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Waukesha water diversion plan clears major hurdle

Lake Michigan
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio
Lake Michigan

Representatives from the eight Great Lakes states have reaffirmed approval of Waukesha, Wisconsin's request to switch its own contaminated water supply to Lake Michigan.

The 2008 Great Lakes Compact allows such a diversion if a city is at least partly within the watershed of one of the lakes. 

Last summer, Great Lakes governors voted unanimously to allow Waukesha to draw Lake Michigan water, but the decision was appealed by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

The Initiative, which includes 120 U.S. and Canadian mayors, said the decision sets a bad precedent that could let any city in Waukesha's situation get Great Lakes water.

But Peter Annin with the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College says the lengthy, complicated process may have actually dissuaded some cities.

"Waukesha took five years, five million dollars, and they still may end up in some kind of litigation, which is a huge hurdle for a lot of smaller cities. That's just to get permission for the water, then you have to put in multi-million dollar engineering projects," Annin said.

Jill Hutchison, an attorney for the Initiative, says the group will consider next steps, including legal options, once it's able to review the Great Lakes Compact Council's written opinion.

"The goal here is to ensure that the Compact's protections are preserved and strengthened going forward, so that Great Lakes waters are preserved and conserved," Hutchison said.

Under terms of the Great Lakes Compact, Waukesha would have to treat and return any water that it takes from Lake Michigan.

Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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