Monday, January 28, 2008

Barrett's Perspective On The Great Lakes Compact Is Crucial

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joins the growing chorus of support for adoption of the Great Lakes Compact with an op-ed in Sunday's Journal Sentinel Crossroads section.

Of the political leaders in the state, Barrett is perhaps in the toughest spot when it comes to the Great Lakes Compact.

He has made clear his opposition to selling water to suburbs outside of the Great Lakes basin until the Compact is approved by the Wisconsin legislature.

That would provide some standards and guidelines for such water sales - - procedures that would make the diversion application and conservation measures within the Compact reasonable and rational - - and, importantly, bring the entire process into line with existing federal law.

But Barrett and the city have been jammed by pressures from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to begin those water sales negotiations now with the City of New Berlin, and then with the City of Waukesha sure to follow.

That is because the DNR either assumes that the Compact will get adopted by the Wisconsin legislature (a shaky proposition, given opposition to date in among an alliance in the State Assembly, the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, among others)... or the DNR believes that it has the power to approve water sales without either the Compact in place or the federal law being followed.

The history of that DNR belief, despite a detailed opinion to the contrary issued by the Wisconsin Attorney General in December, 2006, and continually unreported by the traditional news media, is here.

Those aggressive and risky DNR scenarios are fraught with political and legal pitfalls, so the cleanest thing to happen would be the adoption of the Compact - - which Barrett, many legislators, editorial writers, conservation groups and even some political leaders in Waukesha County say they also want - - and then diversion applications for water sales could follow the Compact procedures and be aligned with federal legal dictates, too.

As the Mayor of the largest city in the state, where the Common Council has also taken strong, pro-Compact positions - - for years - - and from which diversions might be had if terms can be negotiated within the language of the Compact and the law, Barrett's point-of-view is crucial to the debate.

With the Compact's introduction in the legislature a matter of days away, Milwaukee's position, as articulated by Barrett and the Common Council, should carry significant sway in the debate.

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