Grand council chief disappointed with Waukesha water diversion decision

File photo

ONTARIO—Anishinabek Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee calls a decision made by governors of the eight Great Lakes states to approve the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin’s request for a water diversion from Lake Michigan “a huge disappointment.”

“The decision is not what we wanted, but it is what we were expecting,” he told the Recorder Tuesday. “I know the response from the Ontario government was pretty weak on this issue and the decision that has been made is disappointing.”

“We are going to still send a strong letter to the government outlining how disappointed we are with this decision, but it looks as if right now this issue is done,” said Chief Madahbee. He added, “and with this decision things are going to get worse. More of these requests are going to be made because of the severe drought conditions in much of the US. They will be looking for more water from Canada as time goes on and this (Waukesha) decision opens the doors to this.”

Mike Wilton of Spring Bay said the decision, “doesn’t come as a surprise, but they’ve opened the door to the degradation of Lake Huron. They have set a precedent that will make it easier for others to ask for the same type of water diversion requests.”

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported on Tuesday, June 21 that delegates of the eight Great Lakes states unanimously approved the city of Waukesha’s request for a diversion of the Lake Michigan water supply.

Without any legal challenges, the city will become the first US community located entirely outside the Great Lakes drainage basin to receive a diversion of lake water under the Great Lakes Compact.

The Journal Sentinel reported that the state delegates focused their decision on a few last-minute amendments to a 12-page decision document. The document summarizes views of regional officials on the merits of Waukesha’s plan and the conditions needed for it to comply with a 2008 federal law known as the Great Lakes Compact.

The compact prohibits Great Lakes water, under any circumstances, from being pumped beyond countries straddling the lakes drainage basins, reports the Journal Sentinel. Waukesha county straddles the sub continental divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins so the city was eligible to apply for lake water.

One of the amendments flatly states the city’s original proposed water distribution area extending into four other communities that gained the blessing of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in December 2015 “did not clearly meet” all terms of the compact. Conditions added by regional officials last month was intended to achieve compliance, reported the Journal Sentinel. Two of the conditions from the group include: diverting no more than an average of 8.2 million gallons a day of lake water by mid-century, a lesser volume than the average of 10.1 million gallons requested by the city and a smaller water distribution area than the city proposed.

The smaller area would include only the city’s existing water service area, plus several town islands; small pieces of the Town of Waukesha surrounded by the city.

The request had first been made by Waukesha after several years of studies evaluating alternatives to its primary water supply deep wells pumping radium-contaminated water out of a sandstone aquifer depleted by more than a century of heavy regional use. Studies concluded in 2010 pointed city water utility officials toward the lake as the only sustainable resource available for the long term, reported the Journal Sentinel. A June 2010 application for Lake Michigan water was followed by six years of review, first by Wisconsin environmental regulators and subsequently by regional water resources officials from the other seven states and Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Last month, representatives of the eight states and both provinces gave conditional approval to the city’s request and agreed Waukesha is without a reasonable water supply alternative to Lake Michigan.