You can get the feeling on reading Peter Annin’s new edition of his terrific book, “The Great Lakes Water Wars,” that much has happened—but too little has changed—in the control of self-interested resource grabs since the first edition came out a dozen years ago.
The news back in 2006 was that the Great Lakes Compact was essentially finalized, creating an eight-state body that would fend off unwise withdrawals and otherwise manage use of the world’s greatest freshwater resource for the region’s shared benefit.
It was already clear that the real threats would not be tankers sucking up water for sale in Asia, or interstate pipelines enabling its transport to the arid Southwest, but a host of smaller “diversions” by states that possessed Great Lakes shorelines and also, too often, an inflated sense of entitlement to the lifeblood lapping at their beaches.
Typically, each of the eight states reflexively opposed the others’ efforts to use the big lakes’ water beyond the small basin that replenishes it, while fiercely defending their own pumping. Often they found ways to work around restrictive requirements of the Great Lakes Charter, an earlier but nonbinding version of the Compact, or the binding but oft-ignored Water Resources Development Acts issued by Congress.
In 2018, the news includes discouraging examples of business as usual despite the Compact, with this marquee item revealed by Annin for the first time:
In 2010 the state of Wisconsin, anticipating a massive expansion of residential, commercial and industrial development in the small southeastern community of Pleasant Prairie, acted unilaterally and virtually in secret to treble the city’s authorized allotment of Lake Michigan water from the previous level of 3.2 million gallons per day to 10.69 mgd.
For perspective, that is substantially more water than the 8.62 mgd allotted to Waukesha in the years-long, intensively negotiated and bitterly disputed diversion that became the Compact’s first test case (and whose historic resolution spurred Annin’s update). It is also, more importantly, exactly the kind of under-the-radar water grab the Compact was supposed to dissuade.) To read the entire story.