Minnesota Environmental Partnership • Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy •
Clean Water Action of Minnesota • Minnesota Conservation Federation
Environmental Advocates Issue Statement on Today’s Vote on Precedent-Setting
Great Lakes Water Division Request
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Steve Schultz, Clean Water Action of Minnesota: 612-627-1530
Gary Botzek, Minnesota Conservation Federation, 651-293-9295
June 21, 2016 (Saint Paul, Minn.) — Earlier today, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council met and voted on the City of Waukesha’s Lake Michigan water diversion proposal. The final action on the diversion request includes significant changes and conditions added by the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers that modified the original diversion application. All states voting supported granting the limited Diversion.
We applaud Governor Dayton and the Department of Natural Resources for their leadership and for conducting an open process that engaged Minnesotans on this issue. Minnesota’s amendments will help clarify the key issue of enforcement of the conditions placed on the diversion today by the Compact Council.
Minnesotans hold their lakes near and dear, including Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes, which provide drinking water to 40 million people, create habitat for thousands of plants and animals and support a $4 billion sports fishing industry. It is critical that we protect these great resources by keeping water from the lakes within the Great Lakes basin.
We appreciate the serious consideration that was given by the Compact Council to the tens of thousands of Great Lakes residents who voiced their concern that Waukesha’s original application did not meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact. We are pleased that the original diversion application was significantly narrowed and the amount of water to be diverted reduced.
We remain concerned that the Compact Council did not fully recognize other major flaws in Waukesha’s proposal and didn’t take the steps necessary to ensure that this precedent-setting application meets all of the rigorous requirements for diversion of Great Lakes water. We believe the Waukesha application should have been denied until all these areas of non-compliance were resolved.
We will hold the Compact Council and its member states accountable to their obligations to monitor and enforce the conditions under which the precedent-setting application was approved. Effective implementation of the Great Lakes Compact will hinge on rigorous enforcement of the conditions approved today.
We acknowledge that Waukesha, like many Minnesota cities, has water quality issues to address, but we continue to believe that Waukesha can safely meet its community drinking water needs, now and well into the future, without a diversion of water from the Great Lakes.
We have learned a lot in this initial diversion request under the Compact Council. One lesson that is clear is that it is very difficult for the public to participate in the regional process. For example, there was no video or audio link available for the public to monitor today’s historic vote. Minnesotan’s either needed to make the trek to Chicago to attend the meeting or rely on Twitter for snippets of information. The Compact Council must amend their processes to include improved opportunities for the public to participate in a meaningful and timely way throughout the regional review process no matter where they live.
The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is an agreement adopted by all eight of the Great Lakes states (MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH, PA, NY), passed by Congress in 2008, and backed by a parallel agreement between the U.S. and Canada. It provides a structure within which the Great Lakes states and provinces work together to manage, protect, and conserve Great Lakes Water and bans the diversion of Great Lakes water outside the basin, except under extraordinary conditions. Under the Great Lakes Compact, any diversion application must be approved by all eight Great Lakes states if they determine it meets the conditions established under the Compact. The two Canadian provinces bordering the lakes, Ontario and Quebec, are allowed to provide input. Any state may veto the diversion application.
Waukesha, Wisconsin’s application to divert water from Lake Michigan to supplant its own groundwater supply is the first test of the Great Lakes Compact. Under the Compact, any community located outside the Great Lakes Basin that applies for a diversion of Great Lakes water must demonstrate that it is applying for the diversion only as a last resort , never as a preferred option; i.e., that it has exhausted all other available options to obtain water. A community also must show that the amount of water requested is not more than what is needed.
Across the region, residents have fought hard to keep Lake Superior and the entire Great Lakes basin clean and plentiful. The Great Lakes give us drinking water, cool air, and a distinct culture. The decision on Waukesha’s proposal is an important first test of and a critical proving ground for the Compact.