Monday, March 5, 2007

While Mary Lazich and Waukesha's Business Bigs Dither, Demands for Great Lakes Water Will Escalate

The New York Times tells us that the Bush Administration is making no real progress on curbing greenhouse emissions - - no surprise there - - since the nation's energy policies were set in secret during W's first term by Oil Man/Vice-President Cheney, who opined that conservation was a personal virtue, and nothing more.

But a draft United Nations report about US energy policies and emission output quoted by the Times indicates that continuing high levels of greenhouse emissions and the climate change those emissions help produce will have an impact that should make people in the Great Lakes states sit up and take notice:

"Drought, particularly, will become a persistent threat, it [the report] said: “Warmer temperatures expected with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are expected to exacerbate present drought risks in the United States by increasing the rate of evaporation.'”

"Water supplies in the Northwest and Southwest are also at risk. [Emphasis added] “Much of the water used by people in the western United States comes from snow melt,” the report said. “And a large fraction of the traditionally snow-covered areas of this region has experienced a decline in spring snow pack, especially since mid-century, despite increases in winter precipitation in many places.” Animal and plant species face risks as climate zones shift but urbanized regions prevent ecosystems from shifting as well, according to the draft report.'"

If water supplies in the Northwest and Southwest are at risk, where do you suppose those thirsty, growing regions will look?

That's right: To the US Great Lakes, which hold 20% of the world's fresh surface water.

And what will prevent the wholesale export of those resources away from the Great Lakes basin?

The US-Canada Great Lakes Compact, signed in 1985 with amendments pending right now that call for all eight Great Lakes states to adopt similar, if not identical language, establishing common, regional rules, procedures, and standards.

The goal is to set a high bar against diversions of water away from the basin - - for the good of the Great Lakes region and its commonly-held water resources.

And what's holding up Wisconsin from adopting these amendments? What's preventing Wisconsin from assuming a leadership role among Great Lakes states, as our state proudly did when the Compact was negotiated, and then steered to its adoption in Milwaukee, in 1985, by then-Governor Tony Earl?

Narrow-minded business interests in sprawl-happy, annexation-crazed Waukesha County, and, in particular State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), and representatives from the Wisconsin Builders Association and the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce.

They are throwing all kinds of chaff and curveballs the committee's way, arguing that Wisconsin should not adopt the Compact's crucial principle and procedure - - that all eight states must approve a diversion application before water can be diverted outside of the Great Lakes basin boundaries.

These Waukesha County-based obstructionists are carrying out the Badger State version of standing in the schoolhouse door even though that could make them responsible for fatally weakening the Compact by negating the proposed amendments.

The unanimity standard for diversion approvals will ensure that they will be approved only when a genuine need is documented, justified and scientifically proven.

And only when the diverted water is guaranteed to be returned for treatment to the Great Lakes basin - - minus a reasonable portion consumed - - to help maintain balance across the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The objections have led to an impasse at a state legislative study committee that is trying to draft legislation to approve and implement the Compact's amendments.

If there is no consensus at the committee, and it is possible that gridlock over these diversion procedures may contnue into the committee's final meeting later this month, the Commitee could disband without sending a draft to the state legislature.

These obstacles to a smooth committee conclusion mirror the unfortunate, confidential efforts in 2006 by the City of Waukesha to win unilateral permission from Gov. Doyle for a Lake Michigan diversion - - a backdoor scheme that would have avoided the eight-state approval procedure altogether and even caused other states to trash the Compact altogether.

Waukesha's 2006 proposals to Doyle - - both were set aside correctly by the Governor, as he is the co-chairman of the a regional governors' council that drafted the amendments in the first place - - also would not have required Waukesha to return diverted water to the Great Lakes basin.

Delaying the drafting of Wisconsin's implementing legislation, and seeking exclusive exceptions to an agreement among eight states and two Canadian provinces, undercuts regional cooperation severly because they put the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem at risk.

An ecosystem that is held in trust for a vast region, and which is unique on the planet.

Conservationists concerned about the stability of the Great Lakes need to get in touch with their representatives in the legislature and urge them to pressure the legislative study committee's members, including Sen. Lazich and others from Waukesha County, to move the Compact forward.

And if ever there was a time for the much ballyhooed "Milwaukee Seven," the southeastern Wisconsin regional business and governmental collaborative, to step forward and act boldly on behalf of Wisconsin as a great - - and Great Lakes state - - it could hardly do better than taking a strong, pro-Great Lakes Compact position.

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