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Why Waukesha’s water plan is a test for the Great Lakes Compact

Sep 19, 2013

In case you missed Saturday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin wrote about how the City of Waukesha’s application to divert water from Lake Michigan for municipal use needs to be closely scrutinized by informed citizens who understand the need to balance today’s demands for water and the health of our Great Lakes for tomorrow.

At issue in Waukesha’s water proposal is in its request to take water from Lake Michigan and return the treated waste water through the Root River back to the Lake. The proposal will be the first test of the Great Lakes Compact, a historic agreement approved by eight states, ratified by Congress and signed into law by the President in 2008.

But the purpose of the Great Lakes Compact is about more than stopping diversions of water from the lakes. The agreement is multi-faceted and includes a range of protections of the lakes and their watersheds including measures for reducing pollution and conserving water, port and navigation improvements, invasive species management, erosion prevention and more.

The power of the Compact is in the agreement’s foresight. The Compact is an effort to protect the Great Lakes now and for future generations. That’s why the agreement specifically prohibits diverting water from the lakes for municipal use except under very limited circumstances. A community must prove that they have no alternatives and are without potable water. It must be a last resort after all other conservation measures fail.

Diverting water from the Great Lakes should be a last resort.  This isn’t about one city. It’s about all cities surrounding the Basin that want to meet their demands for water now and in the future. And while the city is trying to make a case for needing Lake Michigan water, Waukesha’s complex application will set a precedent for all future decisions. We have to honor our agreement and take the time to review their final proposal carefully.

This decision will require transparency and time. We can only decide by getting the facts and balancing water demands and protection for today and for the future.

/ tagged: water, government, great lakes compact, drinking water