Our Editorial: Keep Great Lakes water at home

The Detroit News

Several Michigan lawmakers have joined their peers from the seven other Great Lakes states in expressing concern about a proposal by a Wisconsin city to divert water from the the lakes basin.

It’s a questionable request, and one that would violate a core principle of the Great Lakes Compact, the joint states and federal agreement forged to protect the region’s most valuable resource.

Waukesha, Wisconsin is asking for an exemption from the compact’s tough ban on diversions of Great Lakes water outside the basin. Although Wisconsin borders Lakes Michigan and Superior, Waukesha sits just outside the basin, and thus is not eligible to draw lakes water for its municipal system.

It is the first request for a diversion in the eight years since the compact was signed.

Agreeing to the request would set a dangerous precedent.

Water as an economic resource is a powerful draw for jobs and industry. Great Lakes water is coveted by many places without such a rich supply of fresh water.

In a letter to Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, the Great Lakes lawmakers raises four specific concerns.

The first is that Waukesha will use the Great Lakes water to serve not only its current customer base, but to expand its system. Daily use of water by the community will rise to 10 to 16 million gallons a day from 6 million gallons.

Waukesha currently supplies its needs with local water resources.

Under the compact, diversions can only be approved if there are no reasonable alternatives. Critics of the plan contend Waukesha has enough underground reserves to meet its needs.

There is also concern that Waukesha has not put in place a conservation plan, as required by the compact.

Finally, Waukesah has not addressed the potential damage that may occur from returning so much additional treated sewage into a river that is a Great Lakes tributary.

The Great Lakes Compact has worked to both protect the waterways and to keep decision making about the future of the lakes in the hands of the states that border them.

The instinct should always be to keep Great Lakes water inside the basin.

Under the compact, all eight states must unanimously agree to a diversion.

Unless Waukesha demonstrates a more compelling reason for removing the water, and a greater compliance with the rules of the compact governing such diversions, the request should be rejected.