Previous Waukesha posts:
- Part I: The Great Lakes And the Future Water Wars
- Part II: Geology In Human Affairs
- Part III: What Waukesha Wants
Governors from the eight Great Lakes states agreed Tuesday to allow a Wisconsin city to start pumping millions of gallons a day from Lake Michigan, marking the largest diversion of water from the lakes since Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River in 1900.
The unanimous decision favoring Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb of 70,000 about 17 miles west of the lake, is the first test of a 2008 legal compact intended to prevent thirsty communities or countries outside the Great Lakes region from dipping into the world’s largest source of fresh surface water.
There are two ways to look at this: one is that it is a disaster, a slippery slope, a sluice suddenly opened that’ll eventually compromise the Great Lakes. The other way to look at it is that it showed the Compact, essentially works. The Compact does have allowances, and Waukesha has possibly the strongest possible case: straddling the Basin, poisonous waters, a plan to divert 100% of the water back into the Lakes, etc. And yet they still spent years and years and millions of dollars trying to get the exemption, and their plan was shrunk and compromised. If a city with the best-case scenario for application can barely get it, what chance does Arizona have?
And yet, the flip side of this is that you always start with the easy one. Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there is some conspiracy here. But I do worry greatly about water, and the desire to privatize it, and anything that makes it easier to do so can be troublesome. Do you really trust Rick Snyder with your water?
For the most part, protecting the Great Lakes has had a surprising amount of bipartisan support for conservation. Being angry at environmentalists usually stops when it is your resources on the line, and the Lakes are one of America’s great treasures. It’s why staunch conservatives like Tommy Thompson were eagerly behind it. I worry about the new breed, though, who see it as a mission to put everything public in private hands. That Minnesota governor Mark Dayton approved, given the conditions, makes me feel better, but Walker, Rauner, Snyder, et all (including Cuomo) is worrisome. Approving the diversion might be right, and might be essentially apolitcial (it is supposed to be), but given the attempt to parcel off water to the highest bidder, caution is required. I do think Republicans of good faith want to protect the Lakes. I don’t trust those who believe the free market can do it on its own.
Given the need for vigilance, it is disheartening to see that neither the Times nor the Post saw fit to cover this. I know we’re just the Midwest, but this is actually a huge story.
Speaking of, I am working on a much longer non-blog piece about the diversion. If you are a publisher, or know any, and would be interested, drop me a line. Thanks!