More concerns with proposed Waukesha, WI water diversion

WAUKESHA, WISCONSIN—If Waukesha, Wisconsin is allowed to divert water from Lake Michigan to pump up its own depleted water volume it would be precedent setting, and in the future could be a disaster for not only Lake Michigan, but other Great Lakes water areas as well, say several local and provincial representatives who have voiced their opposition to the proposal.

“One of my big questions in all of this is why Ontario is being so silent,” stated Mary Muter, vice chair of Restore Our Water International (ROWI). The deadline for comments on the proposal was March 14.

“There are a lot of groups that are saying that giving Waukesha the go ahead means the terms in the (Great Lakes) Compact and Agreement that were signed are not being met and it would be precedent setting,” said Ms. Muter. “I asked the Wisconsin DNR (Department of Natural Resources) at a meeting how many other communities are waiting to see if Waukesha gets approval and I was told 20 to 30, and communities in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York and more would probably want the same consideration. The impacts would be huge.”

Ms. Muter stated in part in a letter on behalf of ROWI to Great Lakes governors and premiers, dated February 29, that the diversion would set a dangerous precedent, and “the Great Lakes are a mainly finite glacial deposited resource. As governors you have very strong moral and ethical obligations to ensure that the integrity of the compact and agreement are maintained to protect this mainly finite valuable resource. Once one diversion is allowed it will be difficult to prevent further proposals for diversions of Great Lakes water.”

In her letter Ms. Muter said diverting Great Lakes water is a last resort and that Waukesha failed to demonstrate that it needs Great Lakes water. She outlined that Waukesha wants to divert Great Lakes water for towns that don’t need it and have not requested water.

As well, Waukesha has failed to demonstrate strong conservation measures as required under the compact and agreement.

“Waukesha has a feasible alternative to meet its water needs,” wrote Ms. Muter. “In recent years, regional groundwater levels in southeast Wisconsin have been stabilizing or are rising. Under the compact, an application for a diversion must demonstrate that “there is no reasonable water supply alternative within the basin in which the community is located including conservation of existing water supplies. A July 2015 report by two independent engineering firms found that Waukesha does in fact have a feasible water supply alternative,” she said.

“One of my big questions in all of this is why Ontario is being so silent,” stated Mary Muter

“Waukesha’s plan to return water to Great Lakes raises concerns,” wrote Ms. Muter. “Waukesha proposes to return its water to the Great Lakes basin via  the Root River. The Root River has high levels of phosphorous and is officially designated as an impaired river because of this pollution. Although treated, Waukesha’s returned water could add additional phosphorus pollution to the already impaired Root River. In addition, given the amount of water the city needs to return, the plan could result in mixing of Great Lakes Basin water and Mississippi River Basin water—which is inconsistent with the Great Lakes Compact and would result in diversion of water from two distinct watersheds.”

Rhonda Gagnon, a policy analyst with the Union of Ontario Indian,s said that group also has many concerns with the proposal, not the least of which is that under agreements and the First Nation Water Accord, Supreme Court of Canada rulings and the Great Lakes Sustainable Water Resources Aggregate, First Nations are engaged and consulted on any changes. “The MNRF only had a meeting with First Nations March 10; that’s not proper consultation time especially with a 10,000 page-detailed, lengthy document that our people would have to review by March 14.”

She said the majority of First Nations communities and groups are opposing the proposal.

Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, sent a letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne dated February 29 on the issue. He said in part, “my office has been contacted by municipalities, community groups, special interest groups and individuals expressing grave concerns regarding the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin’s plan to divert 10.1 million gallons (38.2 million litres) daily from Lake Michigan. It seems that the State of Wisconsin has given its approval of this plan and the matter has now been forwarded to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers regional body and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council.”

“The province of Ontario is obligated, along with others, to act as the natural guardians of this unique treasure to ensure it is passed on to future generations to enjoy and prosper from,” wrote Mr. Mantha. “Without question, the diversion of such massive quantities of water could have enormous impact, not only the region of Waukesha, but upon all of Lake Michigan and even the entire Great Lakes Basin.”

“We’re in trouble now, and if this goes the way Waukesha wants, the Great Lakes could end up in a crisis situation,” stated Spring Bay resident Mike Wilton, a member of Algonquin Eco-Watch.

In his letter to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence governors and premiers, Mr. Wilton said in part, “as part of the Great Lakes Watershed, we are very concerned regarding the future well-being of all waters encompassed by that watershed, including the Lake Michigan/Lake Huron Basin.”

“If Waukesha is allowed to withdraw water from Lake Michigan and divert it into the Mississippi River system, it will contravene the (Great Lakes) Compact and Agreement as well as creating a precedent, which will facilitate future requests from other municipalities, gradually eroding the purpose of those documents.”

The document “Waukesha Water Utility Future Water Supply, Appendix C, indicates that the groundwater aquifer from which the city draws its water, dropped 250 feet between 1950 and 1990,” wrote Mr. Wilton. “This clearly indicates that groundwater is being withdrawn at a faster rate than can be naturally replaced. During the 10 year period between the years 2000 and 2010, the Waukesha population increased by 5,893 people.”

Mr. Wilton said, “the conclusion is obvious: an increasing human population equated versus a dwindling groundwater supply is unsustainable. This mirrors a chronic and increasing problem throughout the continental southern United States.” He wrote, “to allow such action from the Great Lakes Basin at this time would, in retrospect, be seen as a reckless and short sighted band aid approach, and would simply be “putting off the inevitable.”