Michigan farmers have been exempt from seeking permits for various activities since the 1980s, including performing drain maintenance within a private agricultural drain. They have also been allowed to "construct new agricultural activities" in a wetland, such as planting blueberries after clearing previously unfarmed land. Now, the Department of Environmental Quality, under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is telling farmers they cannot do that anymore.
A 2008 review of Michigan’s wetland program by the EPA requires that the state changes it law to comply with the Clean Water Act. House Bill 5897, sponsored by Representative Jim Stamas, would revise details of certain exemptions to the state wetland permit mandate, increase some wetland use permit fees and reduce others, and require permit denials to document their reasons, among other things.
The changes would impact various aspects of Michigan’s agriculture industry, including blueberry production. Opponents believe that compliance with Clean Water Act could jeopardize Michigan's status as the national leader in blueberry production. Blueberry farmers argue that clearing trees from wetlands and planting blueberry bushes does not change the wetland’s ability to filter water and keep it clean as it flows to lakes and streams.
Stamas continues to work with stakeholder groups, trying to find a balanced resolution.