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Great Lakes group gives preliminary OK to Waukesha's water request

map of michigan
Screencap from Google Maps / Google

Waukesha, Wisconsin got some good news today: the city wants to build a pipeline to pump millions of gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan, because its own groundwater is contaminated with radium (which can cause cancer.)

And that plan just got preliminary approval from a regional body of Great Lakes states.

Technically, the vote just finds that the Waukesha’s plan meets the “exception standard” for cities outside the Great Lakes basin to use the water.

And there are some conditions: Waukesha will have a cap on how much water it can divert from Lake Michigan – no more than 8.2 million gallons a day, on average.

“The states and provinces of the Great Lakes Regional Body have completed their review of our application to borrow and return Great Lakes water,” says Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly in a statement today. “The Declaration of Finding concludes that Waukesha, with conditions, meets the exception standard of the Great Lakes Compact.”  

But Michigan U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Twp.,  released a statement expressing concern over the plan:

“In my opinion, Waukesha has failed to meet the criteria required to receive water from the Great Lakes. Diverting water from the Great Lakes should be a last resort only employed when every other means possible has been exhausted. Therefore, I call on the Compact Council, comprised of the 8 governors of the Great Lakes states, to deny this application when they meet next month,” Miller said. “Thanks to the Great Lakes Compact, there have been significant improvements to the management and conservation of the Lakes’ water supply, and approving this request to divert water now would be a precedent-setting setback that would threaten the precious, finite resources provided by our magnificent Lakes.”

The Great Lakes governors – or their representatives – meet next month to cast a final vote. If just one governor votes “no,” the plan cannot move forward. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.