Ontario supporting, with some conditions, Gt. Lakes diversion beyond lakes’ basin

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett addresses the Great Lakes Compact. photo by James Brainard

WAUKESHA, WI—A recommendation to approve the Waukesha, Wisconsin water diversion—a first-of-its-kind proposal that could see that city, one located outside of the Great Lakes basin, divert up to 10.1 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan—was made on a 9-0 vote last month by Great Lakes states and provincial representatives (the Regional Body), Ontario among them, on the condition that certain changes are made.

The changes to the proposal include a much lower volume of water to be taken and delivered to a smaller distribution area, not including the previously mentioned outlying communities. The proposal next goes in front of the Great Lakes Compact, comprised of the Great Lakes states, and which would need unanimous consent to pass. This will happen on June 21.

When asked why Ontario approved the proposal, with changes, considering the outpouring by Ontarians against the Waukesha diversion, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the premier’s designee on the Regional Body) told The Expositor: “Ontario understands the importance of fresh water and the vital role of the Great Lakes.”

“Ontario shared the strong concerns expressed by the public with respect to Waukesha’s original diversion proposal and undertook a thorough Technical Review that identified numerous shortcomings,” said MNRF media spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski. “Ontario was one of only two members of the Regional Body to conduct a Technical Review.”

“Waukesha’s proposal was amended significantly to address a number of Ontario’s and other governments’ concerns, including: 1. Reducing the area where the water could be used to only the City of Waukesha—a reduction of nearly 50 percent; 2. the amount of water that is permitted to be used by 20 percent; and 3. Requiring significant monitoring and reporting of the quality and quantity of the water being returned to the Great Lakes and any effects of increased water flow into the Root River.” (The water will make its way back into the Great Lakes basin through the Root River.)

“Ontario’s active role on this file has directly led to revisions being made,” Ms. Kowalski continued. “While the amended proposal meets the requirements of the agreement as outlined in the Regional Body’s Declaration of Finding, we remain apprehensive about any diversion by Waukesha and will continue to voice the concerns of Ontarians. We also recognize that there is an opportunity to improve the current process by refining existing guidelines.”

“The May 18 meeting was the final meeting of the Regional Body regarding Waukesha’s diversion proposal,” Ms. Kowalski added. “At that meeting, Ontario and Quebec, along with all other members of the Regional Body (except for Minnesota, which abstained), agreed to a Declaration of Finding accepting Waukesha’s amended proposal.”

Ms. Kowalski explained the rest of the process, noting that the Compact Council, which is comprised of the eight Great Lakes States, is the final decision maker in this matter. “The Regional Body’s Declaration of Finding will be considered by the Compact Council as it determines whether to allow Waukesha’s diversion proposal,” she said. “Ontario does not sit on the Compact Council and will therefore not have a vote on whether Waukesha’s diversion proposal is ultimately permitted.”

The meeting of the Compact Council will take place on June 21 at the University of Illinois in Chicago.