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On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Great Lakes Compact’s passage, two former governors key to its development urge that the compact continue to be a priority for the region.
Former Wisconsin and Ohio governors Jim Doyle and Bob Taft who, at various times headed the Council of Great Lakes Governors during the compact’s decade-long development, state in an open letter that there are “three areas where the states can make critical commitments to ensure the compact’s success.”
Among them, the governors cite “a basic need for adequate resources to perform the key roles and tasks” needed for state regulators to implement the compact, and for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council to administer it. The letter accompanies an Alliance for the Great Lakes study that warns the compact has potential leaks which -- left unplugged -- could make it vulnerable to legal challenge and may ultimately put Great Lakes water at risk.
Thursday, Oct. 3, marks five years since the Great Lakes Compact rode a broad wave of public support all the way to the nation’s capital, making history as the chief legal defender of the largest surface freshwater system in the world.
Initiated by the eight Great Lakes states, approved unanimously by Congress and signed into law by the president, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact was to set the gold standard for regional watershed protection. Adherence to its policies was – and still is -- expected to provide a strong and essential legal defense against water withdrawals and diversions that could endanger the lakes' ecology.The new Alliance study looks at the strength and resiliency of the compact as it prepares for its first test: a forthcoming request from Waukesha, Wis. to divert Great Lakes water beyond the basin to meet the city’s need for water.
The handling of this request – allowed under the compact because of Waukesha’s location within a county straddling the Great Lakes Basin – will be watched by lawmakers, environmentalists, and the public who supported the compact’s passage, as well as by other communities that may someday line up for Great Lakes water.And they will. Analyzing the current capacities, water quality and projected population growth in communities around the Great Lakes, the study identifies eight other communities likely to need new water supplies in the future. These “thirsty” communities are found in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin -- states in which most communities rely heavily on groundwater wells that, like Waukesha, tend to be susceptible to water quantity and quality issues.
“As more communities begin to experience water quality problems and water shortages, the pressure to identify additional sources of water will rise,” the report states. “The compact’s role in Great Lakes protection will become even more crucial as communities surrounding the Great Lakes seek out these additional water resources.”As all eyes turn to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council, the body established by the compact to make decisions about water diversions outside the basin, the Alliance study finds gaps in the procedures necessary to take on an application that will be the focus of such political and legal scrutiny.“We believe that the implementation procedures for the landmark compact developed to protect that water need improvement,” the report states. “We believe the Compact Council can do a better job of preparing for the application process in a way that will sustain the compact for decades.”
The report notes the council has yet to develop legally binding administrative rules for its review of diversion applications, leaving a void that may expose the pact to legal challenge and put Great Lakes water at risk. Other shortcomings include: • The Compact Council is allowed to deviate from its own interim guidance.• Uncertainty about how the Compact Council will incorporate public notice and comment on proposals.“With Waukesha’s application pending, the lack of formal rules is deeply concerning,” says Alliance Water Policy Advocate Jared Teutsch, who authored the report. “The season’s about to start but the refs can play from different playbooks.”
The compact today has brought about vital progress, the study notes. Great Lakes states have developed water use standards that are much improved from what existed before. But more is needed. “We need a compact implementation that’s water-tight,” Teutsch says. “There’s too much at stake, and too much public investment, to let all that hard work simply drain away.” "The Great Lakes are an international treasure, and we should do everything possible to protect the lakes,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Great Lakes Compact has a strong legal foundation, but it also has some vulnerabilities that need to be fixed and solved. Let's strengthen the legal framework for the decision-making process as this report explains."
Special Report: Ensuring the Resilience of the Great Lakes Compact >
Press Release >
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