Great Lakes states guard their water

Great Lakes States Guard Their Water - The Arizona Republic, October 6, 2015
Author: Patrick Leary

Some scientists call the Great Lakes the United States’ greatest natural resource.

So why can’t the Southwest, the most water-depleted part of the country, tap into that immense supply?

For one thing, it would be expensive.

“The costs would be astronomical,” said Jenny Kehl, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences.

As in billions of dollars.

“With the price of energy being what it is, it would be such an energy-intensive exercise to build that infrastructure and to pump and transport that water across the country, it wouldn’t be cost effective,” she added.

Beyond cost, the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement between the eight states and two Canadian provinces that border the lakes, makes it nearly impossible for any non-bordering city to get water from the lakes, regardless of distance.

Take Waukesha, Wis., for example.

Waukesha is a suburb of Milwaukee, located about 20 miles west. It is the seventh largest city in Wisconsin, with roughly the population of Flagstaff. It’s the seat of Waukesha County, immediately to Milwaukee County’s west and in range of cooling Lake Michigan breezes.

The city straddles but does not border Lake Michigan. So under the terms of the compact, signed in 2008, Waukesha is not entitled to drinking water from the lakes.

“The reason for the Great Lakes Compact is so we can protect the greatest natural asset that we have in this region and to make sure that it’s viable environmentally and economically in the long run,” Kehl said.

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