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Michigan lawmakers introduce anti 'water theft bills'

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 ground water as much as the Great Lakes — and that has caused issues with contaminated drinking water in the state.

“We need protection of our ground water,” 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 Nestle. 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.

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.