University of Buffalo News Center, April 11, 2016 Author: Cory Nealon
A plan in Wisconsin to divert drinking water outside of the Great Lakes basin appears sound, but it could set a dangerous precedent, says Joseph F. Atkinson, director of the Great Lakes Program at the University at Buffalo.
The lakes contain about 6 quadrillion gallons of water, or roughly 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, a 2008 agreement signed by eight Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, prevents the siphoning of water outside the basin. But the compact allows communities in so-called “straddling counties” – those which are partially located within the basin – to apply for a water diversion permit.
“Waukesha… would have to spend an estimated $67 million to rid its water of radium,” it is reported, and “has spent nearly $500,000 in legal fees and research in an effort to disprove that radium poses a danger at levels… found in Waukesha water.”
“(T)he city will need to find another source of water in the future to serve the demands of a growing population and industrial base… (and) is also looking toward Lake Michigan as a potential water source.” Sixteen years later, a decade and a half during which the city could have implemented any number of conservation and water savings strategies to cope with its predicament, as so many other communities across the country have, Waukesha’s solution is to tap into one of the sole remaining bodies of freshwater extant on the planet.
Diverting water from Lake Michigan should be a last resort, not the easiest route. Because the city hasn’t exhausted other options, for now the answer should be no.
The governors are scheduled to vote on Waukesha’s request in Chicago on May 23. They should do more than simply vote on this one rather small request.
The abundant water of the lakes is a precious resource that needs more than a wall to keep it in. The governors need a solid plan to use this resource to promote a blue economy that will help reverse decades of decline.
Buffalo News, February 27, 2016 Author: Tom Precious
Dyster, the Niagara Falls mayor, disagrees.
“Maintaining the compact by gutting it doesn’t seem to be a very sustainable future. It strikes me that the best way of (preventing) a whole series of legal challenges is to address this issue foursquare the first time it comes up,” Dyster said of the Waukesha application.
The eight governors remain mum right now.
But opponents are trying to convince at least one of the Great Lakes governors to cast a no vote this spring.
Waukesha has other options than tapping Lake Michigan, including use of an ultraviolet light system to treat radium contaminants at the well level, said Karen Hobbs, deputy director of policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“The Great Lakes compact was such a seminal moment in Great Lakes’ management. It was a really high point in how we look at the Great Lakes not only for drinking water but for the power of economies and recreational opportunities,” Hobbs said. “If we can’t adhere to the requirements that we all agreed to, then we really do a disservice to what we negotiated in that compact.”
The report offered suggestions for both the United States and Canada, including devising strategies to deal with climate change and enlisting public and private entities to repair infrastructure, promote innovation and encourage water conservation.
The report also wants still-stronger protections against diversions.
Waukesha, a community of more than 70,000 located about 20 miles west of Milwaukee, and just outside the Great Lakes watershed, wants to divert just over 10 million gallons of water every day from Lake Michigan.
It will be a difficult decision, and many more are sure to follow. The Great Lakes are a public trust. The sooner both nations recognize that, the better.
The Buffalo News, January 19, 2016 Author: T.J. Pignataro
That’s why the binational advisory commission charged with protecting
the shared waters between the U.S. and Canada recommended building redundancies into the Great Lakes Compact between the two nations by adopting a policy declaring that waters of the Great Lakes are held in “public trust.”
What that means, according to Dempsey, is that the basin’s waters are “owned by the public,” and that governments “should have to protect them on behalf of the public.”
“The public trust framework would be a back-stop if the compact was ever challenged,” Dempsey told The Buffalo News.
It’s an idea that has support from the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a regional advocacy organization.
“It is a law that is available for all citizens to use and it is strengthened further by using it to establish precedents,” said Nate Drag, watershed project coordinator from the Alliance’s Buffalo office, in a written statement. “On the other hand, the public trust doctrine only functions if governments diligently apply it, and if citizens use it.”
The Buffalo News, January 9, 2016 Author: Peter Annin
When it comes to Great Lakes water, what happens upstream matters to New York. That’s why New York’s congressional delegation worked so hard to get the Great Lakes Compact passed, and it’s why the state has a history of heavily scrutinizing water diversion applications.
With Waukesha’s judgment day coming later this year, the question is this: Will Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder give Waukesha a pass, providing Cuomo the opportunity to wield the veto pen that his father never had the opportunity to pick up? (Or perhaps never wanted to.) Or will both governors decide that after more than five years of waiting and wondering, Waukesha has met all the compact’s fine print?
We’ll have to wait a few more months to find out. But if history is any guide, the state of New York will be giving the Waukesha water diversion application a very, very close read.