More cities and businesses outside the Great Lakes basin want to take water from the Lakes. Great Lakes governors and provincial leaders are working on proposed new rules to control water diversions. Their proposal is expected to be released this month. Some say there’s a chance that more communities just outside the basin will get some water from the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story:
More cities and businesses outside the Great Lakes basin want to take water from the Lakes. Great Lakes governors and provincial leaders are working on proposed new rules to control water diversions. Their proposal is expected to be released this month. Some say there’s a chance that more communities just outside the basin will get some lake water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story.
Only a few communities outside the Great Lakes Basin currently get water from the Lakes, but some inland cities are growing and running short on groundwater supplies. One such city is Waukesha, Wisconsin. Waukesha is 25 miles away from Lake Michigan. The city is on the far side of the sub-continental divide that separates the Great Lakes basin from the basin where surface waters drain to the Mississippi river.
(pump house noise for a few seconds, then fade under)
At the sunset pumping station in Waukesha, blue-painted pumps push groundwater from a large storage tank towards the homes of some of the city’s 65-thousand residents. Waukesha’s population has grown about 30 percent over the last two decades, so water utility general manager Dan Duchniak says the city is pumping more water than it used to…especially during dry periods when people water their lawns.
“When we did not have all the rain we had, we had our peak days around 10-11 million gallons a day – now around 12-13 million gallons a day. It goes up couple hundred thousand gallons per year.”
(gradually fade pump noise out)
No one in Waukesha is doing without tap water, but the groundwater table has dropped 300 feet over the last 50 years. And there’s another problem. Waukesha’s water supply is tainted by radium, a naturally occurring contaminant that could cause cancer. One of Waukesha’s long-term ideas for improving its water is to abandon the city wells and pump in up to twenty million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. In a complicated argument, hydrologists say Waukesha’s groundwater aquifer and the lake are connected anyway, so Dan Duchniak says a pipeline to the lake would not be a new withdrawal of water, and would actually help restore the original natural system.
“All we’re saying to make it real simple right now we have a vertical straw that is pulling water from the aquifer that has its tributary to the Great Lakes, we just want to take that water and make it horizontal for the better of the environment all around us.”
Duchniak has the ear of Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle. Governor Doyle is the new Chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. Among other things the council decides on water withdrawals from the Great Lakes. The governors of the eight Great Lakes states and leaders of Quebec and Ontario are expected to soon release a proposal called annex 2001. If passed, it will update rules on diverting great lakes water. Governor Doyle says he opposes sending water out of the Midwest, but he says short-distance diversions might be okay, if there’s a drop for drop return of clean water. Doyle acknowledges he needs unanimous agreement.
“There’s no reason for a governor of another state to approve even a small diversion unless they have some real confidence that the Great Lakes will be protected. That’s the way we protect it. Every single governor needs to approve.”
Governor Doyle says any change in diversion policy is years away. Still, environmental groups are closely watching for the annex 2001 proposal. Reg Gilbert is with Great Lakes United. He says before any more diversions are allowed, the plan should include more guidelines for water conservation. he says the lakes are too important to put them at risk by withdrawing too much water.
“Both our quality of life and a significant part of our economics come from a good functioning Great Lakes and if the rules for protecting it require it being difficult to divert water even those communities that want to divert that water might want to think twice and see it’s in the best interest of the whole region to have pretty strong rules… even if it makes it a little bit harder for some communities to get the water they need.”
Gilbert says he’s also looking for a plan that will pass muster with international trade courts that have questioned the legality of great lakes officials controlling the local waters. Gilbert’s hoping a lot of people will weigh in with their ideas during an upcoming comment period.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach