WSW: "Getting it Right" on a Request for Great Lakes Water
Commentator Gary Wilson says Waukesha, Wisconsin’s proposal to take water out of Lake Michigan will set the precedent for future decisions.
The federal government has ordered the town west of Milwaukee to find another source of drinking water by 2018 because of contaminated wells. Wilson wrote about the complexity of the proposal for Great Lakes Echo. His article is called Waukesha’s Drinking Problem Causes a Regional Hangover.
Wilson says other cities are also facing water quality issues, and are likely to make a formal application to take water out of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Compact signed into law in 2008 says a town can only apply for water from one of the Great Lakes as “a last resort.” Wilson says there is some disagreement among environmental groups about whether Waukesha has other options. The compact also says any water removed must be treated and returned.
But the Great Lakes compact could be tested in court. Wilson says water lawyers have told him that compacts similar to the Great Lakes usually stand up well to legal scrutiny. But he says there are some arbitrary provisions that could weaken its legal standing. Wilson says that includes the “bottled water loophole,” which he says allows some smaller diversions of water from the Great Lakes.
Correction: In the interview Gary Wilson mis-spoke when he said that the bottled water loophole allows for the withdrawal of 5.7-milion gallons of water. As his story in Great Lakes Echo states: "if you put less than 5.7-gallons of water into containers you can divert as much as you want."
Wilson says he can argue the case both ways. He says the Great Lakes compact was crafted to make it possible for Waukesha to seek water from the Great Lakes. Wilson suggests there should be a compromise where Waukesha reduces the amount of water in its request before it’s granted. He says both sides could claim victory “or at least not have to admit defeat.”
Governors of the Great Lakes states will have to weigh the request from Waukesha. Wilson says Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is currently the “de-facto” leader of the Great Lakes Governors’ Conference. Wilson says Snyder is well-respected and if anyone can broker a deal “I think it could be him.”