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
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
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.