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Great Lakes Article:

Group urges Wis. DNR to follow rules on Great Lakes water request
By Dinesh Ramde
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published November 28, 2006

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- An environmental group urged a state agency Monday to abide by rules that would require it to get approval from the governors of the eight Great Lakes states before acting on a Milwaukee suburb's proposal to draw more than 1.8 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan.

A spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources contends the proposal doesn't fall under the category of requests that require full consent, and that the DNR might handle the decision alone.

New Berlin, a city 15 miles west of Milwaukee, asked the DNR this summer for permission to access 1.83 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day.

The Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes said on Monday it's not up to the DNR to decide, noting that the federal Water Resources Development Act of 1986 requires any diversion of Great Lakes water to be approved by the Great Lakes governors.

"Some states are going down the slippery slope of coming up with their own definitions of what's a diversion," said Alliance spokeswoman Cheryl Mendoza. "Our biggest concern is there's a federal law that applies here, and the New Berlin proposal should be subject to that."

Mendoza said the federal act defines a diversion as any water diverted out of the lake.

But Bruce Baker, deputy administrator of the DNR's water division, said a water transfer is only considered a diversion when the water is removed from the lake but not replaced.

"According to (New Berlin's) proposal, because they'll still be using groundwater pumps, they'll return more water to the lake than they're removing," Baker said. "So in terms of the lake, it's a net increase." That leaves the proposal exempt from the diversion requirement, he said.

Baker said a 60-day comment period closed last week, and officials will sift through the suggestions from citizens as well as from neighboring states before deciding a course of action. Baker said he didn't know how many comments the DNR received, but he said he expected a decision would be reached by next summer.

Representatives of the eight Great Lakes states - Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario formally approved a compact last December that would legally obligate those states to block diversion of water to areas outside the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin.

The compact still awaits congressional approval, which could take two years or more.

New Berlin, a city of 40,000 people, is on the subcontinental divide that has been identified as a geological border of the Lake Michigan basin, with water in areas east of it flowing to the lake and water in areas to the west flowing to the Mississippi River. New Berlin currently gets half its water from Lake Michigan and half from wells.

Mendoza said her group is worried not about the volume of water New Berlin wants but about adhering to principles that will justify approval of the compact.

"We're really at a delicately negotiated place right now between all the decision-makers at the states and provinces," she said. "Anything like this that would undermine that, we're opposed to."

Baker said in absence of congressional approval of the compact, the DNR could proceed in three ways: handle the request itself as it has historically done; make the decision under the authority of Gov. Jim Doyle without consulting other states; or request approval from all the Great Lakes states.

"It would be nice to have all the states agree on an interim approach," he said. "But if that can't happen, we're going to have to decide what we think the best interim approach is."



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