Groundwater Governance in the Great Lakes Region

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Groundwater is a crucially important but often overlooked resource in the Great Lakes region. As a common-pool resource, the region's aquifers should have a well-structured set of governing principles to guide their sustainable and equitable use. We ask, “but do they?”

The chapters of this report are offered as a reference to policy innovators and water resource professionals across the six Great Lakes states and numerous sovereign tribes in the Environmental Protection Agency's administrative region 5. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and the 35 federally recognized tribal governments sharing geography with the states make up our study area.

We ask whether there is a governance system for groundwater in the region, exploring this question through interviews with individuals working in state, federal, tribal governments and other capacities who are focused on groundwater. We reviewed regional planning and scientific documents, and groundwater-focused statutes, cases, and administrative rules to provide the legal context within the Great Lakes region. This exploration is intended to serve as a baseline to frame future groundwater policy work.

We conclude that the current structure, cobbled together over decades in response to different kinds of stressors and crises, does not adequately provide for a participatory and inclusive groundwater management system. It is not founded in adequate technical knowledge everywhere, and it is not coordinated around local, shared aquifers. Thus it is not constructed to best connect water users to the region’s future prosperity.

An incredible resource lies beneath our feet and connects us all. Join us in working to bring attention and care to groundwater for our shared prosperity and for generations to come. For more information, feel free to contact corresponding authors:

Terin V Mayer, University of Minnesota

Carrie E Jennings, Freshwater Society

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