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Water Today Title December 11, 2017

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Great Lakes Diversions

By: Jessica Lemieux

After a unanimous vote on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 21st 2016, the Waukesha water diversion proposal has been approved. The members of the Great Lakes Compact Council just set a very important precedent by allowing Waukesha, Wisconsin to be the first out-of-basin city to access Lake Michigan’s water.

Before the Great Lakes Compact Council approved the decision, certain conditions were added to Waukesha’s original proposal. This included reducing the diversion volume to an average of 8.2 million gallons per day and reducing the area in which water can be diverted. Waukesha will also have to treat and return 100% of the borrowed water back to Lake Michigan through Root River.

There are still many varying opinions and perspectives now that the decision has been officially approved.

For Love of Water (FLOW) is a Great Lakes water law and policy non-profit dedicated to “protecting the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin through public trust solutions.” The public trust is a legal doctrine that holds state governments accountable for ensuring that the Great lakes are protected for current and future generations. It exists in all Great Lakes jurisdictions and provides citizens a legal right to use these common waters for drinking, swimming, recreation, fishing and the like. Protecting the Great Lakes from diversion and export has always been central to FLOW’s work.

Jim Olson, Founder and President of FLOW, gave his official stance on the Waukesha decision that came out June 21st, 2016.

Olson said,

    It’s important that the amendments and conditions that were made as a part of this decision be carefully understood and strictly enforced to ensure that this is done right. It’s unfortunate that the public didn’t have an opportunity to comment on the amendments and conditions so that the entire package ultimately had public participation. We have to look at it after the fact now, which is fine, but it would have been good if this had all been done as part of the process. In all of this, we need to remember that this very issue is strong and the exceptions are very narrow, we need to view this in that light. The Great Lakes are subject to the public trust, meaning that under the public trust doctrine, it protects the lakes from generations to generations - hopefully this decision lives up to that. I was concerned about the precedent early on, there are still uncertainties about the reduction from 10.1 million gallons [of Great Lakes water distributed per day] to an average of 8.1 million gallons… and we really don’t know what the cap or maximum is at any given point and time. I was concerned that we should have had a cap, and not an average, so we know what we’re talking about on any given day, and I was concerned about the future growth plans. Some of this has been mitigated but we’re still not sure how some of this will play out.

The Council of Canadians is a non-profit organization that works for social and environmental justice. They advocate for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy, while educating and empowering people to hold governments and corporations accountable.

Maude Barlow from The Council of Canadians gave her opinion on the decision:

    We have two concerns with the decision to give the green light to the Waukesha water diversion. One is similar to those of other environmental groups and many mayors, and that is the fragile nature of the Great Lakes and the threat posed to them if this sets a pattern. Less than one percent of Great Lakes water is renewed annually by precipitation and new diversions will place greater stress on this already stressed watershed.

Barlow continued,

    The other concern is one we expressed back when the Compact was being negotiated and that is that this is not an agreement between two countries but among a number of US states who are able to make decisions about new diversions without regard to the opinions of Ontario and Quebec. As the water crisis in the US grows - and growing it is - there will be other demands on this water and a lot of political pressure to say yes. Canadians will have no say in these decisions or how they are carried out. It is entirely possible in the future that commercial interests will be allowed to get involved in Great Lakes water takings and then you are into NAFTA territory.

In part 3 we will examine the perspectives of those who agree with the decision to approve the Waukesha water diversion proposal.

Related Stories

Waukesha water diversion - Part 1
Waukesha water diversion - Part 3

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