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,
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
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
"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."