The State of Michigan regulates both surface and groundwater. Agricultural activities that do not send water to a municipal wastewater system may need a groundwater discharge permit, such as:
- Treating slaughterhouse, egg, fruit or vegetable wash water or wastewater through a subsurface system
- Land applying or storing water used to clean dirt off potatoes, sugar beets or other crops; cool fruits or vegetables; wash trucks, equipment or containers; or other agricultural activities
Groundwater discharge rules are complex and previous permits through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (MDEGLE) have been inconsistent. Sometimes farmers have not known they needed a permit until they receive a violation for not having one. However, MDEGLE is working toward updating permits to make them more consistent, including writing general permits with broader conditions so fewer farm activities need individual permits. Challenges include:
- While allowing more farm activities to fit under a general permit should be an improvement, many farmers may see this as an increase in regulation because past inconsistent enforcement meant they never knew they needed a permit at all.
- MDEGLE cannot change or simplify the rules around groundwater discharge permits because state statute limits their rulemaking authority, but if MDEGLE regains rulemaking authority, it may increase regulation of surface and groundwater.
- Legislation to make groundwater quality rules simpler (or exempt more farm activities from permitting) is difficult to pass because the topic is complex and legislators who support these bills may be accused of reducing water quality protection.
While MDEGLE is updating these permits, farmers have an opportunity to weigh in on permit conditions, how the regulation is communicated, and time needed to comply with permit requirements.
Thoughts to Consider
- What issues must be addressed with the current agricultural groundwater discharge permits?
- How can groundwater discharge permit conditions be streamlined to help farmers and agricultural processors comply?
- Should local health departments be able to issue permits for groundwater discharge of agricultural wastewater through septic systems in addition to residential septic systems?
- How can MDEGLE and Michigan Farm Bureau better communicate what agricultural activities need groundwater permits and the process to get those permits to help farmers?