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Published: Monday, 11/2/2009

Multistate agreement headed for initial exam

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Waukesha, west of Milwaukee, is
expected to be the first city to test the Great Lakes water compact. The Wisconsin city wants to draw water from Lake Michigan. Waukesha, west of Milwaukee, is expected to be the first city to test the Great Lakes water compact. The Wisconsin city wants to draw water from Lake Michigan.
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In the Ohio business community, many eyes will be on Wisconsin soon.

The Buckeye State and the Badger State have something in common: Both have counties that straddle the Great Lakes basin and other watersheds.

Water-policy experts see Ohio and Wisconsin as the states where regional battles over Great Lakes water will be fought as North America's population expands, its climate warms, and water shortages become acute.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact that Congress ratified in 2008 bans diversions outside the natural water basin. It allows exemptions for counties that straddle watersheds and communities facing extenuating circumstances, such as public-health issues.

That is going on in Waukesha, Wis., a city west of Milwaukee where groundwater aquifers are running dry and the water in them is polluted with radium.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the next step in Waukesha's quest to use Great Lakes water is "asking officials from Milwaukee, Racine, and Oak Creek for letters stating their willingness to negotiate selling lake water to Waukesha."

In late October, Waukesha councilmen unanimously authorized Mayor Larry Nelson to ask potential water suppliers for agreement letters by Jan. 31.

The city is expected to become the Great Lakes region's first test case since the compact - an agreement to protect against water diversions among eight states - was signed into law by Presi-dent Bush last fall.

The newspaper said switching Waukesha's supply from wells to Lake Michigan would cost $56 million.

Building a pipeline to discharge the city's treated wastewater to Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa, Wis., would cost $22 million. Waukesha would need to do the latter so its treated wastewater would flow back to Lake Michigan. The compact requires return flow.

Waukesha is expected to apply for a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in early 2010. That, in turn, would trigger the review for an exemption from the eight Great Lakes states.

Marc Smith, policy manager of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, said he expects Waukesha's water future to be decided about a year later, in 2011.

"Everyone's kind of bulldogging this to make sure it's done right," Mr. Smith said. "It will impact what happens down the road in terms of testing the mettle of the compact. There's no shortage of people knowing that Waukesha's eager to do this."

Water is a bread-and-butter ingredient for economic development.

Linda Woggon, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's vice president of government affairs, said Ohio's business community will be following the Waukesha case. Ohio's water flows either to Lake Erie or to the Ohio River.

Ms. Woggon served as chief spokesman for the Coalition for Sustainable Water Management, an industry consortium, while Ohio legislators agonized over the compact.

Ohio lawmakers ratified it after months of debate in the Ohio Senate.

Ohio industry wants to ensure access to the water it needs, Ms. Woggon said.

"It's one thing to protect our water supply, but we don't want to keep it from ourselves," Ms. Woggon said.

The compact is the Great Lakes region's effort to keep Sun Belt states and other outsiders from tapping into Great Lakes water.

Legal experts say the agreement could be declared unconstitutional unless the region can demonstrate that it is using it wisely.

The agreement is expected to spur a number of water-conservation efforts among the eight Great Lakes states in the coming years.

The region needs to show that diverting Great Lakes water would cause irreversible harm, officials say.

"This is really a revolutionary document in my view. This is a compact, a contract between the eight Great Lakes states and an agreement with the two Canadian provinces on how to comprehensively manage the most significant freshwater resource on the planet," said Todd Ambs, administrator of the Wisconsin DNR's water division.

A nonbinding companion agreement was signed with the two Canadian provinces.

The agreement grew from a 1998 effort to ship Lake Superior water to Asia. It is rooted in engineering studies from the 1950s that showed how Great Lakes water could be moved across the continent.

Fearing that an Alaskan pipelinelike water project would be proposed by the Reagan administration, Great Lakes governors in 1985 mutually agreed to fight any effort that might arise and pushed the new interstate compact in an attempt to close loopholes.

"We just want an agreement that adheres to compliance, because we know everybody's watching this," Mr. Smith said.

Peter McAvoy, vice president of environmental health for a Milwaukee outreach group, the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, said there's "a lot of pressure for moving water around and within the basin."

Waukesha, he said, had better put a good foot forward. "The scrutiny they're going to be put under is serious," Mr. McAvoy said.

A public discussion about the future of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact will occur Nov. 13 at the 9th annual Great Lakes Water Conference. The event, free to the public, is sponsored by the University of Toledo's college of law and its Legal Institute of the Great Lakes. For information, go to http://law.

utoledo.edu/ligl/pdf/water

conference2009.pdf.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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