Mayors seek hearing to challenge Great Lakes diversion

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A group of mayors is requesting a formal hearing with the organization of Great Lakes governors that approved in June a Wisconsin community’s polarizing bid to draw water from Lake Michigan.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative filed the hearing request this week. Its director, David Ulrich, said the organization may take legal action if the request is not granted, though it has not yet made that decision.

Ulrich said getting a hearing, which has not yet been given a date, is the first step.

The organization made up of regional governors, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, has received the hearing request but has not yet made any determination about whether it will be granted, said Peter Johnson, deputy director for the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers.

Ulrich said the group of mayors plans to argue that the Great Lakes water diversion — unanimously approved by the council of Great Lakes-area governors, including Snyder — does not meet the requirements of the compact between Great Lakes states regulating water use.

Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 20 miles west of Milwaukee, won approval to withdraw up to 8 million gallons of drinking water a day from Lake Michigan after Snyder and other governors OK’d the plan in June.

The plan drew fierce opposition from conservation groups, state and federal lawmakers and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Snyder has said he supported the proposal because Waukesha is already using a half-billion gallons a year from the Great Lakes Basin, drawn through an underground aquifer that has left the municipal water supply tainted with radium.

“This is a way to discontinue that and then the new source will have to be replaced back into the Great Lakes Basin after being appropriately treated. That, to me, is a better answer than what we have today,” Snyder has said.

But the mayors, including Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, have criticized the proposal by saying it violates a compact between the Great Lakes-area states.

“For the Compact Council to grant an exception to the first application that does not meet the conditions of the Compact sets a very bad precedent,” Coderre said in a statement this week. “To make sure the Compact and Great Lakes are not compromised in the future, this decision should be overturned.”

Although the arguments aren’t new, Ulrich said the mayors’ group hopes to increase pressure to reconsider the decision with an in-person hearing.

Ulrich said he and a handful of mayors allege that the compact requirements weren’t met because Waukesha will supply water to places outside of its city limits, will have reasonable water alternatives and the diversion may “cause significant damage to the (Root) River.”

“I’m not sure that enough attention was given to those issues and we feel that having an opportunity to present them directly … we may have an opportunity to convince them otherwise,” Ulrich said.

(517) 371-3660

Twitter: @MikeGerstein