Proximity to Great Lakes a key factor in local officials' views

September 4, 2014

By Greta Guest

ANN ARBOR—Nearly all of Michigan's local leaders see the Great Lakes as a valuable economic resource for the state, but some don't see it that way for their own jurisdictions, according to a survey by the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy.

"These economic ties to the lakes are felt more acutely in coastal jurisdictions compared to jurisdictions farther inland," said Tom Ivacko, administrator and program manager for the Ford School's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy. "In fact, these bonds essentially break for a majority of jurisdictions located more than 40 miles from the shoreline."

Holding about 20 percent of the world's freshwater, the Great Lakes in many ways help define Michigan and play a large role in the state's history, economy, land use, climate, transportation systems and more. Responding to recent calls for cultivating a "blue economy" in Michigan would significantly promote the role of the lakes in the state's economic policy.

The poll, part of the Michigan Public Policy Survey series, reports that:

  • 60 percent of local leaders think that their own jurisdiction's policies and operations do not impact the health of the Great Lakes.
  • Local leaders support policies and regulations to protect the health of the lakes. The most support went to strengthening regulations to limit water diversions from the Great Lakes. The least popular action was increasing the cost of water to encourage conservation.
  • Local leaders believe that state governments in the Great Lakes region should have the most responsibility for protecting the Lakes.

The study, conducted October-December 2013, involved surveys sent via hardcopy and the Internet to top elected and appointed officials in all municipalities in Michigan. A total of 1,353 jurisdictions returned valid surveys, resulting in a 73-percent response rate. The survey had a margin of error of 1.4 percentage points.