Funding to address nuisance species would yield more environmental benefit than would a riverfront promenade or waterfront condos.
The level of CMI funding for water quality programs does not appear to
reflect the immense importance of the state's vast fresh-water resources.
Fortunately, technological advances have appreciably reduced the cost of
collecting quality data. But more stringent regulatory standards will require
ever more sensitive measurements.
Grants totaling $4 million were awarded to 33 local units of government and
nonprofit groups to expand monitoring of surface water quality. Analyzing water
and sediment chemistry, plant growth, and the condition of fish is necessary
both to protect public health and guide resource management decisions.
Volunteer groups assist the state with the daunting task of water testing,
and CMI funds have wisely been allocated for the necessary training.
The DEQ does receive money from the General Fund for water monitoring, and
Congress allocated funds two years ago for testing coastal recreation areas.
Despite intermittent episodes of bacterial contamination - the causes of which
remain in dispute - most state waters meet state quality standards.
Michigan is among only a handful of states authorized by the EPA to
administer water discharge permits required by federal law. A significant
backlog of applications plagued the permit program in the early 1990s, when 60
percent of the 1,700 permits had expired. Fortunately, the backlog was largely
eliminated by 2000, which ranks among the more important environmental
accomplishments of the Engler administration.
It is significant that the CMI largely ignores the most pressing water
quality issues in Michigan: aquatic nuisance species and sewage overflows. No
single program could possibly remedy every environmental dilemma, of course. But
with funds locked in by bond commitments for years to come, big-ticket programs
like the CMI limit the state's ability to adjust environmental priorities as
circumstances dictate. Voters would do well to keep this in mind when asked to
authorize another major environmental bond.
There's no question that storm and sewerage infrastructure requires updating
in some areas - just as there are brownfields in need of cleanup. And if an
environmental hazard actually exists, government spending priorities should be
adjusted accordingly. But to the extent the state spends tax dollars on
low-priority projects, less money will be available to remedy the worst systems.
Sewer projects aren't politically sexy. But proper maintenance of basic
infrastructure is more important than wave pools and tennis courts. When the
state subsidizes local infrastructure improvements, municipal officials are free
to continue to ignore basic services in favor of building velodromes, health
clubs and Internet networks.
Many experts now agree that the most pressing environmental challenge facing
the Great Lakes is the proliferation of aquatic nuisance species. Exotic fish
and plants compete with native species and may substantially alter aquatic
At the state Capitol on Oct. 3, for example, DEQ Director Russell Harding
called for more intensive efforts to reduce the impact of Great Lakes invaders.
"There is no greater threat to the Great Lakes than these exotic
species," he said.
It is likely, then, that additional funding to address nuisance species would
yield more environmental benefit than would a riverfront promenade or waterfront
We also note that the CMI does little to address the 14 "areas of
concern" designated by the U.S. EPA as the worst of Michigan's Great Lakes
contamination. Federal regulators have essentially abandoned the cleanup program
negotiated with Canada. As the General Accounting Office recently concluded:
"Neither the Great Lakes National Program Office nor any other EPA office
had devoted the necessary responsibility, authority, and resources to
effectively coordinate and oversee cleanup efforts in the Great Lakes
An additional $35.1 million has been appropriated for a variety of other
water protection programs, including:
$6.9 million in grants to 15 municipalities and nonprofit groups to
identify and correct leaking septic systems, including financing for new sewer
$6 million in grants to 14 local governments and nonprofit groups to
protect cold-water trout streams, lakes and other so-called high-quality waters
$8 million in grants to identify and eliminate illegal discharges into
municipal storm sewer systems.
$8 million to restore and protect shorelines and riverbanks.
$5 million toward a matching fund requirement to qualify the state for a
federal grant to reduce agricultural runoff.
$1.2 million to plug abandoned wells.