Great Lakes

A legal challenge to the state of Wisconsin’s approval of a 7 million gallon per day Great Lakes water diversion to supply the Foxconn industrial complex moved forward.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has notified Midwest Environmental Advocates that its request for a contested case hearing was granted. Next DNR will forward the case to the division of hearings and appeals for an administrative law judge to oversee the proceedings.

“The DNR’s decision to grant our petitioners’ request is welcome news,” Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin said in a news release. She continued, “And it comes at a time of renewed support around the region for a strong Great Lakes Compact, whose core principles are honored in keepingwith the letter and spirit of the agreement.”

On May 25, MEA filed a legal action on behalf of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. They are challenging the state's approval of the city of Racine’s request to divert Lake Michigan water to supply the Foxconn campus.

The challengers say the DNR ignored a key compact requirement that water diverted outside the Great Lakes basin must serve a public purpose, defined in the agreement as “serving a group of largely residential customers.” 

In the petition filed by the city, the 7 million gallons per day of diverted water requested will be provided to a private industrial user, Foxconn, rather than a group of households.

“We determined it vital to challenge Wisconsin’s approval of the diversion requested for Foxconn,” Jimmy Parra, staff attorney for MEA stated, "because Wisconsin DNR’sinterpretation of public water supply purposes, if not corrected, creates a glaring loophole that opens our region to a potential onslaught of diversions to other private entities, jeopardizing the intent and integrity of the Great Lakes Compact.”

“It’s not right for one state to redefine the rules for the Great Lakes Compact without input from allstates and provinces co-managing the largest freshwater resource on the planet,” said Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Since the filing in May, citizens and organizations throughout the basin have contacted the petitioners, asking how they can help defend the compact’s standards on diversions. 

Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters of the Lake Michigan Region has formally approved active participation in working to protect the compact from the dangerous loophole created in the Racine diversion approval. The formal support from League of Women Voters within the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan is an indicator of the broad public concern about future diversions if Wisconsin’s FoxconnLoophole is allowed to stand, according to Louise Petering, director of League of Women Voters Wisconsin. 

“Protecting public rights protects public waters,” said Petering. “President G.W. Bush signed the compact into law in 2008, codifying standards developed over many years with participation from a large and diverse number of people. The WDNR must be held to the requirements in this historic law that specifically addressed the rights of future generations to water resources and economic opportunities.”

Cheryl Nenn, at Milwaukee Riverkeeper, raised long-term concerns about Wisconsin DNR’s misinterpretation: “The integrity of the compact’s careful consideration of when it is appropriate to send Great Lakes water outside the basin is essential to the central goal of protecting the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem from piecemeal decision-making that benefits some while burdening many.”

And Raj Shukla, executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, said, “Experience worldwide shows us how quickly even large bodies of water can be depleted. In a just a few decades the Aral Sea was drained of over 90 percent of its water when the rivers that fed it were diverted. We have a duty to future generations to defend the Compact requirements designed to meet community and economic needs while sustaining our precious freshwater for generations to come.”


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