Monday, April 23, 2007

MMSD Brings Carrot, Stick To Great Lakes Water Debate

Even as legislators and business interests in Waukesha County stalled consideration of the Great Lakes Compact by a state legislative study committee, The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, with little fanfare, voted not to extend services west of the Lake Michigan basin boundary (the subcontinental divide) until the State of Wisconsin approves the Great Lakes Compact.

That action could slow or stop some development in communities hoping to pipe in Lake Michigan water, but also could spur action in the study committee to get Wisconsin's Compact approval.

The amended Compact will establish conservation standards and application procedures for diversions from the Great Lakes in an eight-state area, but needs approvals in all the states to take effect.

State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) and the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce object to provisions in the Compact that require all eight states to approve diversion applications.

They feel it gives power over development in their communities to the other states - - but ironically, some of that development may not take place, says the MMSD, until the Compact wins approval in Wisconsin.

So the MMSD's little-noticed action might encourage the Compact's opponents across Waukesha County to think again about the Compact's practical value.

On the supply side of the equation, the existing Compact and a separate federal law now require the eight-state approval.

In other words, no eight-state approval, no piping-in water across the Great Lakes basin boundary.

The MMSD's action establishes a requirement on the treatment, or return, side of the water equation for Wisconsin communities like New Berlin, Waukesha and others:

No approval in the legislature - - no new service extension to the area approved by the MMSD.

Conclusion: the longer that opponents in Waukesha County block Wisconsin's approval of the Compact in the legislature - - the study committee has not met since December - - the longer those anti-Compact forces in Waukesha County shoot themselves in the foot.

This is the language MMSD approved on February 26th, 2007:

"RESOLVED, by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, that the Executive Director is authorized to approve municipal sanitary sewer plans utilizing the 2020 Facility Plan population and land use projections, and that the Commission may consider requests to amend the sanitary sewer service area boundary east of the sub-continental divide consistent with the 2020 Facilities Plan and will not amend the sanitary sewer service area boundary west of the sub-continental divide until the Great Lakes Compact is approved by the State of Wisconsin."

(Representatives from New Berlin and Muskego spoke against the motion. Read item #9 on the MMSD agenda, in pdf format, on the MMSD website's February 26, 2007 meeting, here.)

Final thought: I have written often on this blog - - an example here - - that the biggest obstacle to diversion request applications from west of the Great Lakes basin in Wisconsin is what I call an exceptionalist's view of the world held by some power-brokers in Waukesha County.

By that I mean some community leaders in the County disproportionately value their importance, role in the region, or their 'right' to resources that are held in trust across a vast, international territory.

Which explains, for instance, why Waukesha would seek Lake Michigan water from Gov. Doyle through a back-door and confidential set of proposals, or why Lazich and others could possibly think that the Great Lakes Compact would be substantially rewritten or junked altogether just so a Waukesha County community could bring in Lake Michigan water - - and the heck with the entire Great Lakes region's management of a shared resource.

But now I look at the counter-productive obstacles that Lazich and others are creating for themselves - - on top of the existing and proposed political and legal barriers already making Great Lakes diversions difficult-to-impossible - - and my conclusion is that Compact opponents in Waukesha County are knowingly headed towards blowing up the Compact.

Their step one: Gut or kill the 22-year-old agreement.

Step two: challenge and hope to void the existing federal law that makes diversions even less likely than does the Compact, regardless of the consequences on lake levels for generations to come.

All the more reason for true regionalists - - in southeastern Wisconsin and across the US-Canada Great Lakes in eight states and two provinces - - to redouble efforts to bring around the critics, and get the Compact approved.

The Compact is not about Waukesha County.

The Compact is about five lakes, eight states, and two Canadian provinces.

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