LANSING—Sierra Club has formally urged Gov. Rick Snyder to veto a proposed diversion of Great Lakes water when Great Lakes basin governors meet next week to decide whether to grant the suburban Milwaukee community of Waukesha what would be a precedent-setting withdrawal of Lake Michigan water.
“As the only state virtually entirely within the Great Lakes Basin, Michigan has more at stake in this decision than any other party to the Great Lakes Compact,” the letter stated. “Not only do the Great Lakes literally define our borders, we depend on these waters to make our state an attractive place to live and work and to protect our irreplaceable natural resources. Michigan cannot afford to allow this badly flawed, first ever proposed Great Lakes water diversion under the Great Lakes Compact to go forward.”
The letter was signed by Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Chair David Holtz, State Director Gail Philbin and Conservation Chair Anne Woiwode. The full text of the letter follows this release.
While Waukesha has serious problems with radium contamination of their drinking water source, for the past eight years the city has refused to use other options to diverting water for Lake Michigan even as neighboring communities do so.
“There’s no debate that the people of Waukesha need safe, clean drinking water,” said David Holtz, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Chair. “But Waukesha and Wisconsin officials have failed their residents by refusing to do what other communities faced with similar problems have done, believing they can muscle their way to diverting Great Lakes water. “
The Great Lakes Governors Council is scheduled to decide Wisconsin’s request on Tuesday.
“It’s up to Gov. Snyder to protect the Great Lakes from an unnecessary, precedent-setting diversion that would open the floodgates from other communities outside the Great Lakes basin who want to dip their straws into the Great Lakes,” said Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Conservation Chair. “Wisconsin’s insistence on rejecting a less expensive treatment for their drinking water shouldn’t be rewarded.”
In its letter to Gov. Snyder, Sierra Club also pointed out a recent legal decision by the Wisconsin Attorney General that could allow communities like Waukesha to renege on agreements for managing groundwater resources.
“What this means is if Waukesha is allowed to use water diverted from Lake Michigan they may still try to continue using groundwater resources without any limits being placed on them by the State of Wisconsin,” said Holtz. “This essentially means the terms for granting any diversion of Great Lakes water to Wisconsin may be unenforceable. Waukesha could simply use the additional water resources it would have available to support more growth and eventually even greater demand for Great Lakes water.”
June 16, 2016
The Honorable Rick Snyder
Michigan State Capitol
Lansing, MI 48933
Dear Governor Snyder:
One of the most important decisions of your tenure as the Governor of Michigan will occur next week at the Great Lakes Governors meeting in Chicago. We urge you to exercise your authority under the Great Lakes Compact to VETO the proposal to divert water from Lake Michigan to the City of Waukesha, Wisconsin. While modifications suggested by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Regional Body made some important improvements to the badly flawed original proposal from Waukesha, that plan continues to fail the most fundamental criteria at the heart of Great Lakes Compact. Simply put, Waukesha cannot demonstrate a need for this diversion, and, failing that, this precedent setting diversion could permanently harm Michigan and the Great Lakes.
For the past eight years, Waukesha has pursued approval under the Compact for diversion of water to their city. They do face a serious problem with radium contaminating their source of water, and we do not make light of their need for safe, clean drinking water. However, the city has repeatedly rejected a less expensive course for addressing this issue that involves employing treatment options currently in use by two of their neighboring communities. From the start, Waukesha’s resistance to this feasible alternative has been the overwhelming argument for vetoing their proposed diversion, and that situation has not changed.
A recent decision by the Wisconsin Attorney General has added even greater urgency to denying this proposed diversion. Under a May 10, 2016 opinion that has now been adopted by the Department of Natural Resources, WI Attorney General Brad D. Schimel has concluded that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has no authority to manage “high capacity groundwater well withdrawal permits” to protect or manage groundwater resources or impacts on surface waters because the Wisconsin Legislature has not explicitly delegated public trust over non-navigable waters of the state to the WDNR. One consequence of this is that the WDNR will not be able to require the City of Waukesha to discontinue the withdrawal of water from their groundwater wells even if the diversion from Lake Michigan is approved. Moreover, they will not be able to restrict neighboring communities or industries from pumping water from the same aquifer. More importantly, despite efforts throughout the history of the Great Lakes Compact to assure that each state was also carefully stewarding its groundwater resources, in Wisconsin any prior commitments to that effect are currently incapable of being enforced by the agency vested with that duty.
As the only state virtually entirely within the Great Lakes Basin, Michigan has more at stake in this decision than any other party to the Great Lakes Compact. Not only do the Great Lakes literally define our borders, we depend on these waters to make our state an attractive place to live and work and to protect our irreplaceable natural resources. Michigan cannot afford to allow this badly flawed, first ever proposed Great Lakes water diversion under the Great Lakes Compact to go forward. Your veto of this proposal is critical for Michigan’s future.
David Holtz, Chair
Gail Philbin, Director
Anne Woiwode, Conservation Chair