Diversion Proposal Threatens Carefully Negotiated Great Lakes Protections

Diversion Proposal Threatens Carefully Negotiated Great Lakes Protections

By Cheryl Mendoza, Manger of Water Conservation Programs, Alliance for the Great Lakes

We probably all agree, besides acting as home for fish and wildlife, the Great Lakes provide drinking water and immeasurable quality of life for 40 million people throughout the region. Despite this, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is considering a proposal to divert Lake Michigan water outside the Great Lakes Basin in New Berlin, Wisconsin. New Berlin faces a federal deadline to stop pumping radium-laced water from its wells on the western side of the city.

While this may be the easiest option for New Berlin, it is certainly not the only option. New Berlin’s proximity to Lake Michigan does not excuse its responsibility to use water resources wisely and efficiently. New Berlin’s current water conservation measures are glaringly weak, comprised of a sprinkling restriction limited to even or odd days, an optional leak detection test offered to customers who request them, and a leaflet offering conservation tips apparently available on the City’s website, though we could not find it there. Aggressive conservation programs have helped countless communities around the United States meet their water supply needs. There are seemingly endless examples of such programs in existence that New Berlin could adapt.

Aside from New Berlin lacking a responsible water conservation program, the WDNR is ignoring their obligation to a federal law called the Water Resources Development Act. The language in the law is clear: “No water shall be diverted or exported from any portion of the Great Lakes within the United States, from any tributary within the United States of any of the Great Lakes, for use (emphasis added) outside the Great Lakes basin unless such diversion or export is approved by the Governor of each of the Great Lakes States.”

Finally, moving forward with this proposal could also hinder, possibly indefinitely, first of its kind, legally binding protections for the Great Lakes – called the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact – ensuring a healthy economy and ecology for today’s and future generations. The Compact and the related Agreement with two Canadian provinces are the result of six years of difficult negotiations between 10 jurisdictions and numerous stakeholders. Approving diversion proposals without this legally binding system in place would result in a loss of interest from state legislatures and Congress to approve a final, binding Compact. This gives regional stakeholders no legal recourse for bad diversion decisions.

Each day we wait to build stronger protections for the 20% of the world’s fresh surface water in our backyard, the risk of losing our lakes forever grows.

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Each day we wait to build stronger protections for the 20% of the world’s fresh surface water in our backyard, the risk of losing our lakes forever grows.

To learn more contact

Cheryl Mendoza at 616-850-0745 ext. 13 or cmendoza@greatlakes.org

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