Thursday, February 14, 2008

Smart Wisconsin Legislators, Contemplating Water Legislation, Should Look South

Wisconsin legislators and the public will get their first look at the proposed Great Lakes Compact implementing bill on Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., at an informational State Capitol hearing.

Details here.

After more than two years of delay, we'll see what legislators, various lobbyists and Department of Natural Resources staffers have come up with.

Happy Valentine's Day.

And while certain special interests have been campaigning for months to weaken the bill, so Waukesha developments and municipalities outside the Great Lakes basin might have easy access to Lake Michigan water - - regardless of the regional and national consequences - - there's a new Southern wrinkle that should give the Compact weakeners pause:

A federal appeals court has just ruled that drought-ravaged and over-developed Atlanta cannot make a side deal to get certain waters because the Federal Government holds the ultimate water transferring permission.

That message should not be lost on the City of Waukesha, or State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and others who have either tried for a side deal, or who might delay the Compact for so long that the feds might tempted to step in and take control of the Great Lakes.

In other words, don't try and set up a sweetheart deal for yourself to access a shared resource - - say, the Great Lakes - - if there is federal law in place that says certain water transfer and management procedures must be followed.

The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 provides no exceptions to all eight Great Lakes' states governors approval of diversions out of the Great Lakes basin - - a law that doesn't parse diversions into categories - - so it would be foolhearty for Wisconsin legislators to bless back-door applications or insert language tweaks spun into Wisconsin law just to get water to out-of-basin suburbs.

Or to weaken, or remove altogether, that lynchpin eight-state approval diversion provision in the pending Great Lakes Compact.

That's the argument made by Lazich, the WMC, the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Builders Association, and even Waukesha County Exec. Dan Vrakas and others who have said just that, in one form or another.

As I written repeatedly on this blog, ignoring the federal law is a very bad idea. All this and more about water law was spelled out in a crucial Wisconsin Attorney General opinion now 14 months old, but which has been ignored by the rest of the media and dismissed by DNR officials.

Those who ignore it, or who are out to sandbag the Compact in Wisconsin, could inherit a boatload of consequences:

Wisconsin could end up stirring up the other Great Lakes if the badger State trys to delete Compact language, or to add special exceptions for Wisconsin that the other seven Great Lakes states and their attorneys generals would not accept.

Worse, the Congress, which could look at the appeals court ruling and take back control over the Great Lakes.

So it's time for Wisconsin leaders and legislators to stop playing games with the Great Lakes, and to get serious about passing a good bill for Wisconsin.

An excellent argument by Steven Schmuki of the Waukesha Environmental Action League, (WEAL), for the Strong Compact is here.

No comments: