A year ago, governors of all eight Great Lakes states endorsed a
multi-state compact to protect the lakes against plans to pump water out of
the basin. Bill Cohen reports… a full year later, not one state legislature
has actually approved the compact:
A year ago, governors of all eight Great Lakes states endorsed a multi-state compact
to protect the
lakes against plans to pump water out of the basin. Bill Cohen reports… a full year
later, not one
state legislature has actually approved the compact:
Most states haven’t even gotten one of their legislative chambers to okay the
people think the compact is to protect against shipping millions of gallons of water
countries, but the biggest roadblock has been the fear that each state would be
giving up the right
to allow water diversions for its own cities and industries.
Molly Flannagan with the National Wildlife Federation says environmental activists
are not giving
up. She says 2006 has been a year to educate lawmakers:
“We had four states that had legislation introduced this year. We’re expecting to
have more states
introducing legislation next year. I think this is the year really of building
getting the compact done, hopefully in 2007 or 2008.”
Backers of the plan are also seeking approval from Quebec and Ontario.
Water diversion is an increasing threat to the Great Lakes. As communities grow so does the demand. (Photo by Brandon Bankston)
We’re continuing the series, Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. Our field guide through the series is Lester Graham. He says our next report looks at where the demand for water will be greatest:
We’re continuing the series Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. Our field
guide through the series is Lester Graham. He says our next report looks
at where the demand for water will be greatest.
Right around the Great Lakes is where there’s going to be more demand
for drinking water. Water officials say as cities and suburbs grow, so
does the need for water. Some towns very near the Great Lakes say they
need lake water right now, but in some cases they might not get it. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:
People who live around the Great Lakes have long used the lakes’ water
for transportation, industry, and drinking water. Most of the water we
use, gets cleaned up and goes back in the lakes.
That’s because the Great Lakes basin is like a bowl. All the water used
by communities inside that bowl returns to the lakes in the form of
groundwater, storm water runoff, and treated wastewater, but recently, thirsty
communities just outside the basin—outside that bowl—have shown an
interest in Great Lakes water.
Dave Dempsey is a Great Lakes advisor to the environmental group
“Clean Water Action.”
“We are going to be seeing all along the fringe areas of the Great Lakes
basin all the way from New York state to Minnesota, communities that
are growing and have difficulty obtaining adequate water from nearby
streams or ground water.”
Treated water from those communities won’t naturally go back to the
basin. Treated wastewater and run-off from communities outside the
Great Lakes basin goes into the Mississippi River system, or rivers in the
east and finally the Atlantic Ocean.
The Great Lakes are not renewable. Anything that’s taken away has to be
returned. For example, when nature takes water through evaporation, it
returns it in the form of rain or melted snow. When cities take it away, it
has to be returned in the form of cleaned-up wastewater to maintain that
Dave Dempsey says the lakes are like a big giant savings account, and
we withdraw and replace only one percent each year.
“So, if we should ever begin to take more than one percent of that
volume on an annual basis for human use or other uses, we’ll begin to
draw them down permanently, we’ll be depleting the bank account.”
Some of the citiesthat want Great Lakes water are only a few miles from
the shoreline. One of the most unique water diversion requests might come
from the City of Waukesha, in southeastern Wisconsin. The city is just 20 miles
from Lake Michigan. Waukesha is close enough to smell the lake, but it
sits outside the Great Lakes basin. Waukesha needs to find another
water source because it’s current source – wells—are contaminated with
Dan Duchniak is Waukesha’s water manager. He says due to the city’s
unique geology, it’s already using Great Lakes water. He says it taps an
underground aquifer that eventually recharges Lake Michigan.
“Water that would be going to Lake Michigan is now coming from Lake
Michigan…. our aquifer is not contributing to the Great Lakes any more,
it’s pulling away from the Great Lakes.”
Officials from the eight Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec
recently approved a set of rules that will ultimately decide who can use
Great Lakes water. The new rules will allow Waukesha—and some
other communities just outside the basin—to request Great Lakes water,
and drafters say Waukesha will get “extra credit” if it can prove it’s
using Lake Michigan water now.
Environmentalists are still concerned that water taken from the Lakes be
returned directly to the Lakes, but some say even that could be harmful.
Art Brooks is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of
Wisconsin- Milwaukee. He says the water we put back still carries some
bi-products of human waste.
“No treatment plant gets 100 percent of the nutrients out of the water,
and domestic sewage has high concentrations of ammonia and
phosphates. Returning that directly to the lake could enhance the growth
of algae in the lake.”
That pollution could contribute to a growing problem of dead zones in
some areas of the Great Lakes. Brooks and environmentalists concede
that just one or two diversions would not harm the Great Lakes, but they
say one diversion could open the floodgates to several other requests, and
letting a lot of cities tap Great Lakes water could be damaging.
Derek Sheer of the environmental group “Clean Wisconsin” says some
out-of-basin communities have already been allowed to tap Great Lakes
water under the old rules.
“The area just outside of Cleveland–Akron, Ohio– has a diversion
outside of the Great Lakes basin, so they’re utilizing Great Lakes water
but they’re putting it back.”
There are several communities that take Great Lakes water, but they, too,
pump it back. The new water rules still need to be ok-ed by the legislature of
each Great Lakes state, and Congress. Since the rules are considered a
baseline, environmental interests throughout the region say they’ll lobby
for even stricter rules on diversions.
The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)
In 1998, an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight. Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished resource:
In 1998 an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their
proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight.
Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with
two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed
agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium
commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished
When I was growing up, my family and I used to go to the beach every Sunday. As I stood
looking out over Lake Michigan, I was awed at how it seemed to go on forever. Today I know
better. The Great Lakes are a gift left from the glaciers thousands of years ago. That’s
because less than 1% of Great Lakes water is renewed every year from rainfall, snowmelt,
and groundwater recharge.
Two proposed agreements by the states and provinces would make diversions of Great Lakes water
to places outside of the Great Lakes a virtual impossibility.
The agreements look to be a vast improvement over current laws. First, federal law in the U.S.
allows a diversion only if every Great Lakes Governor approves. That seems like a tough standard
to meet, but in fact, it’s already allowed two diversions of Great Lakes water to take place. In
the 1990’s, diversions were approved to Pleasant Prairie in Wisconsin and another one to Akron,
Ohio. The water was used for municipal supplies.
Second, the proposed agreements are an improvement over the Boundary Waters Treaty – a pact
signed between the U.S. and Canada almost 100 years ago. The treaty doesn’t cover one very
important Great Lake: Lake Michigan. Because Lake Michigan is solely within the U.S. and not
shared with Canada, the treaty leaves the lake unprotected. This is a problem because Lake
Michigan is directly connected to Lake Huron. So water diverted out of Lake Michigan means
water diverted out of Lake Huron.
The agreements are a good first step, but they need to be stronger. For example, they require
regional approval for diversions of water that go outside of the basin of more than one million
gallons per day, but they don’t require regional approval for withdrawals of up to 5 million
gallons per day that stay in the Great Lakes. In addition, the draft agreements need to do a
better job at requiring water conservation before potential water withdrawals can be considered.
We have a choice. We can be against the agreements and keep the status quo or work to make
them even stronger. We need to work to protect our region’s water so that our kids can continue
to look out over the Great Lakes and see them for what they are: vast, magnificent, but fragile
Host Tag: Cameron Davis is the executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation.
The Great Lakes from space (Color satellite photo courtesy of NOAA).
Leaders of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes have released two draft agreements to manage the region’s water supply. The proposals’ aim is to block any attempt to divert water from the lakes to drier parts of the world. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:
Leaders of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes have released a draft agreement to
manage the region’s water supply. The proposal’s aim is to block any attempt to divert water
from the lakes to drier parts of the world. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett
There’s no immediate threat by outside interests to ship or pump large amounts of Great Lakes
water to the arid Southwest, or to any other part of the world that needs freshwater. And the
draft agreements aim to keep it that way.
There are two documents up for consideration by the public and policy makers. One would be a
binding compact between the states. The other would be a voluntary agreement between the
states and provinces.
Ohio Governor Bob Taft co-chairs the Council of Great Lakes Governors – which released the
“The whole effort is premised out of our concern that we have a legally enforceable framework,
and a clear standard.”
There’s already a federal law on the books that allows any one Great Lakes governor to veto a
diversion of water from the lakes. But there are concerns about challenges under the U.S.
Constitution, or free trade agreements.
The Great Lakes Charter Annex would require the approval of all eight states for any proposal to
divert more than a million gallons a day out of the basin. Even if a diversion is approved, there’s
a catch: whatever’s taken out of the basin would have to be returned once it’s used.
Noah Hall of the National Wildlife Federation says the practical effect of those requirements
would be a guarantee that the lakes don’t get pilfered by drier parts of the U.S….
“…Where they have growing populations and dwindling supplies of water, and they’ve been
looking at using the Great Lakes to meet their water needs for some time. I think they’ll
obviously see this agreement for what it is, which is a pretty large barrier – perhaps an
insurmountable barrier – to accessing Great Lakes water down the road.”
The agreement would also allow any three states to block withdrawals from within the basin of
more than five million gallons a day. Existing users would be grandfathered in, so only the most
mammoth project would likely come up for consideration – a new power plant, for example.
Hall says that means at most one project a year that would come up for review.
“But what it guards against is the threat of the absolute largest diversions. The massive
withdrawals. The ones that could by themselves harm or impact the Great Lakes, and lower lake
Eventually, states would be required to put rules in place for managing smaller withdrawals
within the basin. Even under a best-case scenario, that wouldn’t happen for at least a dozen
years. But Ohio Governor Taft says the end result will be preservation of the lakes for future
“We have a responsibility as stewards of this precious resource – 20 percent of the world’s fresh
water supply – to protect and preserve it for the benefit of the people within the region, and that
is what the draft agreement is intended to accomplish.”
The plan is up for public review over the next three months. Each Great Lakes state would have
to sign off on the interstate compact. It would also require the approval of Congress. And the
fast-growing arid southwest has more representation in Congress every term.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.
Fast-growing cities beyond the Great Lakes basin want to withdraw water from the lakes. The Council of the Great Lakes Governors is considering allowing more to do so. (Photo: Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan, by Lester Graham)
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