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Great Lakes Article:

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 in 1986.

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 water.

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," Doyle said.

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 Resources.


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