Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool honored with awards

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The Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT), developed in part by a team of Michigan State University researchers to estimate the impact of water use on an area, recently received two national awards.

The WWAT received the Outstanding Achievement Award for 2010 from the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation and was one of four innovations to receive the State Program Innovation Award from the Environmental Council of States.

The WWAT was created as part of a collaborative effort between the MSU Institute of Water Research (IWR), the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the University of Michigan and the U.S. Geologic Survey.

“This tool gives the ecosystem a voice in the press,” said Jon Bartholic, IWR director and MAES researcher. “It is the first of its kind in the nation, maybe even the world.”

With the tool, people can create a model to estimate how water withdrawal from a certain area may affect local stream and river ecosystems. The purpose is to prevent water withdrawals that would have an adverse effect on the natural resources, habitats and ecosystems of Michigan’s streams and rivers. The WWAT allows people to register a water withdrawal online without needing to go through a tedious permit process.

To use the online tool, users select a county on a map and may navigate it by moving the map or zooming in or out. Users may choose to view existing wells, streams, lakes, watersheds and roads in the area. From there, users may select a location where they would like to withdraw water and input information that includes the type of water source they wish to pump from, the amount and frequency they will pump, and the depth of the well.

After that, users may run the model. The data is analyzed, and the proposed project is given a grade ranging from “A” to “D.” An “A” grade indicates that the withdrawal is unlikely to have an adverse impact on nearby water sources. Users who receive grades “A” through “C” may proceed with registration; users whose projects receive a “D” cannot. If the proposed withdrawal is likely to have an adverse impact, the tool will suggest changes to the proposal to avoid it.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a law in July 2008 that required that the tool be used for all large-capacity water withdrawals in the state.

“This project is a leading example of tying science and technology together and coupling it with legislation,” Bartholic said. “It is a winning combination.”

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