- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is asking legislators to approve more than $100 million to protect and restore Michigan’s waters through measures ranging from beach monitoring to upgrading sewage infrastructure, aides said Friday.

The fiscal 2015 budget Snyder presented this month heralds a yearlong emphasis on water - recognizing its importance to economic development and the advantage that Michigan’s vast aquatic resources provide over competing states, said Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality.

“Water will be the key reason why people will come to Michigan to live, work and play,” he said. “It’s going to be a catalyst for new technology and job creation.”

The administration’s “water strategy” will be released this spring that will lay out broad goals and strategies for achieving them over the next 30 years, Office of the Great Lakes director Jon Allan said. It will deal with long-standing issues such as invasive species, toxic pollution, large-scale water withdrawals for uses such as irrigation and manufacturing, and conflicts between users.

The budget seeks $3.9 million to implement the strategy and for more immediate water quality needs, including regularly checking beaches for unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria and operating the state’s wetlands protection program. Among other funding requests are $3 million for cleanup of underground storage tank leaks and $1 million to help cities and businesses prevent pollution.

The biggest proposal is for $97 million for a second consecutive year to provide grants and loans to local governments to fix crumbling sewer systems. That money was generated under a bond authority approved in 2002.

Snyder’s budget also for next year requests $3 million from the fund for “wetland mitigation banks,” artificial wetlands that compensate for those lost to development. Additionally, it seeks $5 million - twice as much as last year - to match up to $25 million in federal funds for upgrading drinking water infrastructure.

The “year of water” initiative will focus broadly on responsible use and combating invasive species, Wyant said. A compact between Michigan and the seven other Great Lakes states requires them to adopt conservation policies.

Michigan developed a computer tool that assesses whether proposals for withdrawing more than 100,000 gallons of water per day for uses such as irrigation or manufacturing would harm nearby rivers and streams. Some critics have questioned the tool’s effectiveness, though Allan said it has worked “remarkably well” in most cases but acknowledged it could be improved.

A council of stakeholder groups - Trout Unlimited, the Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce - will come up with ideas for improving the tool, as well as develop proposals for resolving water use conflicts and monitoring surface and ground water supplies.

The invasive species strategy calls for responding more quickly when exotic plants or animals are spotted in Michigan waters and working more closely with local groups to limit their spread.

Scientists with state agencies are studying a report released last month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that lists options for preventing Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes through waterways in the Chicago area, said Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Michigan is talking with neighboring states about ways to physically separate the Lake Michigan and Mississippi River watersheds more quickly and less expensively than envisioned by the Corps report, which says such a massive project could cost up to $18 billion and take 25 years to complete, Creagh said.


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