My Mind Has Left My Body
Given there is sporadic news concerning the Great Lakes and I didn't seem to find a thread devoted already here...........
Midwest's message: Hands off our lakes
Multistate pact would put water off-limits to parched South, West
By Tim Jones | Tribune correspondent
May 27, 2008
NEW BERLIN, Wis. — Piece by piece, a 5,500-mile wall around the Great Lakes is going up. You can't see it, but construction is progressing nicely, along with an implied neon sign that flashes, "Hands off—it's our water."
The legal pilings for a 1,000-mile segment of the wall are scheduled to be sunk Tuesday when Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle finalizes his state's approval of the so-called Great Lakes Compact, a multistate agreement designed to protect and restrict access to nearly 20 percent of the world's supply of fresh water, contained in the five Great Lakes.
After that will come Ohio, where later this week the legislature is expected to make it the sixth state to endorse the water agreement and advance a strong regional warning to chronically dry regions of the South and West that Great Lakes water is staying here.
"The Great Lakes are our Grand Canyon. It's our resource to protect, it's the backbone of the region," said Joel Brammeier, vice president for policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
States, cities and countries have been arguing over water rights for decades, but the fights —often called water wars—have taken on a heightened sense of urgency in light of prolonged droughts, mounting evidence of climate change and, closer to home, declining lake levels. The drought-stricken Spanish port of Barcelona, for instance, is now shipping in drinking water from large tankers.
In the U.S., states in the South and West are hoping for relief from drought conditions that prompted drastic conservation measures last year and renewed talk of water diversions.
In some regards, water is the new oil and the governors of the states adjacent to the Great Lakes are the new OPEC, jealously guarding a resource that will be a big part of their future.
But this wouldn't end water wars. It would merely redefine them in an industrialized region of the country grappling with the legacy of pollution that has tainted groundwater and drinking wells with radium, arsenic and other toxic materials.
"In the near future, the tensions over Great Lakes diversions are actually going to be in the Great Lakes region," said Peter Annin, author of "The Great Lakes Water Wars."
"It's going to come from communities with either declining groundwater supplies or declining and contaminated supplies," Annin said.
Robert Glennon, professor of law and public policy at the University of Arizona, said the threat of piping water to the Southwest "has always been wildly exaggerated."
"The realistic fear for the Great Lakes comes from within the region," Glennon said, pointing to communities with polluted drinking water, such as the western Milwaukee suburbs of New Berlin and Waukesha, which have a clear interest in the water compact being approved.
"We're kind of the poster child of Wisconsin," quipped Jack Chiovatero, mayor of New Berlin.
Here's why: New Berlin straddles the Great Lakes Basin, with about one-third of its 38,000 residents receiving water from Lake Michigan, and the remainder getting drinking water from wells contaminated with radium. The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the city to either clean up or find a safer source of water. Either solution is expensive.
Water rights in New Berlin are pretty much divided by Sunny Slope Road. If you live on the east side, you get Lake Michigan water, and whatever you use is eventually returned—after treatment—to the lake. If you're on the west side, you don't get lake water because without a means to return it, it works its way toward the Mississippi River. This is a situation the water compact is intended to prevent — draining the Great Lakes of water that will never be returned.
"If you have a thousand straws sipping into the lake," Brammeier said of communities outside the basin, "we don't want to go there because that could have an impact."
Chiovatero, who lives east of Sunny Slope Road, said the city has set up a means to return lake water that goes to the west side. The water compact would create the legal rules to do that.
A trickier situation exists in rapidly growing Waukesha, a suburb to the west that is outside the basin and, like New Berlin, has unacceptable levels of radium in its drinking water. Mayor Larry Nelson said that "Great Lakes water is the best environmental option" for the city.
Obtaining it will require Waukesha to establish a way to return the water it uses to Lake Michigan. "If we decide to move forward," Nelson said, "we intend our application to be a role model for other [communities] to follow."
Individual governors will have the authority to veto water diversions outside the basin, as then-Michigan Gov. John Engler did in 1991 when Lowell, Ind., tried to get access to Lake Michigan water. The premiers of 2 Canadian provinces—Ontario and Quebec — have similar veto authority.
How many more Waukeshas and Lowells are there? The vast majority of territory in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York are outside the Great Lakes Basin, and old industrial centers with troubled water systems could eventually be lining up to obtain clean water from the lakes.
That would set up politically difficult confrontations in the more localized water wars.
"There will be others coming because of radium and groundwater issues," said Jodi Habush Sinykin, a lawyer for Midwest Environmental Advocates, in Milwaukee.
"That's the nub of the matter," she said.
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