The state Senate's Natural Resources Committee is expected to vote soon on a bill deregulating Michigan's small wetlands. Senate Bill 1211 would remove protections from about fifty percent of Michigan's wetlands, according to the Michigan Wetlands Association.
They say the bill could lead to loss of habitat for wildlife, and increased flooding in developed areas of southern Michigan. The bill increases the size of a wetland that would be protected by regulations from five acres to 10 acres. It also redefines which lakes and streams qualify as wetlands.
The bill also excludes impounded waters from regulation. According to Todd Losee, a spokesperson for the Michigan Wetlands Association, most lakes in Michigan are impounded because they have a dam or some other water control structure that backs up the water to make them larger.
"That would mean that lakefront property would not be regulated by the state. And if you live on a lake, you'd hate to see your neighbor dredging out the only wetland on the lake or filling in the lake to get more buildable area for another house. We are concerned about the wetlands, but the lake impacts are huge," says Losee.
Senator Tom Casperson is the bill's sponsor. He says his bill would have little effect on most of Michigan's protected wetlands.
"I would argue that for most of the wetlands nothing is going to change, other than these handful of projects that I'm talking about, and they're scattered throughout the state."
But Casperson couldn't offer any data or reports to support his estimate of the bill's impact. He says he's working with the EPA to make sure the bill is in compliance with federal wetlands regulations.
Dan Brown, watershed planner for the Huron River Watershed Council, says that the bill could have major effects on the Huron River.
"Many parts of our watershed are highly developed and really rely on smaller wetlands that fill spaces and act as a buffer between residential and commercial or industrial developments. They really provide critical natural habitats and ecosystem services for the neighborhoods and communities right around them," says Brown.
His group is joining other environmental groups in asking concerned Michigan residents to contact their representatives and Governor Rick Snyder's office about the bill.
The campaign has resulted in some calls to the offices of senators on the Natural Resources committee. Staff from Sen. Dave Robertson's office say they are receiving quite a lot more calls than usual about the bill. Staff for Casperson and Sen. Phil Pavlov, however, reported some calls, emails, and letters, but not a notably high number.