EPA responds to changes to Inland Lakes & Streams and Wetland Protection Acts

Michael H. Perry
Fraser Trebilcock

On July 2, 2013, the Governor signed into law 2013 Public Act 98 which made some very significant changes to Michigan’s Inland Lakes & Streams and Wetlands Protection Acts which are known as “part 301” and “part 303,” respectively, of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

The federal Clean Water Act required the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to approve or disapprove those changes in the law. According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the failure of Michigan to make legislative changes to comply with the federal Clean Water Act would have resulted in the USEPA’s termination of Michigan’s authority to regulate wetlands that are subject to the federal law.

On July 5, 2013, the State of Michigan requested the USEPA to approve 2013 Public Act 98. On December 11, 2013, the USEPA conducted a public hearing in Lansing and received more than 200 comments about this Act at that hearing. The USEPA also received many written comments about this legislation.

On December 13, 2016, three years after it held the public hearing, the USEPA released the results of its review of this public act. It approved some of the changes and disapproved others. The USEPA’s publication of its findings did not say whether it was going to withdraw or not withdraw Michigan’s authority to regulate federally protected wetlands. Odds are it will not do so.

The USEPA approved the legislation which exempted one from the need to obtain a permit to maintain an agricultural drain as long as that maintenance did not change the drain’s location, depth and bottom width as of July 1, 2014 and as long as that work was done either by the landowner or pursuant to Michigan’s drain code of 1956. The USEPA also approved the legislation that describes and defines the “best management practices” for drain maintenance. However, the USEPA disapproved the legislation that would have allowed a landowner to replace a culvert without a permit from the MDEQ.

The USEPA disapproved the exemption from the permit requirement for provided controlled access for livestock crossing. It also approved the new definition of an agricultural drain which is a human-made conveyance of water
that does not have continuous flow, flows primarily as a result of precipitation induced runoff, serves agricultural production and was constructed either before January 1, 1973 or was built in compliance with Michigan’s wetland protection act.

The USEPA disapproved of the Michigan law which would have allowed a landowner to construct a water treatment pond or storm water detention facility, construct a new drain in upland property to remove excess soil from agricultural lands, and engage in an agricultural soil and water conservation practice to enhance water quality without obtaining a permit from the MDEQ. The USEPA also disapproved of the law’s provision that an area which becomes contiguous to a water body created by commercial excavation for sand, gravel or mining activities is not subject to regulation under the amended Act.

The USEPA also disapproved of the Act’s definition of whether a wetland is “continuous” to the Great Lakes or an inland lake, river or stream; it also disapproved the Act’s statement that the MDEQ shall not consider an agricultural drain in determining whether a wetland is continuous to such a body of water. The USEPA disapproved of the Act’s provision that a drainage structure such as a culvert, ditch or channel is not a wetland.

The USEPA also approved some changes in the law that impose new requirements for blueberry farmers and approved most of the Act’s technical changes to the permitting process such as those pertaining the fees which the MDEQ can charge and the time the MDEQ should take to issue a permit.

It remains to be seen how Michigan’s Legislature, the MDEQ, the agricultural community and persons commonly described as “environmental activists” will respond to the USEPA’s approvals and disapprovals of parts of Michigan’s 2013 changes to the Inland Lakes & Streams and Wetland Protection Acts.


Attorney Michael H. Perry is a shareholder and previous president of Fraser Trebilcock with more than 35 years of environmental and litigation experience. Contact him at mperry@fraserlawfirm.com. Scott D. Everett, director of Legislative Affairs for Fraser Consulting, a subsidiary of Fraser Trebilcock law firm that provides full-service lobbying assistance, also contributed to this article.