Great Lakes States To Discuss Wisconsin City Water Diversion

Photo: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
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By Elizabeth Miller 

8 states, along with 2 Canadian provinces, could decide Thursday if one community in Wisconsin will be allowed to divert water from Lake Michigan.  It would be the first city to do so since a 2008 agreement that says Great Lakes water is off-limits to anyone outside an eight state basin.  

Waukesha, Wisconsin sits west of Milwaukee and its groundwater is infused with radium.  Six years ago, the city applied for permission to get its water from Lake Michigan, about 20 miles away.  2008's Great Lakes Compact includes a few exceptions to the diversion ban, including communities or counties that may straddle the basin cutoff.  The city of Waukesha states that because Waukesha County borders the basin, the city may qualify for diversion.  

On Thursday, representatives for the governors of 8 states that border the Great Lakes including Ohio, as well as the Premiers from Ontario and Quebec will meet in Chicago.  They’ll recommend whether or not to approve Waukesha’s application.

Molly Flanagan from the environmental group Alliance for the Great Lakes says this is the first test for Great Lakes Compact.

"Waukesha is really going to set a precedent for future communities that may look to great lakes as source for drinking water," said Flanagan.  "However high the bar is set for Waukesha, that’s going to be the same bar that other communities are going to have to meet, and we want to make sure we set a high bar.  We want make sure we protect the great lakes. All of them."

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer will attend the meeting on behalf of Governor Kasich. He wouldn’t comment on Ohio’s position in the matter. 

Update 4/22/16: The Great Lakes Regional Body has concluded its discussion of Waukesha, with no decision made on whether to allow diversion from Lake Michigan.  They will reconvene in Chicago May 10.  



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