Monday, December 5th, 2016

Water torture

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Darryl Enriquez and Stacy Forster take a look at the Great Lakes Water Compact as it makes it way to the state assembly. (ht: Spring City Chronicle)

The Senate version of the Great Lakes Water Compact that passed this week gives the state the leeway to grant permits and seek other governors’ approval for some water diversions for counties such as Waukesha that straddle the Lake Michigan drainage basin.

The compact has been approved by the governors of eight Great Lakes states and is now making its way through the legislatures in those states. If approved by all eight, it would go to Congress for ratification.

The provision added to the Wisconsin Senate version of the legislation Thursday says that a water diversion to Waukesha County could be approved before Congress acts.

“Under the bill passed by the Senate, Waukesha could apply for Great Lakes water before the compact is ratified,” DNR Deputy Secretary Pat Henderson said. “The bill lays out the criteria/standards it will have to meet and then the proposal will go for a vote by the governors.”

For a project outside the drainage basin to go forward, it must be approved by all eight governors.

The article predicts the opposition will come from those opposed to the ability of a single governor to veto a diversion. For example, the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce:

Neighboring states like Michigan, which is almost entirely within the basin and wouldn’t ever require a diversion, and Illinois, with its near-limitless 2.1 billion gallons per day court approved diversion ability via the Chicago River, would control the fate of straddling communities like the City of Waukesha as well as Stevens Point and Burlington,” Patti Wallner, president of the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

However, nobody opposed to the proposed pact has answered how they expect to get around the single governor veto when that is already the current law? The Great Lakes Compact updates current federal law and creates a process for permitting diversions. Under current law there is no process for permitting diversions – no criteria for accepting or rejecting an application.

Yes, it’s a flawed pact. Any pact that allows any single Great Lakes governor veto power is not ideal. However, sending the pact back for re-negotiations will not eliminate that provision. No governor is going to give up that power and it would not be in the best interests of their respective states to do so. All we would accomplish is delay of the city of Waukesha’s best chance for a diversion of Lake Michigan water.

And as the bill stands now, there is even a provision that allows the City of Waukesha to begin the application process as soon as the compact is ratified by the states without waiting for congressional approval.

I think State Representative Bill Kramer is wrong on this issue, (although it looks like he’s keeping an open mind) but here’s his interview with the Waukesha Freeman.

The two biggest issues that I have, with the compact, is there’s language in there that talks about the water being in public trust. Dealing with courts and lawyers, the public trust doctrine has been in effect a lot in the western states, but there already are, from what I understand, groups lining up to sue on that issue to say that ground water is included in that. So even if Waukesha is not looking to divert water from the Great Lakes – and return it – we could then have just given our ability to sink a well, we may have to get an approval from those states as well. That’s the first issue. The biggest issue, though, is Waukesha right now, because of what the federal government and (Environmental Protection Agency) have determined, needs another source of water. I don’t feel comfortable allowing Waukesha’s ability to get water – the people who send me to Madison need water. I don’t feel comfortable abdicating my ability to get water for the residents of the city of Waukesha to a veto power to a governor in Michigan or Illinois that none of them would have a say in electing.

The problem is, no governor is going to give up the power to divert water from the Great Lakes to the other governors in the region. After all, each of them have constituents, too.

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