By Jamie Cross, Alliance for the Great Lakes
In a monumental step forward for the basin, Illinois legislators unanimously approved the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact in May. The new Illinois law comes after Minnesota became the first state in the region to pass the Great Lakes Compact into state law earlier this year.
The Compact provides uniform and binding water use standards for the region. Among its key protections are water conservation measures to minimize damage to Great Lakes ecosystems, public participation, enforcement, and state flexibility to go beyond the minimum protections in the Compact.
The Compact also governs new or increased water withdrawals, and clamps down on wasteful water use. Furthermore, new or increased water “diversions” to places outside the Great Lakes watershed will be banned, with some exceptions. “This is a huge step for protecting the waters we all revere,” said Joel Brammeier, associate director for policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “In order to keep decision making here, states need to pass laws at home – now – that guarantee our fair control of Great Lakes waters.”
Illinois’ move comes at a critical time when other states, such as Wisconsin, are considering permitting new water diversions. The community of New Berlin recently submitted a revised application for Lake Michigan water to Wisconsin DNR after their first application was scrutinized and deemed deficient by other states and members of the public.
“Like Minnesota and Illinois,Great Lakes states should be focused on passing the Compact, not permitting new diversions,” said Brammeier. “Adding new permits is starting a game without everyone knowing the rules.”
Many Illinois groups, including the Illinois Environmental Council, Environment Illinois, Openlands Project, and Prairie Rivers Network played a crucial role in gaining support for the Compact. Faith-based organizations like Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church in Chicago organized letter-writing campaigns in support of this regionally critical legislation.
While Illinois is exempt from the sections of the Compact governing diversions, its use of Lake Michigan water will continue to be governed – and controlled – by a Supreme Court consent decree.Now it is up to the remaining six states to support a sustainable future for Great Lakes waters by passing the Compact into law.
Once passed by all eight Great Lakes states, the Compact moves to the U.S. Congress for final ratification. The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec are considering a complementary agreement that mirrors the Compact – an agreement that Ontario’s legislature recently endorsed.
For more information contact Joel Brammeier, associate director of Policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-939-0838 ext. 224.