river

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

State officials have opened up a competitive grant program for river cleanup projects.

People can buy a special fundraising license plate in Michigan. It’s called the water quality protection plate and it funds small grants to local governments for river cleanup projects.

Bill Dimond is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says the DEQ collects the fees from those license plates. Then an agency called the Great Lakes Commission decides who receives the grants. The cities and towns have to provide 25%.

Photo by Tom Kramer

This summer, a group of scientists are studying five large rivers in the Midwest… including the St. Joseph, the Muskegon and the Manistee rivers in Michigan. It’s part of a three year study of how large rivers process fertilizers – and how things like farming and wastewater affect the rivers.

Tom Kramer spent some time with this group that calls themselves “The River Gypsies” - here's his story:

The forecast says there is a 50/50 chance of thunderstorms, but the River Gypsies can’t slow down for a little rain.

This group of 13 scientists, PhDs, grad students and undergrads has had three weeks to study five rivers in two states – packing up and moving to a new campground every three or four days. Picnic tables have become temporary laboratories.

Jennifer Tank, a professor at Notre Dame, says one of her students wasn’t all that prepared for this nomadic lifestyle.

“Now he did bring a Samsonite suitcase that weighs about 100 pounds into the field with him, but I know that next year he’ll have a great dry bag… so he’s learning as he goes along.”

A case that pinpoints a key issue in Michigan’s water law could come back before the state Supreme Court. The office of Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked the court to rehear the Anglers of the Au Sable case. The issue is: whether citizen groups can take state agencies to court to protect the environment.

Here's the nut of the case:

  • The Anglers group won their suit in the lower court to protect one of the state’s prime trout streams. The Department of Environmental Quality had given Merit Energy permission to pump more than a million gallons a day of treated wastewater into a creek at the headwaters of the Au Sable River.
  • The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the oil company but exempted the Department of Environmental Quality from the lawsuit. The Appeals Court said the issuing of a permit doesn’t cause harm to the environment... it’s the person with the permit that could do that.

So Anglers asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review that part of the ruling.

And in December the high court overturned the lower court and said state agencies that issue permits that result in harm can be named in a citizen suit.

The Court upheld clear language in the Michigan Environmental Protection Act that says any person can bring suit to protect the environment.

Jim Olson, an attorney for the Anglers, says the decision upholds state environmental law that’s been in place for more than forty years.

“Permits that cause harm can be brought into Circuit Court and people can bring it out into the open and judges can make decisions so agencies can’t hide behind the cloak of bureaucracy.”

Since December, a conservative majority is back in control of the Supreme Court.