Michigan reviews Wisconsin’s Foxconn lake diversion

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

A Michigan group said Friday it is requesting the reversal of a controversial plan approved last week by Wisconsin officials to let a Foxconn manufacturing plant withdraw up to 7 million gallons of drinking water a day from Lake Michigan.

The Traverse City-based nonprofit group called For Love of Water, or FLOW, said the water diversion plan violates the Great Lakes compact and sets a dangerous precedent by twisting the concept of what constitutes a withdrawal for public purposes. It is asking the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Regional Body and Compact Council — of which Michigan is a member — to invalidate Wisconsin’s decision.

The Snyder administration is reviewing the city of Racine’s application and asking questions of Wisconsin officials, Office of the Great Lakes outreach coordinator Rachel Coale said in a Friday email.

The city of Racine requested the water withdrawal, estimating the $10 billion flat-screen plant in Mount Pleasant would consume 2.7 million gallons daily by factory operations and evaporation when the facility is built. The remaining 4.3 million gallons would be treated and returned to Lake Michigan.

“We can’t go into this century’s water crisis with a loosely conceived decision that turns the ‘straddling community’ exception to the diversion ban on end,” said Jim Olson, founder and president of FLOW.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved the withdrawal for the factory site in the village of Mount Pleasant by saying it straddles the divide between the Lake Michigan basin and Mississippi River basin and is a minuscule diversion of water.

“The Compact envisioned sending water to cities that straddle the basin with existing water infrastructure that already serves residents on both sides of the divide,” Olson said in a statement. “Wisconsin has shoe-horned Racine’s request to extend its pipes outside the basin to serve a private customer, not a public water supply. Scores of other communities and private interests could start doing the same, and billions of gallons will ultimately end up outside the basin.”

But the Wisconsin department argued the diversion put the Racine water utility, which handles neighboring Mount Pleasant’s water, under its existing withdrawal capacity.

“For perspective, the total surface water withdrawn from Lake Michigan from all states in 2016 was reported as 9.6 billion gallons per day by the Great Lakes Commission,” the Wisconsin DNR said in an April 25 statement. “Racine’s requested 7 million gallons per day withdrawal would only amount to a 0.07 percent increase in the total surface water withdrawals from Lake Michigan.”

Michigan is working with other states to ensure the water diversion “complies with the principles of the Great Lakes Compact,” Coale said.

In 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder and other regional governors unanimously approved letting the Wisconsin community of Waukesha withdraw up to 8 million gallons of drinking water a day from Lake Michigan. That proposal similarly prompted worries about creating a loophole in the Great Lakes compact.

“Wisconsin’s approval of this diversion doesn’t just bend the Compact, it threatens to break it,” said Dave Dempsey, a senior adviser to FLOW. “The Racine-to-Foxconn diversion must receive the highest degree of scrutiny, and if it is discovered that the application of this exception violates or is not consistent with the Compact, the Council, Regional Body, and parties or citizens must correct the error before it is too late.”


(313) 222-2620