New Great Lakes rules expected on Monday
Water could be allowed outside of basin
By Dan Egan
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published July 17th, 2004
Chicago - Governors of the eight Great Lakes states are
expected Monday to release their much anticipated draft
of new rules deciding who gets to drink from the Great
Lakes and who does not.
The new rules, often referred to as Annex 2001, have been
three years in the making. They likely will open the door
for some water exports outside the Great Lakes basin,
but Gov. Jim Doyle, co-chair of the Council of Great Lakes
Governors, says he has no intention of opening the floodgates
so the country's booming arid regions can drain what many
consider the Midwest's most precious natural resource.
"Annex 2001 was born out of the recognition that
demand for Great Lakes water will certainly be growing
in the future as other parts of the world look greedily,
I might say, at this incredible resource," Doyle
told a Chicago gathering of Great Lakes mayors this week.
"Once implemented, these agreements will ensure that
when other regions, particularly Western states, look
towards the Great Lakes to solve their problems, we will
have the legal authority to protect ourselves."
Many believe the current system that allows governors
to simply say no to outsiders' requests for Great Lakes
water would not hold up in court.
Under current rules, any proposal to pipe water outside
the Great Lakes basin requires approval from each of the
eight governors, and that rarely happens; only two cities
outside the basin have been granted permission to withdraw
Great Lakes water since the existing rules took effect
But most familiar with the issue agree that a system
that gives each governor veto authority over diversions
probably wouldn't hold up in court, largely because the
governors presently have no standard criteria for judging
the merits of a withdrawal request. A governor can say
no for no good reason at all.
Annex 2001 is expected to change that. The new rules
will establish precisely what a city outside the basin
must do to get its hands on Great Lakes water. That likely
will require such cities to pump their treated wastewater
back into the basin in order to limit the loss of volume
in lake water.
That could open the door to communities just on the edge
of the basin, such as cities in Waukesha County, but it
would make it prohibitively expensive for a city such
as Phoenix to water its golf courses with Lake Michigan
The City of Waukesha already has asked for Doyle's backing
to tap Lake Michigan. Water shortages are particularly
acute in Waukesha County because many of the wells that
communities in the area have historically relied on are
plagued with high levels of radium, a naturally occurring
but potentially cancer-causing substance.
The rules also will likely tighten up the use of water
for cities inside the basin, the rationale being that
the Great Lakes states must demonstrate that they themselves
are not wasting the lake water. The worry is if the Great
Lakes states don't practice wise stewardship over their
prized resource, it might be only a matter of time until
the federal government steps in.
Michigan, for example, has famously lax limits on groundwater
withdrawals, and in a state that lies virtually entirely
inside the Great Lakes basin, that likely affects the
volume of water flowing into the Great Lakes. Chicago
does not require water meters for all its residential
hookups, a situation that gives consumers little incentive
to be miserly with their water use.
A 90-day public comment period will follow Monday's release
of the Annex 2001 draft, and it "will certainly in
the coming months provoke some of the most highly visible
discussion that we have had in years on Great Lakes issues,"
People already are weighing in.
This week the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin
sent a letter to Doyle and expressed concern that opening
up Milwaukee's western suburbs to Lake Michigan water
could harm Milwaukee's inner city.
"Citizens of Milwaukee face an immediate challenge
because of the impact water diversions may have on suburban
sprawl," wrote ACLU's Wisconsin director, Chris Ahmuty.
"In a metropolitan area as segregated along racial
lines as Milwaukee, diversions that go beyond the Lake
Michigan basin will likely exacerbate the economic and
residential isolation and deprivation of the city's poor
and minority residents."
The diversion laws likely won't change any time soon.
Following the three-month public comment period, the governors
must then prepare a final version of the rules upon which
they can all agree. Then the issues move on to all eight
state legislatures. Then it goes to Congress.
It likely could take years for the proposal released
Monday to become law, but that doesn't surprise those
who have spent the last three years on the issue.
"At no time, at no place in the world, have we had
an undertaking of this magnitude in terms of water management,"
said Sam Speck, head of the Ohio Department of Natural