Water Diversion from Great Lakes Gets Review

International Joint Commission is soliciting comments and reviewing information. Waukesha diversion is still a possibility.

By , Great Lakes Echo - Jun 23rd, 2015 11:40 am
Great Lakes watershed. Image: Great Lakes Commission

Great Lakes watershed. Image: Great Lakes Commission

People can officially tell the United States and Canadian governments how well they’ve protected the Great Lakes from diversions, bulk exports and withdrawals before June 30.

The International Joint Commission, a binational agency that advises those governments on shared environmental issues, is collecting comments on its draft 10-year review of the issue.

Water scarcity and drought in the American Southwest have heightened the sensitivity of defending Great Lakes water, including talks of a national water policy.

In 1998, the Nova Group in Ontario proposed exporting more than 150 million gallons of Lake Superior water to Asia annually. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved the controversial proposal before word spread to the public, press or politicians. The water was never diverted.

Following strong anti-diversion pleas, the Canadian and U.S. governments asked the commission to examine the issue. The group released the first “Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes” report in 2000.

It contained 12 recommendations, including updated criteria for water requests, public consultation procedures and future areas of research.

The main recommendation prohibits water removal “unless the applicant can demonstrate that the Great Lakes ecosystems would not be endangered.”

Last month, water management and policy experts, Ralph Pentland and Alex Mayer, released an updated draft report reviewing Great Lakes water use and diversions since 2000.

This draft has new recommendations, including the need to focus on such issues as sustainable management of the region’s ecology and economics, climate change and diversions inside and outside of the Great Lakes.

The report is framed as a success story, championing the adoption of the eight-state Great Lakes Compact in the U.S. and a parallel agreement in Ontario and Quebec. [The compact prohibits diversion of water outside the Great Lakes basin, but makes an exception for any municipality in a county that straddles the basin divide. Since Waukesha County straddles the subcontinental divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, the city of Waukesha is seeking to divert water from Lake Michigan. Waukesha is the first municipality in the U.S. located entirely outside the Great Lakes basin to request a diversion, but its application must ultimately be approved by all compact members.]

Total withdrawals for US and Canada in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin reported for 2002-2012. Graph: International Joint Commission and Great Lakes Regional Water Use Database.

Total withdrawals for US and Canada in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin reported for 2002-2012. Graph: International Joint Commission and Great Lakes Regional Water Use Database.

According to the draft report by Pentland and Mayer, no harmful diversions from the Great Lakes have been approved since 2000.

The draft indicates that water withdrawals from the Great Lakes watershed are declining in the U.S. but that trends are less clear in Canada.

In a public webinar, the Commission’s information manager, John Yee, said “it’s likely Canadian withdrawals in the Great Lakes Basin might really be flat over the past five years, if not declining.”

Despite the trends, the draft acknowledges needed improvements in water use monitoring, infrastructure, conservation and research.

It recommends large-scale collaboration among government agencies to “balance demands, human and ecological, against available supplies.”

You can submit comments online.

This story was originally published by Great Lakes Echo.

12 thoughts on “Echo: Water Diversion from Great Lakes Gets Review”

  1. WaukAnon says:

    If I recall, the Wisconsin DNR should be releasing their review of Waukesha’s diversion request in the very near future.

    Unlike southern California, it’s not an issue of the water tables/supply dwindling, it’s that the source is tainted with Radium from the bedrock itself.

    It’s not an issue to take lightly, and I think a more than fair share of the city has their attention on it. It played a huge role in the last mayoral election, and will likely continue to play a significant role for more than few years to come as whichever solution ends up getting implemented.

  2. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Unless Waukesha can demonstrate the future development will be responsible and not the horrible sprawl they currently keep building then this should be a non-starter. There are plenty of other reasons not to do it too!

  3. AG says:

    Tyrell, this is the city of Waukesha, not Waukesha county. i don’t believe that have much in the way of sprawl that you see in the rest of Waukesha county.

  4. Tim says:

    AG, the city of Waukesha is asking for the diversion of water but they intend to serve a service area beyond the city of Waukesha. In fact, they recently enlarged their service area, which was one of the reasons that the city of Milwaukee could not come to terms on a deal.

  5. AG says:

    Tim, those areas are awfully small. Less than 10% of the land covered by the service area is even develop-able. Plus, we all know the main sticking point was that Milwaukee was trying to get Waukesha to agree to a non-complete type agreement with it came to businesses moving across city borders.

  6. Ryan says:

    Waukesha should have to pay themselves to fix the issue. They’ve known about it for decades and refused to do anything about it, now they need to learn to be responsible and pay for it.

  7. jp says:

    No. Plain & simple. Stay within your watershed. Live within a viable watershed. If you choose to live elsewhere, then live with the consequences. I honestly don’t feel bad for you.

  8. mbradleyc says:

    I notice Illinois hasn’t one mile of Lake Michigan watershed, yet metro Chicago is all tapped in and the Chicago Shi! Canal actually sends Lake Michigan down to the Gulf of Mexico.

    What is up with that?

  9. Casey says:

    mbradleyc-the canal was created decades if not a century before the Great Lakes Compact.

  10. AG says:

    If Mbradleyc’s comment demonstrates anything it would be the foolish notion that to “stay within your watershed” is as plain and simple as some people would like it to be. Despite sitting right on the lakeshore, most of Chicago metro is outside the watershed. Putting the compact aside, how much sense does it make for them to find water from the Mississippi watershed?

    As long as the water, or most of the water, gets returned to the great lakes basin, this is an excellent opportunity to actually have regional cooperation. It’s a weird concept for both sides, I know… but imagine if we could actually pull that off!

  11. For every gallon the city of Waukesha draws from Lac Mich, the same amount of treated water is returned. It very well could be in better condition then the water the city of Milwaukee returns to the lake. Therefore, there should be no concrete objections.
    Also note the the daily water usage by the city of Waukesha is considerably less then it was five, or so, years ago.

  12. mbradleyc says:

    I have no problem with Chicago drinking water from the lake any more than I do Waukesha. I do have a problem with the canal and I am obviously aware of when it was built.

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