Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

January 7, 2007

Groundwater pumping: When is it too much?

Filed under: Bottled Water,Michigan,Water Diversion — nemo @ 6:04 pm

The question of whether pumping water out of the ground endangers surface waters is one important point of contention in Michigan’s bottled water debate. Some facts are in order:

  • Groundwater is to Michigan what oil is to Saudi Arabia: abundant and incredibly valuable.
  • Groundwater is the source of drinking water for half the state’s residents and accounts for 80 percent of all water in Michigan streams.
  • Michigan industries, municipalities, farms and other businesses pumped about 730 million gallons of groundwater daily in 2000, or 266 billion gallons annually.
  • That was about 2.6 percent of the estimated 27 billion gallons of water that flows each day into underground aquifers — layers of buried, porous soils that store groundwater.
  • Retreating glaciers that created the Great Lakes thousands of years ago deposited a thick layer of sand and gravel in western Michigan. Those soils are ideal for storing some of the 32 inches of precipitation that falls on the state annually.
  • Pumping too much groundwater can decrease water flow and increase water temperatures in nearby streams, which can hurt fish and other aquatic life.

Michigan’s new water withdrawal law:

  • does not regulate any withdrawal that pump less than 250,000 gallons of groundwater daily — Minnesota, which has one of the region’s toughest water withdrawal laws, regulates all uses of groundwater that exceed 10,000 gallons per day or 1 million gallons per year.
  • defines adverse resource impact as anything that disrupts a stream’s ability to support trout, and
  • presumes — until the state develops a scientific formula to evaluate the potential impacts of water withdrawals — that groundwater pumping will not harm trout streams if wells are at least 150 feet deep and 1,320 feet from the nearest trout stream.

Today, millions of gallons of spring water are pumped out of the ground daily and used — to grow crops, make soft drinks and beer or, in Nestle’s case, bottled water. The State of Michigan believes there is a safe level of withdrawal and has reached a compromise, interim set of standards on defining safe withdrawals. The next milestone to watch for is the scientific formula.

Source: Muskegon Chronicle

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