Time To Get Serious About Protecting The Great Lakes

Thought I'd introduce myself and an issue into the mydd world:
Maintaining the levels and health of the Great Lakes when they are under stress, and when communities that lie beyond the borders of the Great Lakes basin want to bring water out but might not be bringing it back.

Nowhere is this more true than in my state, Wisconsin, and in the very southeastern region where I live.

Follow along: The Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's fresh surface waters, and are subjected to pressures ranging from pollution, to declining levels, to damaging invasive species.

Yet 15 months after the governors of the eight US Great Lakes states and two Canadian provincial premiers endorsed first-ever conservation amendments to the 1985 Great Lakes Compact, only one jurisdiction - - the State of Minnesota - - has adopted the changes.

The heart of the amendments is that no water can be diverted beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin until certain standards and policies are met: conservation plans must be in place; a finding of need is presented in a formal application showing that there is other reasonable solution to a water shortage; an advance agreement by the diverting community is made to return as much water as is possible to the basin to help main lake water levels.

And - - this is a big one - - the permission to divert must be granted by all the eight states unanimously (the Canadian provinces must be consulted, but they do not have a veto over US usage).

Most observers agree that in the US, the communities most likely to ask for an out-of-basin diversion first are in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, where cities 15-to-20 miles from the City of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan have deeply drained their existing underground well water reserves, are bringing up water with naturally-occuring radium (it can be removed, or blended with cleaner water to safe standards), and want to bring in Lake Michigan water through pipeline diversions.

These Waukesha County communities are also in some of the fastest-sprawling areas of the country measured by farmland conversion.

One of the communities, the City of Waukesha, has not agreed to return diverted water to the Great Lakes basin (it now sends treated sewerage into the Mississippi River watershed, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico) as part of a diversion application - - yet it has recently said a diversion is its preferred long-range option to meet future water needs.

And Waukesha twice in 2006 quietly asked Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle to administratively approve a Lake Michigan diversion without the so-called return flow agreement, and asked him to approve the arrangement without the approval of the other states (the confidential requests to Doyle were unearthed through an Open Records request, and were posted on the Internet).

Doyle declined to approve the requests.

A Wisconsin state legislative study committee had been meeting to draft state legislation to adopt and implement the Compact amendments, and all eight stats must adopt similar if not identical language if the Compact is to include the amendments, but the Wisconsin committee has not met since December.

It is not clear if a proposed bill can be approved by the committee for debate in the legislature because strong opposition to the eight-state diversion approval procedure has been labeled a deal-killer by business development and conservative, pro-property rights Republicans in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin led the charge in the 80's to get the Compact adopted, and is the home of environmental legends including Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson.

But after talk in the last few years in the US and in Canada about possible wholesale diversions of Great Lakes water to Asia by ocean-going tanker, and pipeline to the southwest US, negotiators from the states and provinces met for nearly four years to hammer out the amendments to rationalize diversion applications and minimize their approvals - - on behalf of the Great Lakes as a finite and shared resource.

If Wisconsin continues to drag its feet on the amendments' adoption and implementation, a message of indecision will ripple across the Great Lakes region, putting these unique bodies of water at risk just as climate change and warming data suggest that declining lake levels will accelerate due to rising temperatures.

Make no mistake about it: this is a major issue in Wisconsin, across the Great Lakes region, and anywhere that people understand the politics of water.

I have created a blog on this issue and matters related to it:
The Political Environment, at:

http://thepoliticalenvironment.blogspot. com/

Many of the posts there lay out the issues. I welcome your readership, and thanks.

Tags: Climate change, Environment, Global Warming, Great lakes, Wisconsin (all tags)

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