The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued approval on April 25 allowing the city of Racine to divert an annual average of 7 million gallons a day of water from Lake Michigan for its customers in Mount Pleasant. Most of the water would be used in the Foxconn Technology project. Foxconn is preparing to build a plant to produce liquid crystal flat-screen panels.
Racine requested 7 million gallons per day withdrawal from Lake Michigan for the village of Mount Pleasant, which straddles the divide between the Lake Michigan basin and Mississippi River basin.
The DNR, in a news release, said, "This withdrawal would still put the Racine water utility under its existing withdrawal capacity and below its 1995 average day water sales number as cited in its application."
The approval allows the Racine Water Utility to extend public water service to the 8 percent of the village that is in the Mississippi River basin, "partially including the Foxconn facility site," according to the DNR statement.
The DNR said it determined the diversion is for "public water supply" purposes "because Racine's public water system will continue to serve a group of largely residential customers, including the straddling community of Mount Pleasant."
As part of the approval, Racine must ensure that the diverted water is returned to Lake Michigan minus consumptive use such as evaporation.
The water returned to Lake Michigan will be treated at the Racine Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The department said it had taken public comments under consideration in issuing the approval and drafted a comment and response document available by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov for keywords "Racine diversion."
"We received approximately 800 comments on the Racine application, which shows the public's strong interest in this topic," said Adam Freihoefer, water use section chief for the Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater. "We appreciate the public's involvement and I thank those who took the time to comment."
Racine filed the application in January, prompting a period public comment that included written filings and a hearing in Sturtevant in March.
About 300 people attended the public hearing on the application.
The point made by speaker after speaker had been that approval by the state would violate the Great Lakes Compact, which says diverted water must be for public use as opposed to private industrial use.
“If we allow this to happen, it’s going to happen all over the basin, with other states and then it’s going to be the thirsty states and nations to come,” warned Jennifer Giegerich of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.
The application has drawn criticism from many environmental organizations in the state and also the Great Lakes region.
Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Compact Implementation Coalition urged the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body to initiate a formal review of the city of Racine’s proposal to divert Great Lakes water.
The coalition said Racine’s application raised serious questions about its compliance with the Great Lakes Compact.
The coalition emphasized that although Racine is located entirely within the Lake Michigan Basin, it was seeking an approval for a diversion of Great Lakes water to supply an area of the neighboring village of Mount Pleasant that lies outside the Great Lakes Basin. And the purpose of the diversion is to provide Great Lakes water to Foxconn Technology Group, a private, large multinational electronics manufacturer, for its first U.S. manufacturing plant.
Racine’s application, for the coalition, triggered a series of serious questions that strike at the heart of the compact’s prohibition on diversions.
“How these questions and concerns are resolved will surely set the course for future diversions across the Great Lakes Basin and we want to be sure a precedent is set that complies with the spirit and intent of the compact,” Jimmy Parra, a lawyer with Midwest Environmental Advocates and a member of the CIC, had said earlier this month.
Also, prior to the April 25 approval by the state, Jennifer Bolger Breceda, the executive director of Milwaukee Riverkeeper and current lead of the CIC, warned, “If central provisions of the compact are ignored by Wisconsin, or interpreted in a way that violates the goals of the compact, the regional body should be alarmed."
Editor's note: This report will be updated.