Governors from all eight Great Lakes states had to sign off before Waukesha, Wis., could siphon water out of Lake Michigan.
When Foxconn Technology Group wanted to dip a straw into the lake for its new electronics factory west of Racine, the Taiwan-based company had to undergo a rigorous legal review and lay out its plans at a contentious public hearing.
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Both bids to tap into Lake Michigan were tests of a decade-old, congressionally approved pact intended to make it almost impossible to pump water outside the natural basin of the Great Lakes unless it is added to certain products, such as beer and soft drinks.
But as debates about the Foxconn and Waukesha water diversions continue to roil the region, it turns out Wisconsin gave another city permission nearly a decade ago to send significantly more Lake Michigan water beyond the subcontinental divide that separates the Great Lakes basin from other parts of the Midwest where water flows toward the Mississippi River.
Only nobody noticed until now.
Pleasant Prairie, a fast-developing community just north of the Illinois border, started with a daily limit of 3.2 million gallons when regional leaders approved the Great Lakes Water Compact in 2008. Two years later, records show, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources boosted the city’s allotment of lake water by another 7.49 million gallons a day — almost as much as the controversial Waukesha diversion approved in 2016 and a little more than the bounty of Lake Michigan water secured for the Foxconn factory earlier this year.
While the village’s average daily withdrawal from Lake Michigan was just 2.49 million gallons in 2017, dramatically increasing the amount of water allocated for Pleasant Prairie sets the stage for future development in the Interstate 94 corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee.
“Southeast Wisconsin is growing, and you can’t keep growing without water,” said Peter Annin, director of a Northland College water center, who uncovered documents about the expanded Pleasant Prairie diversion while researching a new edition of his book “The Great Lakes Water Wars.” “People are surprised about the lack of transparency on this. I’m not sure we want a situation where a state is unilaterally increasing a water diversion by millions of gallons a day without any public notification.” To read the entire story.