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State sends Waukesha application to divert Lake Michigan water to regional review

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this week forwarded the city of Waukesha’s application to divert Lake Michigan water for a formal regional review process.

Waukesha’s application is the first test to the ban on diversions in the Great Lakes Compact and it is not supported by many environmental groups in the Great Lakes region.

“It is our hope and expectation that the regional review process will consider in earnest the deficiencies we have identified in the application and that the Regional Body will recognize that it does not fully and honestly met the standards laid out in the compact,” Jodi Habush Sinykin, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, said in a news release on Jan. 7.

Sinykin continued, “Quite simply, this application, as currently proposed, falls short and should be rejected by the Great Lakes governors in keeping with the imperative to protect our region’s precious Great Lakes for future generations.”

This decision on the application sets the standard by which other applications will be measured and determines when, where and how often citizens across the Great Lakes region will be allowed to voice their opinions in future decisions.

During a public briefing held by the Regional Body and Compact Council on Jan. 7, a budget for the entire review process was set at $261,668. There’s concern the budget is inadequate to provide for a full review. The process is intended to provide the public in all eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces, in addition to tribes and First Nations, the opportunity to review and decide whether the application meets the standards laid out in the compact.

“We are concerned that the current budget does not allow for any independent technical review on the part of the Regional Body and Compact Council and only allows for one public hearing in the city of Waukesha, which would limit the public’s full participation in this critical process,” said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “If you don’t write a budget that allows for multiple public hearings in each jurisdiction, you limit the ability of the public to participate right from the start. This is a precedent setting decision. Every Great Lakes governor of every Great Lakes state needs the best information available to make an informed decision, and they need to know what the constituents they were elected to represent think about Waukesha’s application.”

The city of Waukesha says it does not have a reasonable water supply alternative to Lake Michigan water. However, a report by GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. shows Waukesha can meet its drinking water needs by implementing minimum conservation measures in its own conservation plan, excluding portions of communities that do not need and have publicly stated they do not want Great Lakes water and adding treatment technologies to three of seven deep groundwater wells while continuing to use shallow wells. This alternative would cost $150 million less than a diversion from Lake Michigan, secure water independence for Waukesha residents, protect public health and minimizes adverse environmental impacts, according to a release from a coalition of environmental groups and watchdog organizations.

Ezra Meyer, water specialist for Clean Wisconsin, said, “So far, in Wisconsin alone, the response has been overwhelmingly in opposition to the application as drafted and presented in Waukesha’s home state. To be clear, Wisconsin residents are  not opposed to all Great Lakes diversions under the Great Lakes Compact, but Wisconsin residents have repeatedly demonstrated that they are opposed to this application. Citizens across Wisconsin showed up to three public hearings, submitting over 3,000 comments and asking their state legislators to represent their concerns nationally.”

The process

The Regional Body consists of the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers. The Compact Council, which is made up of the eight Great Lakes governors, will either approve or deny the application, taking into account the Regional Body’s findings.

The Regional Body and Compact Council review will include a public comment period and at least one public hearing in Wisconsin, where citizens across the Great Lakes region will again be able to voice their concerns, this time to a wider audience.

The public comment period will last about 60 days, beginning on Jan. 12. There will be one public information meeting and public hearing held by on Feb. 18.

Great Lakes citizens can submit comments, write letters, call their governors and premiers and attend the public hearing to testify.  
The eight Great Lakes governors are Rick Snyder in Michigan, Mark Dayton in Minnesota, John Kasich in Ohio, Andrew Cuomo in New York, Mike Pence in Indiana, Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania and Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The two Canadian premiers are Kathleen Wynne in Ontario and Philippe Couillard in Quebec.

For more, go to www.waukeshadiversion.org.