Kristy Meyer, Vice President of Policy, Natural Resources, March 21, 2016
The Great Lakes provide 40 million people with drinking water. The Lakes hold one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water and if spilled out over the continental US the water within the Great Lakes would submerge the country under 9.5 feet of water. Although we have an abundance of freshwater in this region, we must be good stewards. That’s why the OEC has taken a strong stand against a proposal from Waukesha, Wisconsin, to divert million of gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan.
You might wonder how this actually matters, given the sheer amount of water in Lake Michigan. The real concern is what would happen if a number of similar proposals moved forward. For Lake Erie, the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, extensive water withdrawals could be extremely harmful, and could lead to even worse toxic algae.
That is exactly why the Great Lakes Compact, a binding agreement between the 8 Great Lakes states, has strong protections for evaluating water diversions and withdrawals. In fact, for Waukesha’s diversion proposal to be approved, there must be unanimous agreement among the Great Lakes governors.
Under the Compact, there are conditions the governors must consider when deciding whether to approve a diversion proposal. First, Waukesha must show it has no other drinking water options. The city has failed to demonstrate this. Two independent engineering firms looked at Waukesha’s proposal, including all potential alternative water sources, and concluded that the city could use its existing wells to provide ample clean water and meet current and future demands.
Second, Waukesha must also demonstrate it is requesting a reasonable amount of water. The requested amount is far above the city’s current average daily water use of 6.7 million gallons. Historical trends indicate the city’s water use will not increase much in the future, and may even decline.
Approving Waukesha’s diversion proposal could prompt other cities to go down the same path. Approving such a flawed proposal would almost certainly ensure that other unnecessary withdrawal plans would get the green light. Over time, the Great Lakes could experience a “death by a million straws.”
Governor Kasich should protect the drinking water of nearly 40 million people by rejecting the city of Waukesha’s water diversion proposal as written. On world water day, I ask that you help me in urging Gov. Kasich to make the right choice for our Great Lakes.