With the Great Lakes Compact celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, protections designed to fend off large-scale water diversions have never been stronger, experts said Tuesday at Marquette University Law School.
But they also said future water needs are likely to place serious demands in the decades to come on the landmark international agreement and on the eight states and two Canadian provinces bordering the lakes.
“The real success of the compact has yet to be tested,” said former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, whose administration was in power when the compact was signed into law on Oct. 3, 2008, by President George W. Bush.
Population growth, prolonged drought and other new demands for water are factors that could prompt other regions to push hard for Great Lakes water.
Gov. Jim Doyle in 2008 after passage in Wisconsin of enabling legislation governing the Great Lakes Compact.
“What will really test this at one point is when there is a huge water shortage demand in the country and people go to Congress and say, ‘You’ve got to get rid of this compact,’ ” Doyle said.
The Great Lakes Compact prohibits water from being diverted, in most cases, outside the basin. Its passage was driven by worries that areas nearby—and as far away as Asia—would use their political and economic muscle to siphon a portion of the largest freshwater resource on the planet.
The compact was the subject of a symposium at the law school, where there was universal agreement among speakers that Wisconsin has so far been the focal point of the compact by virtue of the narrow band of land that comprises the Great Lakes basin in the southeastern part of the state.
Those inside the basin are entitled to all the water they want. For those outside, especially areas straddling the basin, access to water gets more complicated.
In a controversial decision, Great Lakes states are allowing the City of Waukesha to tap Lake Michigan as a replacement for its own polluted groundwater.
Also controversial, this year’s decision by the Department of Natural Resources to allow the City of Racine to send water over the basin to Mount Pleasant, largely to supply the $10 billion Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing complex currently under construction.
Authors of the compact, privately, can’t agree on whether the DNR’s decision to approve water for Foxconn satisfies requirements of the agreement, said Peter Annin, author of The Great Lakes Water Wars.
Environmental groups have filed a legal challenge with the DNR claiming the diversion fails to meet key tests that the use be for “public water supply purposes,” which would serve a “group of largely residential customers,” according to compact language.
Annin, who directs the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College in Ashland, said the compact is an example of “big, important, transformative environmental pieces of legislation” that change over time through legal challenges and court rulings.
“It’s always been expected that the compact would be, as well,” Annin said. To read the full article.