Groundwater in Crisis? Addressing Groundwater Challenges in Michigan as a template for the Great Lakes

Project Summary

Groundwater is a critical but understudied and underappreciated natural resource, both nationally and in the Great Lakes basin. Total groundwater withdrawal within the Great Lakes basin is approximately 1510 million gallons per day (MGD) (Solley et al. 1998), while in Michigan alone, 45% of its citizens are served by groundwater with a total withdrawal of ~513 MGD, with public water supply accounting for about half that total, followed by irrigation (~156 MGD; GWCAC 2006). Groundwater’s role in the environment receives less attention, but it supplies up to 67% of the flow in tributaries flowing into the Great Lakes (Holtschlag and Nicholas 1998) and provides cold, high quality flow for highly valued trout streams in the region (Grannemann et al. 2000; Wehrly et al. 2006). Estimates such as these are even more difficult to make for wetlands because of their dynamic nature and because there are numerous, and very different, wetland types, and very few field studies have examined groundwater-wetland interactions in coastal areas of the Great Lakes (Crowe and Shikaze 2004).

However, issues have arisen around both groundwater quantity and quality in recent decades in the Great Lakes. Private sector withdrawals for bottled water have resulted in lawsuits (Steinman et al. 2004; Moshman 2011), groundwater conflicts have led to the development of a water withdrawal assessment tool in Michigan (Reeves et al. 2009), and concerns over emerging contaminants such as PFAS and overall sustainability (Steinman et al. 2011) are becoming more common.

Given the increasing pressures being placed on groundwater, a summit funded by the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) was held in June 2021 to address key groundwater issues. A steering committee led by Al Steinman (GVSU) and including Don Uzarski (CMU), Patrick Doran (TNC), Tom Zimnicki (MEC), Carol Miller (WSU), Philip Chu (NOAA-GLERL), and Lauren Fry (NOAA-GLERL), provided oversight and guidance for the summit. Experts from the academic, private, and public sectors addressed two main tasks: 1) inventory the groundwater challenges in urban (developed), agricultural, and natural ecosystems; and 2) frame those challenges in a hierarchical driver-pressure-state-impact-response (DPSIR) model, as recommended in the Conceptual Frameworks white paper (Murray et al. 2019). Our ultimate goal is to link these frameworks to decision support systems to help natural resource managers make more informed decisions about the groundwater resource.

The overall goals of the summit are fourfold: 1) inventory the key (grand) challenges facing groundwater in Michigan; 2) identify the knowledge gaps and scientific needs, as well as policy recommendations, associated with these challenges; 3) construct a set of conceptual models; and 4) develop a list of (tractable) next steps that can be taken to address these challenges.

A white paper and manuscript are currently under development.

Funding for this summit was provided by the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR).


Crowe, A.S. and Shikaze, S.G. 2004. Linkages between groundwater and coastal wetlands of the Laurentian Great Lakes. Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management. 7: 199–213

Grannemann, N.G., Hunt, R.J., Nicholas, J.R., Reilly, T.E. and Winter, T.C. 2000. The importance of ground water in the Great Lakes region (No. 2000-4008). US Geological Survey.

GWCAC (Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council. 2006. Final report to the Michigan legislature in response to Public Act 148 of 2003.

Holtschlag, D.J. and Nicholas, J.R. 1998. Indirect ground-water discharge to the Great Lakes (No. 98-579). US Geological Survey.

Moshman, R., 2011. Limitations on the Right to Use Water: A Case of First Impression in Michigan. Sustainable Development Law & Policy. 5: 11.

Murray, M.W., Steinman, A.D., Allan, J.D., Bratton, J.F., Johnson, L.B., Ciborowski, J.J.H., Stow, C.A. 2019. Conceptual frameworks and Great Lakes restoration and protection: A white paper. National Wildlife Federation, Great Lakes Regional Center, Ann Arbor, MI.

Reeves, H.W., Hamilton, D.A., Seelbach, P.W. and Asher, A. 2009. Ground-water-withdrawal component of the Michigan water-withdrawal screening tool. U. S. Geological Survey.

Solley, W.B., Pierce, R.R. and Perlman, H.A. 1998. Estimate of water use in the United States. US Geological Survey, Circular, 1200, p.71.

Steinman, A.D., Luttenton, M. and Havens, K.E. 2004. Sustainability of surface and subsurface water resources: Case studies from Florida and Michigan, USA. Water Resources Update 127: 100-107.

Steinman, A.D., Nicholas, J.R., Seelbach, P.W., Allan, J.W. and Ruswick, F. 2011. Science as a fundamental framework for shaping policy discussions regarding the use of groundwater in the State of Michigan: a case study. Water Policy 13: 69-86.

Wehrly, K.E., Wiley, M.J. and Seelbach, P.W. 2006. Influence of landscape features on summer water temperatures in lower Michigan streams. In American Fisheries Society Symposium 48: 113-127.


Al Steinman: [email protected]

Page last modified August 9, 2021