Monday, June 18, 2007

Wisconsin Attorney General Opinion On Water Policy Still Hidden From Public View

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources is still reviewing a revised application from the City of New Berlin for permission to divert water from Lake Michigan to a part of the city that is outside of the Great Lakes basin boundary.

A similar application last year was roughed up by several of the other Great Lakes states, to which the DNR had sent the application, because an eight-state review of diversions is required by the Great Lakes Compact.

There is an element within the DNR that believes that it can approve the diversion request without re-submitting it to the other states.

Then-Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an opinion in December, 2006, flatly saying that all diversion applications needed the other states' approval.

The opinion is operative regardless of the election and swearing-in of a new Attorney General, J. B. Van Hollen.

Traditional media have not reported the existence of the heavily-researched 20-page opinion.

Without the opinion having been adequately published and absorbed, some in the DNR, I am told, may feel they can go ahead and approve the New Berlin application on their own.

Poking a stick in the eyes of the other states, when Great Lakes water is on the line, is 100% guaranteed to provoke an interstate lawsuit because it would undermine years of cooperation and negotiations among the states.

Those negotiations produced proposed amendments to the Great Lakes agreement (the Great Lakes Compact) that governs regional control of those waters and establishes formal standards for diversion application review and approval.

Federal law requires the eight-state approval, too, though without establishing the standards and procedures in the Compact amendments - - another good reason to adopt the Compact and bring rationality to the entire process.

Adopting the amendments in Wisconsin has been stalled in a special state legislative committee that has not met on the matter since December.

But until the amendments are approved by all the Great Lakes sates, the DNR needs to follow the Attorney General's opinion by sending New Berlin's application to the other states - - but only if it concludes that the revised application meets the objections that the other states raised a year ago.

A public hearing about the revised application would also be a good idea, so the DNR and New Berlin both can explain the proposal and any improvements made over last year's application.

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