Wednesday, February 27, 2013

NWF Questions First Proposed Diversion Under Great Lakes Compact

Feb 27: A new National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report raises questions on whether a Wisconsin community needs to divert water from the Great Lakes to meet its water needs. The City of Waukesha is applying to divert Lake Michigan water. The application is the first since the passage of the Great Lakes Compact which bans diversions of Great Lakes water and promotes wise water use within the eight states and two Canadian provinces bordering the lakes. NWF said that many conservation groups view Waukesha's application as precedent-setting. Marc Smith, NWF Senior Policy Manager said, "Our analysis finds that Waukesha might not need to divert Great Lakes water to meet its water needs. The city has options on the table that may satisfy their water needs. In short, they have not justified their need for a Lake Michigan diversion."
    The report, An Analysis of the City of Waukesha Diversion Application, authored by Jim Nicholas, a scientist and retired director of the U.S. Geological Survey's Michigan Water Science Center, finds that Waukesha's demand for water has been decreasing since the late 1980's. However, in their diversion application, the city projects a much higher demand that is inconsistent with historical trends. Moreover, the report identifies that existing alternative sources of water are available and may be feasible to meet existing and future demands -- opening up questions over whether or not a Lake Michigan diversion is necessary. The report's scope did not include costs associated with various alternative sources of water, nor the environmental impacts of infrastructure and return flows to Lake Michigan.

    Smith said, "Our goal for this report is to provide the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources an objective scientific evaluation of the Waukesha diversion application. The report focuses on conservation measures, demand forecast, and environmental impacts of withdrawals." The diversion application is the first since the Great Lakes Compact passed in 2008.  Waukesha is eligible to apply for Great Lakes water because it lies within a county that straddles the Great Lakes and Mississippi River divide. That county, Waukesha County in southeastern Wisconsin, is located 18 miles west of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan.

    Smith said, "The Great Lakes Compact is clear on what is expected of any diversion application. We support the thorough review of the application by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Our report indicates that as of today, Waukesha does not show the burden of proof in this application." The precedent-setting application must not only stand up to the scrutiny of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, but must undergo regional review by the governors of the seven Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and the Canadian premiers of Ontario and Quebec. Applications for exceptions in straddling counties must also be approved by all eight of the governors.

    Access a release from NWF and link to the complete 35-page report and a blog posting (click here). [GLakes/Diversion]

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