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Wisconsin city could divert water from Lake Michigan, test case for the Great Lakes Compact

The Toronto Star reports, “The city of Waukesha (in Wisconsin) is getting down to the dregs of its deep aquifer (which is laced with rising concentrations of naturally-occurring cancer-causing radium). …Later this month, Waukesha will put the finishing touches on its Big Ask — a watershed-hopping scheme to build a pipeline so that its 70,000 people can drink safely from the Great Lakes forever more.”

“Once all the bureaucratic Ts and Is are crossed and dotted, Waukesha will sit down ladle in hand with all the Great Lakes states and provinces, including Ontario, to make its case for a diversion of 9 million (imperial) gallons a day from Lake Michigan.” The idea is to build two pipelines, one to take water from Lake Michigan, the second one to return the water back to the lake (minus a 15 per cent consumption loss).

“The Waukesha crisis isn’t just about Waukesha — it’s a test case for the regulatory beast known as the Great Lakes Compact, a legally binding agreement signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008 but never before faced with a request to divert water beyond the subcontinental divide. (Waukesha is on the Mississippi side of the sub-continental divide (but) the city’s easternmost limits are just two kilometres from the Great Lakes watershed.)”

“In the grander scheme, that makes it a test case for North America’s coming climate travails, riveting attention on just how precious these five lakes, which together comprise 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater, really are. Saying yes to Waukesha is one thing, but who asks next? Las Vegas?”

“(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.”

That said, “If either Ontario or Quebec has objections to the Waukesha application or any others that follow, Ottawa has the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to fall back on, together with the binational International Joint Commission that grew from it.”

“Ontario and the other Great Lakes stakeholders won’t see the city’s diversion application until January.”

For more, please read:

Why Waukesha’s thirst for Great Lakes water is raising alarms on both sides of the border
Report: Our Great Lakes Commons – A people’s plan to protect the Great Lakes forever