Congress, would eliminate the state’s sovereignty over its own water resources.

In fact, under pressure from anti-development advocacy groups, the Michigan legislature is considering passage of legislation that may achieve the same results well ahead of congressional approval of the states’ Great Lakes Compact.

The Michigan legislators contend that in order to get the federal government to permanently protect Great Lakes waters from out-of-state citizens and not view the compact as overly protectionist, the Great Lakes states should pass legislation limiting their own citizens’ use of this resource.

One such proposal would limit total agricultural irrigation from groundwater statewide to 50 million gallons a day. Moreover, if that mark is reached for 90 consecutive days the state would have the right to place further restrictions on groundwater withdrawals.

Unnecessary Restrictions

The stated goal of the irrigation restriction is to ensure the fish in Michigan streams are not stressed by reduced recharge into their streams. But the 50 million gallons per day limit is quite arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive on agriculture when one considers that essentially every day of the year the Great Lakes Basin receives more than 160 billion gallons of natural recharge.

It is entirely unnecessary for the citizens of Michigan–and, for that matter, all of the Great Lakes states–to be made to act as if this vast and wonderful resource did not exist.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director for The Heartland Institute.