How one city in Wisconsin may change how we protect the Great Lakes

Oct 22, 2013

A water dilemma is brewing in Wisconsin.

The city of Waukesha (near Milwaukee) is asking for permission to tap into Lake Michigan for drinking water — to the tune of 10.1 million gallons per day.

Waukesha is in a real bind. The aquifer that has provided most of its drinking water for the last century has dropped so far, that the water left behind has unhealthy levels of radium and salt.

So the city of 70,000 is under a federal order to find a new source, and Lake Michigan is just 15 miles away.

But Waukesha has the bad luck to be a mile and a half outside the watershed boundary that encircles the five Great Lakes.

Waukesha, WI, and its distance from Lake Michigan
Waukesha, WI, and its distance from Lake Michigan
Credit Screencap from Google Maps / Google

So now the question is, how do we balance the need for a public water supply with the need to protect the Great Lakes?

Knowing that many states and communities are casting longing eyes on the Great Lakes is what led to the Great Lakes Basin Compact, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008 just before he left office.

Noah Hall is a Wayne State University law professor who helped draft the compact, and he joins us to discuss what’s going on in Wisconsin, and where the Great Lakes stand. 

Listen to the full interview above.