Michiganders have a voice when it comes to the protection and strategy regarding the state's water

Over the next three weeks, Michigan's Office of the Great Lakes (OGL) is traveling the state on an old-fashioned listening tour. OGL, a state cabinet department whose director reports directly to the governor, is hosting five "community conversations" aimed at soliciting input for its far-reaching Water Strategy draft document. Upcoming conversations are slated for Detroit, Ann Arbor, Marquette, Acme (Traverse City area), and Grand Rapids; the first, held in Saginaw, happened earlier this month.

"The Great Lakes are so important to the state of Michigan and its people," says Jon Allan, OGL's director. "These conversations allow us to put the Water Strategy draft in front of Michiganders and ask 'Did we get it right?'

"We're soliciting and taking into consideration input from every corner of the state," he adds.

Allan himself, along with fellow OGL staffers, will be at all five conversations. The events' structure is informal: Allan will give a presentation highlighting the Water Strategy's background and major themes, then turn the floor over to attendees. He expects the bulk of the allotted time to be taken up by questions and comments from members of the public.

"The community conversation series is all about hearing from the public," says Allan. "We're looking for major themes and consistency in the input we receive, so that we can make any necessary revisions and improvements to the draft document."

OGL is also soliciting public input through other channels, including written comments and feedback from state and local decision-makers. In conjunction with local governments and stakeholder organizations, OGL is also putting on more than a dozen invitation-only "community dialogues" around the state. Community dialogues are designed to focus on the concerns of particular constituencies, though any aspect of the Water Strategy document is still fair game.

Once all input channels are closed, OGL will begin work this fall to incorporate the feedback into a final Water Strategy plan that's tentatively scheduled for release by the end of the year.

Nine Ambitious Priorities

OGL's Water Strategy draft document is a 160-page opus that looks up to 30 years into the future. "Water Strategy is not a highly specific, short-term to-do list," cautions Allan.

The document revolves around nine broad priorities, each of which has specific outlines, deliverables, and metrics for success measurement:
  • Healthy and functional aquatic ecosystems. Key recommendations include preventing the introduction of new invasive species into Great Lakes and inland waterways, reducing Lake Erie phosphorus levels, and promoting green infrastructure for stormwater management and other issues. Metrics for success include waterways that consistently meet Water Quality Standards, fewer designated use impairments, and rebounding trout populations.
  • Clean and safe water supplies. Key recommendations include accelerated cleanup at contaminated sites, statewide sanitary codes, and better protection against contamination and spills. Metrics for success include elimination of drinking water advisories, beach closures and wildlife impairments due to algal blooms.
  • Water resources are used as assets for community and economic development. Recommendations include funding support for commercial port facilities and recreational enterprises, with the goal of incorporating water resource assets into all future community and economic development plans.
  • Water resources support quality natural resources, recreation and cultural opportunities. Recommendations include improved beach monitoring, prioritized investments in recreational harbors, and the construction of a water trails system. Metrics for success include a 30 percent long-term increase in water-based tourism and an infrastructure management plan in all recreational harbors by 2020.
  • Strategic focus on water-based technology and innovation. "We need to support Michigan's emerging 'blue economy,'" says Allan. Recommendations include an entrepreneurial approach to funding water-based innovation. Measures for success include an increase in economic output per gallon of water used.
  • Investment in infrastructure and funding to maintain healthy ecosystems. Recommendations include establishing a long-term Water Fund to support Water Strategy initiatives, with the goal of implementing outcome-based asset management plans reflective of the true cost of water-based utilities.
  • Integration of outcome-based water monitoring systems. Recommendations include support for groundwater and surface water monitoring, and the implementation of a pilot program that leverages monitoring data in decision-making processes. Measures for success include long-term stabilization of groundwater depth across the state.
  • Adequate governance tools to address all water-related challenges. Recommendations include the creation of an integrated system for local water resource management, with the goal of a 40 percent reduction in designated uses and water impairments by 2030.
  • Ensure grassroots stewardship of Michigan's water resources. Recommendations include integrating "water literacy" into state curriculum standards, with the goal of increasing residents' overall understanding of and connection to water resource issues.

Allan encourages Michiganders to think about how each of these priorities fit together. "In a large, complex system [like Michigan's waterways], it's impossible to take a 'single issue' approach to problem-solving," he cautions. "There's no single recommendation that can address every issue we face."

A Broad Directive

Former Governor James Blanchard created OGL back in 1985, as existential concerns about the future health and sustainability of the Great Lakes came to the fore. In addition to water strategy, the department oversees several related directives: the Coastal Zone Management Program, which supports the ecology and economies of coastal communities across Michigan; Lakewide Management Programs (LaMPs) for the four Michigan Great Lakes; and Michigan's Great Lakes Areas of Concern, contaminated legacy sites in various stages of stabilization and cleanup.

Since the Great Lakes system is so large and complex, says Allan, OGL's directives necessarily intersect in myriad ways. That's why the upcoming community conversations, perhaps the most visible prong of the department's Water Strategy, are so critical to OGL's work.

"Ultimately, this is all about long-term stewardship of Michigan's water," he says. "We want [Michiganders] to draw on their personal experiences with the state's water resources and conclude that water matters."

Upcoming Water Strategy Community Conversations

Here's a list of still-to-come Water Strategy community conversations, courtesy of the Office of the Great Lakes. If you'd like to have a say in the future of Michigan's most important natural resource, consider attending the nearest event:

Tuesday, July 28 at 6 p.m.
Michigan Outdoor Adventure Center
1801 Atwater Street
Detroit, MI 48207

Ann Arbor / Metro Detroit
Wednesday, July 29 at 7 p.m.
Washtenaw Community College
Room 150
Morris Lawrence Bldg.
4800 E. Huron River Dr.
Ann Arbor, MI  48105

Marquette / Upper Peninsula
Tuesday, August 4 at 7 p.m.
Marquette Commons
112 South Third Street
Marquette, MI 49855

Traverse City / Northwest Michigan
Wednesday, August 5 at 7 p.m.
Grand Traverse Resort
100 Grand Traverse Resort Village Blvd.
Acme, MI 49610

Grand Rapids / West Michigan
Thursday, August 13 at 7 p.m.
Eberhard Center GVSU
301 Fulton W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
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