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Taiwanese transnational to take water out of the Great Lakes basin for electronics factory

Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group wants to build a $10 billion manufacturing complex in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin to assemble liquid crystal display panels for televisions and other electronic devices – which would require about 7 million gallons of water to be drawn out of Lake Michigan each day.

Foxconn is the world’s largest electronics manufacturer and the products it makes include BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone, PlayStation and Xbox.

The outcome of the application by the transnational corporation to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker doesn’t seem in doubt.

The Chicago Tribune reports, “Easy access to Lake Michigan water was one of Walker’s selling points as he wooed Foxconn last year. Walker also offered $3 billion in taxpayer subsidies, promised to relax state environmental laws [exempt the company from the state’s wetlands regulations] and pledged to fight federal clean air regulations that would require Foxconn to spend more money on pollution-control equipment.”

The Great Lakes Compact appears to allow for diversions outside the basin for “a group of largely residential customers that may also serve industrial, commercial, and other institutional operators.”

Notably, it’s the Racine Water Utility that has made the application to the state. Racine is an industrial city near Mount Pleasant where the factory would be located. That utility already has approval to withdraw more water than the 17 million gallons it takes each day from Lake Michigan so the Foxconn development isn’t technically a new or increased withdrawal. The utility also serves thousands of residential customers and so is still considered a public water system even if the water it draws goes to Foxconn.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says it will receive public comments until April 16 – and a decision by the Governor (who clearly backs the factory) is expected to be announced in May.

The Toronto Star has previously explained, “[The Great Lakes Compact] is, technically and legally, a U.S. agreement, codified by a 2008 Act of Congress, ensuring that the eight states that touch the basin’s shorelines — Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Indiana and Minnesota — can, among other things, veto each other’s water requests. Ontario, which sprawls across the northern shorelines of four of the five lakes, all but dwarfing the territories of the eight states to the south, gets a seat at the table. The province is more than an observer but less than a full player, entitled to submit scientific opinion but not wielding the clear-cut right to say no. It’s the same for Quebec, which is a stakeholder by dint of its St. Lawrence River territories. That’s because neither states nor provinces are able to sign international agreements.”

The Chicago Tribune notes, “Of the 7 million gallons of water withdrawn daily for Foxconn, 4.3 million gallons would be treated and returned to the lake and the rest would be lost, mostly from evaporation in the company’s cooling system, according to the application sent to Wisconsin officials. That amount of lost water falls below a daily limit of 5 million gallons that would trigger a review by other Great Lakes states.”

That article adds, “Lawyers, activists and politicians who drafted the compact are split on whether Foxconn’s bid violates the spirit, if not the actual language, of the agreement, which they hammered out in 2008 after an Ontario firm unveiled plans to ship 158 million gallons a year from Lake Superior to Asia.”

The Council of Canadians has previously opposed the plan to divert water from Lake Michigan to be transported via pipeline to Waukesha, Wisconsin for drinking water. In May 2016, seven of the eight states in the Great Lakes basin and Ontario and Quebec gave conditional approval under the Great Lakes Compact to the city’s request to draw water from the lake. That diversion of lake water is expected to begin in 2022.

We are concerned that both situations are creating a dangerous precedent for even more water to be diverted even further out of the Great Lakes basin.