Water woes forecasted if US community taps into Great Lakes water

MANITOULIN—A Spring Bay man agrees that if an American town taps into and uses Great Lakes water, it may start a ‘water war’ between Canada and the US.

“That would be a terrible precedent set,” stated Mike Wilton, last week. “If they get this water, it would certainly be bad news.”
Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs has said he will fight an American city’s bid to take Great Lakes water. Waukesha, Wisconsin is located just a few kilometres from the shores of Lake Michigan, but the municipal boundaries fall outside the Great Lakes watershed. Its fresh water supply is drying up and the city wants to use Lake Michigan for drinking water, but Mr. Hobbs said communities on the shores of the Great Lakes need to protect their water.

Mr. Hobbs (who was recently named chair of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative) was quoted by CBC News as saying this is an issue that is frightening for Thunder Bay. He said the group is already looking at low water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. And those levels are really having an effect on all kinds of things like industry, tourism, recreation.

The general manager of Waukesha’s water utility said the city’s aquifer is running out of fresh water and it makes sense to turn to Lake Michigan, a giant source located only a few kilometres away. Dan Duchniak told CBC News that it would be the equivalent of taking a teaspoon of water out of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

It was explained when the 100-year-old aquifer runs out of fresh water the city of Thunder Bay will be left with old salt water from the Mississippi basin at the bottom, which is contaminated with naturally-occurring radium. Mr. Duchniak said the city could treat the water if it were just the radium, but because it’s salt water at the bottom, the aquifer is not sustainable. He said the city has a plan to return the equivalent amount of water through a river, but Mr. Hobbs said that would set a dangerous precedent.

“This would be the same thing as has happened in Chicago,” said Mr. Wilton, “with water being taken out and have it going into the Mississippi River water basin. They would be removing water from a Great Lakes watershed, a diversion of water, if they are allowed to take this water out.”

Mr. Wilton praised the mayor of Thunder Bay for the stance he has taken on the issue. “Good for the mayor of Thunder Bay. The problem is there has been one teaspoon of water taken at a time all over the US which is (the straw) breaking the camel’s back. The US is looking for other water sources because they are running out of water all over the States.”

Mr. Hobbs told CBC News that the US and Canadian governments will probably need to step in to resolve the issue. He said it can be viewed as protectionism, but the waters border the area cities so they have to be protected. For other municipalities to be drawing from the Great Lakes when they don’t live on the Great Lakes is a big concern and is high on Thunder Bay’s radar.

“It is so important for Canada to protect all of our north flowing waters,” stated Mr. Wilton. “What happens to the water and the people on the north slope and ecosystems if water continues to be taken. Politicians won’t get active until pushed by the public.”

Tom Sasvari