Mayors rally against plan to give Milwaukee exurb Great Lakes water
A coalition of 120 U.S. and Canadian mayors is calling on decision-makers to reverse a precedent-setting plan that would allow a Wisconsin city to draw water from Lake Michigan.
If Waukesha, Wisc., is allowed to pipe water in from the Great Lakes — even though it is outside the watershed — then the trickle of farther-flung water-seeking municipalities will become a deluge, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative said Monday.
The mayors have asked for a hearing from the Great Lakes Compact, a group of eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces that acts as a gatekeeper of water-taking in the watershed.
In June, the Compact (in this instance, just the states and not the provinces) approved Waukesha’s request to build a pipeline that would divert 31 million litres of Lake Michigan water a day to meet its existing and future needs.
“It may well open the door to more requests,” David Ullrich, executive director of the Cities Initiative, said Monday.
In letters sent this week, his group also asks the International Joint Commission, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene.
“I don’t think people really understood the importance of what the decision really meant (at first),” said Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope, a director of the Cities Initiative. “From our perspective, how far is it going to go? Once the floodgates are open, how far does it continue to flow?”
He said his Canadian counterparts from Thunder Bay to Montreal — who use Great Lakes water for drinking, recreation and commerce — share that concern.
Binational rules say municipalities straddling the watershed (Waukesha’s aquifers draw from the Mississippi River system) may draw water only under specific, restrictive circumstances that win unanimous approval from the Compact of affected states and/or provinces.
This is the first test of the Compact since it was set up in 2005 to hear such requests.
The Cities Initiative argues Waukesha doesn’t meet the criteria: it has other alternatives to its radium-contaminated water supply, it doesn’t lie within the geographic boundaries and the consultation process was inadequate.
It was both “surprising and disturbing” that the lone hearing on the issue took place in Waukesha, noted Sandra Cooper, mayor of Collingwood and secretary-treasurer of the Cities Initiative.
“Small and large, we are all impacted one way or another” by what happens on the lakes, she said. The effects of fluctuating lake levels have been particularly acute along Georgian Bay, she noted.
Waukesha, an 70,000-person exurb of Milwaukee, would return treated water to Lake Michigan via the Root River .
But Hope and others say allowing a return flow through the Root River would cause even more pharmaceutical- and phosphorus-laden effluent to enter the lakes, he said.
Ullrich said he hopes to hear in a month or two what dates the Compact might set for a hearing.