SB 662 Seeks to Revise Financing Provisions and Definition of Lake Level.

By Paul J Sniadecki, MLSA Board Director

Scores of Michigan’s inland lakes have a court ordered lake level. Generally, they can be found on lakes that are spring-fed, or have a water inlet (e.g. a stream). A dam, a weir or a barrage are devices that maintain the lake level ordered by the court. Some “kettle” lakes have augmentation wells that pump deep ground water to maintain the lake level.

MCL 324.30701 et al (a.k.a. Part 307) controls how such legal lake levels are set, who is responsible to ensure the level is maintained, and how the process in funded. Part 307 does not use the term ‘Legal Lake Level.’ Instead it uses an old legal term ‘Normal Level’ as follows:

MCL 324.30701 Definitions. (h) “Normal level” means the level or levels of the water of an inland lake that provide the most benefit to the public; that best protect the public health, safety, and welfare; that best preserve the natural resources of the state; and that best preserve and protect the value of property around the lake. A normal level shall be measured and described as an elevation based on national geodetic vertical datum.

People on lakes with legal levels can tell you that levels regularly fluctuate in small amounts from weather, natural events, or construction activities. In fact, lakes petitioning courts now generally seek a range of values as opposed to a precise set elevation.

The authorities charged with maintaining the level, in general, take the responsibility seriously and put much effort into it. However, some riparians take issue with the slightest variation. In the 2022 court case Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Levels v. Roscommon County Board of Commissioners, in the Michigan Court of Appeals, held that a “normal lake level” must be strictly maintained with no variance allowed. As a result some communities have concerns that they could be sued for not keeping a lake level at its normal level despite the lake level change resulting from temporary or natural phenomena. So SB 622 proposes lake levels under Part 307 be allowed to vary due to weather, natural events, or construction activities.

The bill would amend Part 307 (Inland Lake Levels) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to do the following:

  • Modify the definition of “normal level” related to inland lakes to allow for temporary fluctuations in water level resulting from weather, natural events, or construction activities.
  • Exempt financing for dams under Part 307 from a current cap on the total amount of bonds and notes that a special assessment district may issue.
  • Modify other requirements of dam financing under Part 307.

SB 622 was introduced on November 9, 2023, made it out of committee with a unanimous vote, and was passed by the Senate on February 28, 2024, via a 23-15 vote. The bill is now in the Michigan House.

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