Saturday, June 9, 2007

State Water Committee Has Not Met Since December: Chairman Asks For More Time

In a memo and status report dated Tuesday, June 12, 2007, State Sen. Neal Kedzie, (R-Elkhorn), the chair of the legislature's study committee on the Great Lakes Compact, has asked legislative leaders to extend his committee's incomplete work to include at least four more meetings.

That request should be turned down.

The committee was supposed to write a bill so Wisconsin could adopt and implement the Compact with several new amendments - - a drafting process that took negotiators from the US and Canada nearly five years to draft.

The problem is that the committee has not met to hammer out the Wisconsin bill since December - - Kedzie's memo says because of scheduling difficulties.

So keeping the committee alive on an uncertain schedule throughout the year will simply extend Wisconsin's tardiness in adopting the Compact's vital new water conservation standards and diversion procedures that make up the proposed amendments.

Formed in 2006, Kedzie's Committee began reviewing Compact materials in August, 2006 and first met in September. It had hoped to present the legislature with a bill by the end of 2006.

Acknowledging that the matter is a complex one, and that there were disagreements among the members - - both legislators and citizens - - the committee broke into several sub-committees.

But the sub-committees could not agree on much key language, including how diversions from the Great Lakes to communities outside the Great Lakes basin (Waukesha and New Berlin are the most likely current candidates in Wisconsin) should be handled in concert with the other Great Lakes states.

This is at the heart of the Compact's proposed amendments, along with conservation requirements, too.

Powerful business and political interests in Waukesha County are primarily responsible for the impasse.

And that's no surprise: The committee was established at a time when Republicans ran both houses of the legislature, and is top-heavy with Waukesha County representation.

That imbalance - - an awkward reality since the Democrats won the State Senate in November, 2006, and are thus under-represented on the committee - - has given the GOP and other anti-Compact voices too much sway on the committee and authorship of water policy statewide.

The committee's tilt to the GOP in its heartland county emboldened those in Waukesha County that want easy access to Lake Michigan diversions think out loud about making substantive changes in the Compact, or even sending US and Canadian negotiators back to the table - - 'solutions' that could blow the Compact into pieces and set off a regional, chaotic rush to grab Great Lakes water without rules or standards.

The stalled committee in Madison has been a fact for months - - with other states making more progress. Minnesota has adopted the measure and the Province of Ontario also adopted a bill that endorses the Compact in an advisory capacity only.

Kedzie posted an earlier memo on the Committee website dated February 6th - - more than four months ago - - enumerating nearly 20 issues the committee had yet to address, or on which the members and subcomittees could not reach a consensus.

The points of disagreement are across-the-board, and go to the heart of whether Wisconsin will be a willing partner in a mutual, cooperative eight-state Compact with the health of the Great Lakes as the primary goal.

The Compact, as it exists today, was created in 1985 with the strong leadership of Wisconsin and then-Gov. Tony Earl.

Stewardship of water as a public trust is a core Wisconsin value, predating statehood, that was incorporated into the state constitution directly from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

There are many hard-working, well-meaning people on the committee; its difficulty as a committee in agreeing on language, and even on acceptable meeting dates, indicates that larger political and economic forces which put their special interests above those of well-managed, shared water resources are not in a cooperative, Compact frame-of-mind.

The amended Compact (the states must adopt similar bills that do not diverge from the agreement signed in December, 2005, in a Milwaukee ceremony by all eight states and two provincial chief executives) is the best chance that the states and provinces have to manage the Great Lakes with conservation and water quality - - the public interest - - as primary goals.

Twenty percent of the world's fresh surface water supply depends on this two-country, eight-state, two-province, shared stewardship responsibility.

It's a goal and effort much broader than the narrow agenda of the state builder's association and other allied political and business interests in Waukesha County, Wisconsin - - the home base of the Republican Party in the state.

Those forces keep pushing annexations, farmland conversion and sprawl development - - subdivisions, water parks, industrial parks, malls - - that bring with it a demand for water they think Lake Michigan should provide .

And who cannot grasp that if Waukesha County gets easier access to Lake Michigan, so do counterpart counties in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, and the stressed Great Lakes, where some levels are approaching historic lows, are not infinite.

Kedzie's documents indicate that he'll either produce a bill by the end of 2007, or notify the legislature that the impasse cannot be resolved.

That's too long to wait, because it pushes legislative action into 2008.

Legislative leaders of goodwill in both parties, and the Doyle administration, would be best advised to thank Kedzie and his committee for its preliminary, but unfinished work.

And then to move quickly into another collaboration to get legislation drafted and adopted just as soon as work on the 2007-'09 state budget is completed.

Wisconsin organizations pressing for uniform diversion standards and greater conservation efforts across the Great Lakes region also need to articulate a simpler, focused message on behalf of the state, region and 20% of the world's fresh surface waters:

Adopt the Compact, now.

Additional thoughts in a later blog entry, here.

1 comment:

Jim Bouman said...

Perhaps most striking in Kedzie's plea for more time is his concept of the distilled essence of the Compact, presented in the opening paragraph of his whining excuse for a report:

"The Compact, in its simplest of terms, is a procedural mechanism for limited diversions and withdrawals of Great Lakes water for communities in and out of the basin."

That's the only thing he can focus on--nothing on the larger issues of the regional and international implications of Wisconsin being equally the beneficiary of a great resource and one of the group of states and provinces charged with a solemn obligation to our future and our children's futures to preserve and protect it.

Nah! For Kedzie and his group of mostly single-issue obstructionists, it's about one big thing: development in the same witless mode--suburban sprawl.

Rowen is right; Doyle should be pressed to work with the Legislative Council to commision a responsible group of citizens and legislators to do what needs to be done.