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MEC: Waukesha's Great Lakes withdrawal proposal doesn't hold water

Mar 1, 2016
A Wisconsin city has failed to demonstrate a sufficient need to divert water from Lake Michigan, and Gov. Rick Snyder should use his authority under the 2008 Great Lakes Compact to reject the proposed withdrawal, the Michigan Environmental Council said Tuesday.

The City of Waukesha's application to withdraw up to 16 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan is the first proposed diversion outside the Great Lakes Basin since the compact was enacted. The agreement between Great Lakes states and provinces bans diversions of Great Lakes water outside the watershed but includes an exemption for cities and counties that straddle the drainage boundary. Waukesha lies in the Mississippi River watershed, but is part of a county that straddles the Great Lakes Basin.

"This application will set an important precedent and could have a dramatic impact on the sustainability of the Great Lakes for generations to come," said James Clift, MEC policy director. "It's up to our region's leaders to uphold the standards set forth in the compact. Waukesha's application simply does not meet those requirements, and the Governor should veto it."

In a letter sent Tuesday to Jon Allan, director of the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of the Great Lakes, MEC laid out the case for rejecting the proposed diversion. Main points of that argument include:
  • Waukesha's proposed withdrawal is based on inflated projections for its future water needs, even as the city's per-capita water use has been declining for three decades.
  • The proposal would allow diverted Great Lakes water to be used by other towns in Waukesha County that have no demonstrated need for additional water. The compact clearly states that only those communities in straddling counties that establish a need are eligible to divert water from the Great Lakes.
  • The city has failed to demonstrate that it has no other viable alternative water source. Viable alternatives that have not been fully explored include getting water from the City of Milwaukee or meeting its drinking water needs with existing wells by adding water treatment infrastructure.
"The Great Lakes are the foundation of our economy, culture and way of life here in Michigan," Clift said. "Their value will only grow in the coming decades as fresh water becomes an increasingly precious commodity. We've got to make it clear that diverting water from the Great Lakes must be an absolute last resort."

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Andy McGlashen: (517) 420-1908
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