Saturday, February 10, 2007

Imperial Waukesha Demands More, More, More

The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce on Saturday tells The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a fit of imperious selfishness that Wisconsin should weaken proposed amendments to an eight-state Great Lakes water management agreement known as the Great Lakes Compact.

That would be a tremendous mistake.

People across the Great Lakes, and especially those in Wisconsin who believe that regional cooperation should mean cooperating on the Great Lakes region, too, need to classify the Chamber's position as narrow-minded endangerment to the world's largest reserve of fresh water.

And also a danger to Wisconsin and the other Great Lakes' water-sensitive commercial and recreational economies.

The compact has been in place since 1985; the amendments would establish rules and standards for communities that wanted to withdraw water from Lake Michigan or another of the Great Lakes - - because a) no one owns Great Lakes water (that's in the Wisconsin Constitution, by the way), and b) Great Lakes water is a common resource.

Common. As in, shared. In fact, commonality is suggested in the very word Compact.

What the Chamber is complaining about is that the proposed amendments - - under review by a state legislative study committee - - would affirm current US law by restating that all eight Great Lakes states have to approve a diversion application for a community like the City of Waukesha.

That procedure, with some reasonable rules and standars, would apply because Waukesha is outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.

Since the water in the Great Lakes is finite, communities like Waukesha would have to show in an application under the amended compact that they have no other reasonable alternative to a diversion - - ruling out matters of convenience - - and that they would pledge to return a reasonably equivilent amount of water to maintain the health of the Great Lakes and its tributaries.

In other words - - do your due diligence, create an application, and apply - - recognizing the shared nature of the water.

But instead, the Chamber wants Wisconsin to adopt a major change to the amended Compact by getting rid of the unanimous, eight-state application approval requirement.

That provision helps guarantee Great Lakes water against diversions throughout the Great Lakes region and beyond - - including withdrawals that could harm Wisconsin.

It's also important to point out that the states took more than four years to agree on the proposed amendments, and because it was a negotiation...about a steward a common resource...that no one owns...the states agreed that the compact amendments needed the approval of all eight states without significant changes to go into effect.

Or else, why have an manage a shared the common interest...for the public an eight-state region that also covers residents in two Canadian provinces?

If Wisconsin were to adopt the Chamber position and withhold approval of the eight-state, unanimous diversion rule, other states would follow suit or drop the Compact altogether, and the free-for-all to extract Great Lakes water all the way to Arizona.

Or even farther.

The entire push to protect the Great Lakes for the common good with a Compact began when Ontario considered allowing a company to remove tanker-shiploads of Great Lakes water for sale in Asia.

Led by Wisconsin's then-Governor Tony Earl, the states and provinces adopted a Compact that said that diversions outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin needed the unanimous approval of all eight US Great Lakes governors.

Because no governor objected, for instance, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin later won a diversion.

What the Chamber also misses is that the compact amendments as proposed already gave communities outside the Great Lakes basin boundaries like Waukesha a break.

The negotiators agreed to include communities like Waukesha for diversion application eligibility because a portion of the county in which they are located - - Waukesha County - - touches a Great Lake basin boundary.

That's the subcontinental divide, visible as the hill at Sunny Slope Rd. in eastern Waukesha County.

Early drafts of the amendments did not include that exception.

And the negotiators drew the defining line at a straddling county - - not, for example, a certain distance from the basin boundary - - thus ruling out diversions into, say, Jefferson County.

Is that fair to Jefferson County?

Might they not want Lake Michigan water, especially since it is known that right now, Waukesha is pulling alot of its well water right now from beneath Jefferson County?

And if you extend that exception to Jefferson County, how about Dane County right next door? After all, Dane County is drawing down its underground water supplies dangerously fast.

Sources familiar with the amendment drafting process have told me that the so-called "straddling county" exception was supported by Wisconsin's negotiators precisely to let the City of Waukesha and other communites in Waukesha County into the process.

Problem is: Already being a winner in the negotiating and drafting procedure, and grateful for the foot in the door it already got, Waukesha doesn't even want to follow that process.

It just wants the water.

Twice last year, Waukesha's Water Utility unsuccessfully asked Gov. Doyle very quietly in legal communications to simply allow it permission to withdraw from water from Lake Michigan three times its current water usage.

And also to permit Waukesha to dispose of that water after treatment into the Fox River and the Mississippi watershed without returning it to the Great Lakes basin.

It was willing to complete a back-door application, in other words, so it's not applying for diversion permission that Waukesha objects to. It just wants to establish the process itself, as if it could secede from the state, region and planet.

Waukesha's Chamber looks at Lake Michigan with an old-fashioned imperial sense of entitlement.

Water, the Chamber says:

A valuable natural resource.

It's close. And accessible.

We want it.

No one should be able to block us...with things like...cooperative agreements...that include standards, scientific reviews, legal regulations and all the other pesky requirements of a modern world that insure a shared and finite resource will be wisely-managed.

Earlier failures to do exactly that with the region's underground water are why the acquifer been so vastly depleted beneath Waukesha.

Instead of learning from decades of over-pumping throughout the region - - and here Waukesha is not the only culprit, and it soon will celebrate the first anniversary of its new water conservation plan - - the Chamber wants to extend the history of poor regional water management by weakening and perhaps killing a long-standing international agreement.

The timing of the Chamber pitch is instructive. This coming Monday, the Waukesha Water Utility and Mayor Larry Nelson have scheduled a 7:00 p.m. public meeting where officials will discuss its water supply planning.

Mayor Nelson will probably play good cop to the Chamber's bad cop.

That's because cooler heads know that the Chamber's exclusionary and exceptionalistic 'us-first' stance is politically self-destructive.

First, it undermines Gov. Doyle. He is the co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. That's the body that is proposing the compact amendments.

Is the Chamber's bludgeon the way to win an ally in Madison, and get him to carry your water at the Governors' Council?

And if a Waukesha diversion application ever came their way, don't you think the other governors and the technical reviewers would wonder if regional cooperation down Waukesha way in Wisconsin also meant cooperating on how to reasonably use the Great Lakes region's greatest resource?

"Hmm," might the Compact staffers and other states' natural resources departments reviewers and their bosses and the governors say..."Waukesha, Wisconsin wants a diversion. Aren't those the people that dissed our work on this shared resource?"

Even if Waukesha never applies under the Compact - - maybe the Compact does die because Wisconsin or another state or a court somewhere blew it up, or maybe it takes too long to get all eight states' approvals - - current US law, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) also contains a provision that all eight US states must approve a diversion.

Does the Chamber want WRDA eliminated, too? How far will its self-centeredness drive it?

Remember. The Great Lakes contain 20% of the world's fresh, finite surface water. (Snow and rainfall replenish it at the rate of 1% a year)

The farther from its basin you divert it, and the fewer controls you have in place to conserve it, the more you endanger it - - for yourselves, your children's children, and for people across a vast region of North America who are depending on you to put stewardship first.


Anonymous said...

They must need the water so they can build more waterparks in Waukesha county.

James Rowen said...

Not a bad conclusion, as there is one about to break ground in New Berlin, which is also an applicant for Great Lakes water. Waukesha communities are already talking about runing a pipeline along I-94, which the state could build into its freeway expansion plan.

Sprawl is no accident: it is enabled and accelerated by government action - - right in the area where the 'small government' philosophy is allegedly ascendeant.

Anonymous said...

The NB plan is the one that motivated my comment.

My first question would be, if water parks are such an economic powerhouse why did Great Wolf just write down the one in Sheboygan? Is a water park going to make NB a tourist destination?

Second, and again if there is so much benefit to be had from a water park, instead of gutting the Milwaukee county park system budget, why doesn't the county get into the business? I understand the ones they have do Ok but really don't know the details.

Dave said...

No Water for Waukesha! Lets stop sprawl today.