Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Water Planning Seems Bottled Up

There are two major water studies underway in Wisconsin that are supposed to conclude with significant public policy recommendations - - one is ongoing at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and the other is being managed by a Legislative Council Study Committee, in Madison - - yet both have cancelled their February meetings.

Since both committees have major, pressing water supply issues on their agendas, the cancellations have raised concerns about whether impasses or major obstacles are surfacing.

The Legislative Council committee, chaired by State Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), has members from the public and private sectors that so far have been unable to reach a consensus on key standards and circumstances that would determine whether Great Lakes water might be transferred out of the Great Lakes basin.

Those standards, circumstances and procedures are spelled out in proposed changes to a US-Canada Great Lakes water protection agreement (known as a Compact) that eight US states must adopt if the agreement is to remain in force and help manage the Great Lakes as a shared resource.

The SEWRPC water advisory committee, at its January session, heard a consultant's presentation about a new wrinkle in Wisconsin law - - regional water authorities - - raising the possibility that SEWRPC may recommend that a regional water authority put itself in charge of acquiring or distributing diverted Lake Michigan water throughout Waukesha County.

It is also possible that the SEWRPC and Legislative Council Committees are both waiting to see what the state Department of Natural Resources decides to do with the one Lake Michigan water diversion application that the DNR put into the regulatory and review pipeline - - the application from New Berlin.

Though it has told New Berlin to make changes to the application in 26 analytical and informational categories, the DNR's next step will be to either move that application to the other Great Lakes states for more review (the first round of critiques was generally negative), or to administratively approve it without a vote among the other states.

Either course of action would send a signal to SEWRPC and the Legislative Council Committee about whether Wisconsin will strongly support the agreement's amendments, or discount or dismiss them.

And that DNR decision would then have a great impact on SEWRPC and the Legislative Committee's eventual recommendations.

Waiting with interest: New Berlin, and even more so the City of Waukesha, which wants a diversion of Lake Michigan water six times greater than does New Berlin, and which recently announced that Lake Michigan water is its preferred solution to its water supply problems.

The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce is even recommending that Wisconsin not approve the Compact agreement's basic operating principle: that all eight Great Lakes states would have to give unanimous approval to diversion applications because the Great Lakes waters are held in a common trust - - as a shared resource - - for the residents of all the states.

Waukesha and New Berlin's intentions have reverberated across the Great Lakes, not only because they want to move water across the Lake Michigan basin boundary, but because both cities have grown rapidly while their wells have continued to deplete underground water at very high rates.

Waukesha in particular has been aggressive in annexing land for development; New Berlin recently gave approvals to construct a massive hotel, conference center and water park complex on land that would receive Lake Michigan water, if its diversion application is approved.

If the DNR signals that it is not 100% behind the Compact agreement's amendments, it is likely that other states will lose interest in the agreement as well (Minnesota has become the first state to give approval), and a rush for unregulated Great Lakes diversions could easily spread across the Great Lakes region.

And by tanker ship and containers, even farther.

It is no understatement that other states and the Canadian provinces bordering the Great Lakes are carefully watching what our DNR, the Legislative Council Committee and the SEWRPC advisory committee will recommend.


Jim Bouman said...

Today, Wednesday, over 400 Wisconsin conservationists (a record number)held their annual "Lobby Day" in Madison.

First of four issues that all lobby participants presented to legislators was that is imperative Wis. elected officials pass the basic Compact intact, and that they strengthen some of the parameters that are to be included in enabling legislation.

Waukesh resident lobbying focussed on Assemblyman Scott Newcomer and Senator Neil Kedzie. It was clear from each of them that what they call the "veto" authority granted to each state over water diversions is unacceptable. Each appeared to be saying that it would be likely that Wisconsin would undercut the Compact by demanding that this key provision be removed.

Each seems to be toeing the line drawn by the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce: better to deep-six the Compact than allow diversions to require unanimity and consensus of the eight Great Lakes States in the critical issue of protection of the integrity of the whole Great Lakes Basin.

Rowen's analysis rings true with this observer. Something stinko is in the works. We may see that line articulated by Sen. Kedzie and Assemblyman Newcomer emerge as the firm position of the GOP caucus.

Renees Take said...

Welcome to the Blogosphere Jim! It's good to see you out here. You've been really prolific already. That's great because you always have an awesome perspective and fascinating things to say.

I'm really happy to have you out here.


James Rowen said...

Thanks to Renee for her comment and check out her blog by clicking the photo.