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Great Lakes mayors clash with governors over changes to the Great Lakes compact

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

A council of eight Great Lakes governors approved changes to the Great Lakes Compact last week. But mayors and environmental groups say that the updates don't go far enough to prevent water withdrawals from the Great Lakes basin.

Former Racine, Wisconsin Mayor John Dickert says his group asked to defer the changes until next year. That's when the council will flip from a Republican to a Democratic majority.

"We look forward to working with a new team that may be looking differently on this," says Dickert. Dickert represents a coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors. They want the compact strengthened to include more monitoring and public input.

The Great Lakes Compact was ratified by eight states in 2008 and became federal law. It provides a framework for states to enact programs protecting waters of the Great Lakes basin. In general, diversions of water outside the basin are banned, but exceptions can be made for nearby communities when certain standards are met. 

The compact is overseen by a council made up of governors of the eight states in the compact. Dickert says the changes approved by the council weaken the compact. 

"The lakes recharge at one percent per year," says Dickert. "So if these withdrawals continue and they end up in court and you start pulling out more than one percent and utilizing one percent per year, that's where the real catastrophe comes in."

The council currently has five Republican governors and three Democratic governors. Following November elections, many of the current governors on the council will be replaced, shifting the council to six Democrats and two Republicans.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.
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