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Waukesha's water request will be first test of Great Lakes Compact

Sep 9, 2015

Map showing the location of Waukesha, WI.
Credit Screencap from Google Maps / Google

The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin has a contamination problem in its aquifer, and the federal government has ordered the city to find a new source of drinking water by 2018.

Waukesha is just a mile and a half outside the Lake Michigan watershed, so tapping Great Lakes water seems like the most obvious solution to the city’s problem.

But there’s a catch. Thanks to the 2008 Great Lakes Compact, a city can’t divert Great Lakes water out of the Great Lakes basin without the permission of all eight Great Lakes governors.

Waukesha city leaders will have to prove that they’ll return treated water back to the Great Lakes basin, and that they have an acceptable water conservation plan in place before the governors will sign off on the plan.

Gary Wilson is a Chicago-based journalist who focuses on the Great Lakes. His recent commentary for the Great Lakes Echo explores the Waukesha water dilemma, and he offers a Solomon-like solution to the problem.

From his piece:

If I’m the Great Lakes governors who have to give the request a thumbs-up or down, here’s where I am:

I say, Waukesha, you’ve made your case for water but while there’s a provision in the compact for a town in a straddling county, there’s none for a service area. You’ve overreached without a basis. Ratchet your request down to match your need and we’ll say yes.

To the enviros, I say, you long ago lost the moral and political high ground by blessing the arbitrary – straddling county and bottled water loophole – provisions of the compact. That makes it hard now to argue against compromise.

That’s it. Both sides can claim victory or at least not have to admit defeat.

Listen to our conversation with Wilson below: