Although there are numerous complexities to creating it, what the Great Lakes Compact does is easy to understand. It was signed into law in 2008, calling for regional management of the waters of the Great Lakes. And it bans any diversion of Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes Basin – although “limited exceptions could be allowed in communities near the Basin when rigorous standards are met.”
All the Governors of the eight U.S. Great Lakes states have signed The Great Lakes Compact, so it is state law. It was also approved by the U.S. Congress and signed into federal law by President George W. Bush. In addition to the agreement among the Great Lakes states (and they are New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) a parallel agreement was signed into law in Canada by the Premiers of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
The Great Lakes Compact has been in the news quite a bit lately – especially in Wisconsin where the city of Waukesha has stepped up to be the first to actually test the Compact. Waukesha, out in the western suburbs of Milwaukee, and just outside the Great Lakes Basin, would like to tap into Great Lakes water and use it for its municipal water system.
Waukesha claims it meets the strict criteria to be considered for an exception to the Compact’s no-diversion rule, and the Wisconsin DNR, in agreement, has given them the preliminary approval they need. Now their request moves on to all those other parties in the Compact.
But many alarms are being sounded by those who have worked hard to create the Compact and know its history. Editorials, comments, and letters, are being written across the region warning of the implications – many more water diversions to come – if Waukesha’s request is granted. You can see these at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Toledo Blade, The Detroit News, The Waukesha Freeman, and Minnesota Public Radio, for example.
Last week I learned, in person, a bit more about the compact and Waukesha’s request for a diversion. This was provided at the Door County Environmental Council’s summer meeting in Bailey’s Harbor, by one of the featured speakers of the evening, George Meyer, who leads the Wisconsin Wildlife Foundation. Meyer is also a retired WI DNR chief (having led that agency from 1993 to 2001), and he described the pros and cons of granting Waukesha’s request.
The “pros,” said Meyer are that the city is very close to the Basin, and, because it has a radium problem with its water, it can show a potential need. Some of the “cons,” included by Meyer include these: Waukesha is ignoring the fact that it can successfully treat its ground water for radium, and do it for a significant savings to its taxpayers, compared to the expensive diversion plan it is requesting. An opinion column in the Detroit News by Meyer includes mo