Great Lakes Drinking Water Access Talks Held in Chicago
Posted on: April 25, 2016

On April 21st, the 2008 Great Lakes Compact was put to its first official test in Chicago, IL.

Representatives of governors from 8 Great Lakes states, as well as representatives from Canadian provinces Ontario and Quebec, convened in Chicago to decide on the fate of the city of Waukesha’s bid to divert 38 million litres per day of water from the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin city is making the request because its own water resources have been contaminated with radium.  If the diversion were to be approved, it would be precedent-setting for other similar requests.

If even one governor vetoes the proposal, it will be defeated. A unanimous vote is required to accept the proposal. Ontario and Quebec were not given a vote in the decision, but its politicians and constituents were invited to give feedback and recommendations. Public commentary by members of the public on either side of the border was open until mid-March. An environmental coalition called Protect Our Great Lakes noted 98 per cent of 11,000 comments oppose the diversion.

The London Free Press spoke with Jennifer Caddick of the Alliance for the Great Lakes about the different facets of Waukesha’s request vis-a-vis the Great Lakes Compact.

“Compact lays out a pretty high bar for a diversion request,” she said. Communities may gain permission to use lake water only as a last resort.

She said compelling reasons to reject the plan includes an engineering firm’s independent analysis Waukesha has a viable alternative, and can safely treat its water for less money.

However, reports which trickled in after the meetings suggest that officials are looking at scaling back the scope Waukesha’s request, rather than denying it completely.

The Milwaukee-Wisconson Journal Sentinel reported that some of the surrounding county communities originally included in Waukesha’s proposal were cut. “Waukesha’s plan to pump up to an average of 10.1 million gallons a day by midcentury will be trimmed to an average of 8.2 million gallons a day after the Great Lakes officials removed portions of three neighboring communities from a future water service area to receive lake water, as a condition of the regional group’s acceptance of the request. Portions of the towns of Delafield and Genesee and generally the southern half of the Town of Waukesha were taken out of the water service area previously delineated by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.”

Officials included only Waukesha proper, within existing city and town limits, and part of the City of Pewaukee included under an existing border agreement. A revised service map for the area will be redistributed on April 27th.

Michigan Radio asked Peter Annin with the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College what the outcome looks like after the initial talks last week. He told them that right now, it looks like Waukesha is headed for approval; however, he cautioned that the vote could turn on a dime.

“All it takes is one [Great Lakes] governor to veto the application, but there’s no sense at this stage that Waukesha’s application is going to be vetoed. But you never know until these documents go back to the governor’s offices, and everyone pours over them as we head to the final stretch,” Annin said.

Major dates to watch for new developments are:

  • April 27th – Revised service map will be distributed including the communities to officially be considered for receiving Great Lakes water.
  • May 2nd – Officials from the eight states and two provinces conference call to review changes made to the city’s request
  • May 10th and 11th – Officials will reconvene in Chicago to hear recommendations from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body
  • June – Great Lakes Governors will provide their decision to the public

Photo is credited to Don Behm of the Miwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.



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