Will Waukesha's water needs open Great Lakes floodgates?

Will Waukesha's water needs open Great Lakes floodgates? - Minnesota Public Radio, December 16, 2015
Author: Dan Kraker

With its groundwater wells contaminated with radium and city leaders under court order to find a new water source, Waukesha, Wis., saw an obvious fix — tap Lake Michigan, just 15 miles to the east.

The massive lake, one of the world's largest freshwater sources, would scarcely notice the 10 million gallons per day the city hopes to draw. Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb, got the OK from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources after five years of review.

The plan, however, must still get the backing of Great Lakes governors, including Gov. Mark Dayton. That could prove difficult.

Waukesha would be the first exemption to a part of the Great Lakes Compact, an interstate deal signed in 2008 intended to protect the lakes. Critics are warning now that an exemption for Waukesha would set a dangerous precedent in an increasingly thirsty world.

The fear has always been that, "If we were to give water to people who were 5 miles out, what do we do when people come who are 50 miles out, or then 500 miles out, do we make this yellow brick road to Las Vegas?" said Peter Annin, author of "The Great Lakes Water Wars" and co-director of the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College in Ashland, Wis.

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