Monday, August 20, 2007

Water Woes And World-Wide Political Pressures

From Washington, DC to Walworth and Waukesha Counties in Wisconsin, water is emerging as the crucial political issue of the 21st century.

Climate scientists tell The Washington Post that greenhouse gas emissions are altering historic rainfall patterns worldwide, leading to population and political shifts that will get more intense.

This, of course, should be spurring the Great Lakes legislatures to move with a sense of heightened urgency to adopt a pending (since 12/05) regional agreement, the Great Lakes Compact, in order to preserve Great Lakes water through conservation and controlled diversions.

Illinois and Minnesota are the only two of the eight Great Lakes states to have ratified the Compact.

Wisconsin, in past generations a leader in water conservation, has been unable to approve and implement the Compact because developers and politicians in Waukesha County, and their allies in the legislature, have managed to slow the legislative drafting process to a crawl.

Within Waukesha and Walworth Counties, small, localized skirmishes over water have begun to spill over into legal complaints.

Bigger struggles are coming, as the City of Waukesha, having failed to win a Lake Michigan diversion behind closed doors, is likely to seek a large diversion that could be be denied by the State of Michigan.

And that could lead to a court challenge to federal law that gives one Great Lakes state the power to initially block another's effort to move water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin - - a challenge that could open the Great Lakes to wholesale water withdrawals, without protections, such as returning a like amount to cover the withdrawal and maintain the lakes' levels.

Having the Compact in place would rationalize much of the diversion process.

And it would help protect the Great Lakes as climate change pushes drier areas in the US to look to our region for water supplies.

It's time for citizens and organizations to demand that the legislature pass a strong bill to implement the Great Lakes Compact. Most important for Wisconsin to enforce:

Provisions toughening local community conservation plans, diversion permissions, prohibitions reining in water bottling companies and guaranteeing that the public can intervene in water policy and regulatory disputes.

Details of what should be in that bill, according to a growing number of Wisconsin opinion-makers, conservation and environmental organizations, are here.

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