Council of Canadians opposed to Waukesha water diversion approval

The Council of Canadians is opposed to the plan to divert water from Lake Michigan and to transport it via pipeline to Waukesha, Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel Journal reports, "On a historic 8-0 vote [on Tuesday June 21], Waukesha won the water prize it sought for 13 years. ...Just last month, representatives of seven of the eight states [in the Great Lakes basin area] and both provinces [Ontario and Quebec] gave conditional approval to the city's request and agreed Waukesha is without a reasonable water supply alternative to Lake Michigan. ...Absent any legal challenges, the city will become the first U.S. community located entirely outside the Great Lakes drainage basin to receive a diversion of lake water under the Great Lakes Compact."

Late last week, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which includes more than 100 local governments on both sides of the border, spoke against the water diversion to Waukesha.

And now CBC reports, "Leamington, Ont., Mayor John Paterson is irate after a group of eight U.S. governors voted to allow ... Waukesha, [which is situated 27 kilometres away from the lake, to withdraw 31 million litres of water a day via a pipeline]." The Canadian Press reports, "Waukesha [argues] that although it's located outside the boundary of the Great Lakes basin, it is part of a county straddling that geographical line."

The CBC article explains, "[The] 2008 [Great Lakes Compact] established a potential exception for communities within counties that straddle the line." Mayor Paterson argues that Waukesha is situated outside of the Great Lakes watershed and therefore should not be eligible for this diversion. The mayor highlights, "If you open it up to one, how do you then deny it to, let's say, the State of California, which is in a drought condition. If this continues, the Great Lakes won't be very great anymore. They'll be gone."

Commenting on this proposal in July 2013, the Toronto Star noted, "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?" And in February 2014, the Globe and Mail reported, "[Thunder Bay mayor Keith] Hobbs believes granting Waukesha’s application for access to the lake would set a dangerous precedent and touch off potential water wars."

It is also important to note that Clean Wisconsin says, "The only reason Waukesha is looking to Lake Michigan water at all is to cover its desired future expansion of its service territory to include parts of four surrounding communities. However, those communities have no need, now or in the future, for a different water supply and do not qualify for Great Lakes water under the requirements of the Compact." And they have argued, "Waukesha can supply its growing population with safe, clean water, now and in the future, by blending deep- and shallow-aquifer water and updating its outdated technology to 'best available' technology for removing radium and other contaminants."

They highlight, "Our solution will save Waukesha residents $150 million compared to the Great Lakes diversion, meet public health standards for radium and other contaminants, and requires no additional wells, which means there is no environmental impact to surrounding wetlands, surface waters or the deep water aquifer."

The Toronto Star has 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."

While the Sentinel Journal reports, "both provinces gave conditional approval to [Waukesha's] request", the Canadian Press adds, "[Ontario] also acknowledged that [the city's] proposal was likely just the beginning of similar requests."

This morning, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow tweeted, "Great Lakes Waukesha diversion granted. We warned years ago that this 'Compact' would give the US exclusive right to decide."

She has also previously noted serious flaws in the Compact including "a loophole that allows for water withdrawals of up to 20 litres in unlimited quantity, which in turn allows big water-bottling companies such as Nestlé, Pepsi and Coca-Cola to remove large amounts of water from the Lakes for export" and "an exemption that includes water in any sized container without limit so long as the container is labelled 'product' and the water is used in agricultural, manufacturing or industrial processes" which creates a precedent that water exporters can use to transfer water out of the basin and to undercut the diversion ban.

It is believed that water will begin being pumped from Lake Michigan to Waukesha around June 2018.