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Vote on Waukesha water diversion expected Tuesday

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Screencap from Google Maps / Google

The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin will likely find out Tuesday if it can draw water from the Great Lakes to replace its own contaminated water.

Governors from eight Great Lakes states are expected to vote on the request. Any of the states can veto the diversion. Waukesha is the first community to request a diversion since the adoption of the Great Lakes Compact in 2008.

Environmental groups and some elected officials objected to the diversion, saying it could set a bad precedent.

But Waukesha Mayor Shawn Riley says the Great Lakes Compact strictly limits diversions -- only communities which straddle the lakes' basin can request a diversion -- and there are likely only four other cities that might need to ask for a diversion by 2030.

"So this isn't going to be a wholesale transfer," says Riley, "where a whole bunch of communities apply for it."

Riley says Waukesha will be drawing an infinitesimal amount of Lake Michigan water, and returning it to the lake cleaner than it was originally.

Governors from the eight states are not announcing how they will vote, although some are giving clues.

A spokesman for Governor Rick Snyder issued this statement on Monday:

Gov. Snyder is reviewing all of the science involved with what is currently happening with water diversion from the Great Lakes through Waukesha's deep wells, as well as any potential impact or benefits having direct withdrawal from Lake Michigan might have on the entire Great Lakes Basin. He has not made a final decision on how Michigan will vote yet, but has committed to ensuring that science will drive his decision rather than emotions or political rhetoric.

The spokesman, Ari Adler, later added there is one thing that many people don't realize: Waukesha is already taking some water from the Great Lakes, and not returning it.

The city is getting its drinking water from a deep aquifer which draws about 30% of its water from Lake Michigan. But the city's processed water is sent to the Mississippi River, not returned to the lake, as it would be if a diversion were approved.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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