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Great Lakes Article:

EDITORIAL: Let's talk to Michigan
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published November 11, 2006

A few days before Tuesday's election, Michigan's attorney general fired another warning shot over Wisconsin's bow on the question of whether the west side of New Berlin should be allowed to receive water from Lake Michigan.

Basically, the message from Democrat Mike Cox was: "Never, never, not ever." And then, we suspect, he promptly covered his ears, closed his eyes and started humming the Michigan fight song.

It was no doubt just a coincidence that Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm was in a re-election fight and that "never, never, not ever" is a time-honored campaign slogan in Michigan. The state is almost entirely within the natural basin of the Great Lakes and doesn't have to worry about supplying any of its own thirsty communities. And Granholm already had issued a statement against the so-called diversion earlier in the campaign season.

It's time for officials from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to sit down with their colleagues from Michigan and calmly explain the facts. And since the election is over, maybe Michigan officials will be calm enough to listen. Because on the facts, New Berlin wins hands-down.

New Berlin's municipal water system supplies the entire city, including the west side, which is outside the natural basin of the Great Lakes. Water on the east side comes from Lake Michigan; water on the west side is supplied by municipal wells. Once it is used, all of that water is sent to Lake Michigan, which means that - right now - water is being pumped from outside the basin into the basin.

What New Berlin would like to do - and what the DNR is considering letting it do - is supplying water from Lake Michigan to the west side. All of that water would still be returned to the big lake, including the water from some municipal wells that would still be operating, which means that the city would most likely still continue to send more water back to the lake than it draws from it.

This would not be a diversion as most people understand the term, and it would be within the spirit of new rules proposed for diversions from the Great Lakes. We agree with Michigan that water should never be taken from the basin without it being returned there and that all communities in the basin have an interest in any diversion, if it's a real one.

But if a community agrees to return the water to the basin, why not allow the water to flow, especially since there are real benefits from opening the tap?

New Berlin would gain by having a steady and reliable supply of water free of radium, the unhealthy natural element that is showing up in wells across southeastern Wisconsin. Neighboring Waukesha County communities would benefit because the less New Berlin relies on wells that draw from the aquifer, the more water in that aquifer for other communities. Milwaukee would benefit financially from the sale of water via an underutilized water works and couldn't help but benefit from the goodwill that would be generated by such a display of regional cooperation.

Everyone would win - and there would be no harm because the water would be returned to the lake.

The state should not allow itself to be drawn into a water war with Michigan. All the people of the Great Lakes region must work together to preserve and wisely use this vital resource. But Wisconsin should not allow Michigan to stand in the way of a diversion that is not a diversion and would provide so many benefits to Wisconsin.



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