Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waukesha Diversion Raising Canadian Questions

Signal sent?

Canada and the US share stewardship responsibilities over the Great Lakes, the planet's largest supply of fresh surface water. The resource is managed by international agreements, including a 2008 Compact approved by Wisconsin, seven other Great Lakes states, two Canadian provinces, the Canadian parliament and the US Congress

And while Canadian officials cannot veto Waukesha's application for a Lake Michigan diversion that would travel outside of the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin, our neighbors to the north have a legally-established advisory role on the application's approval.

So concerns expressed publicly by Canadian Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer about Waukesha's languishing application (Waukesha's Common Council approved it three years ago, though efforts to gain a diversion have floated around since 2006) should be taken seriously as the Wisconsin DNR continues to review the application and decides whether to forward it to the Canadians for their advice and to the other seven Great Lakes states which would have to approve it unanimously under the 2008 Compact for the diversion to occur:

During a visit to Milwaukee last week, Canadian ambassador Gary Doer said Canada generally opposes transferring water from one watershed to another, fearing it would hurt water quality, “and today's project may make sense, but 100 of them won't.”
I've lost track of the multiple discussion on this blog about the bigger regional issues facing Waukesha's application than just its reception in, say, Milwaukee or Racine - - and the few minutes devoted to the issue at a recent Waukesha forum show modest awareness of the big picture (relevant text begins at the 8:09 p.m. mark), but here's an example:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Waukesha Water Issue Has Broader Audience Than Us Locals

Media in southeastern Wisconsin are replete with coverage of the Waukesha water diversion issue. Laurel Walker of the Journal Sentinel weighs in, for example, here.

And certainly the issue is local, and what we think of as regional:

Can Waukesha find a willing partner to sell it water diverted from Lake Michigan - - Milwaukee, Oak Creek or Racine - - so there is delivery if Waukesha's formal diversion application is approved?

Will the DNR browbeat the Town of Waukesha in to the City's diversion application?

How expensive will the plan become if Milwaukee is not the suppler, and can a negotiation between Milwaukee and Waukesha get started despite conditions Waukesha and the DNR have rejected, at least for now?

But remember that there are other audiences and decision-makers farther away, and they are extremely important in the final analysis - - in fact, can make or break the application.

For Waukesha to receive the diversion, all eight Great Lakes governors must give their approval, and Canadian provincial leaders along with First Nation officials there are permitted input, though not a vote, as the Great Lakes are a shared resource held in trust, with no owner.

This much larger regional review - - beyond the border at 124th St. or the authority of the DNR - - is where critical issues like Waukesha's plan to return the water as treated  wastewater, or Waukesha's interest in sending water beyond its current borders to four smaller municipalities get sticky.

And where the DNR's support for the wider distribution - - hung on the very thin reed of mapping decisions by SEWRPC, an advisory regional planning body run by unelected officials - - could easily raise eyebrows, and worse, in the other states.

The Waukesha application is the precedent-setter under a 2008 statutory Compact, and all the reviewers in the others states, and in Canada, are likely to follow every word and comma in the submission.

And in the DNR's processes and findings, because when the application goes out for the wider review it goes with the DNR seal of approval, too.

A few years ago, the DNR sent out a smaller diversion request on behalf of New Berlin to the other Great Lakes states and Canadian regulators for an informal, courtesy review - - a different set of standards applied - - and some tough comments delayed final approval.

You can read some of that, here and factor that history into what lies ahead as Waukesha and the DNR make decisions that will be vetted by regulatory reviewers from Minnesota to New York to Canada with the power to say "yes" or "no."

And all must say "yes" for Waukesha to move forward.


Anonymous said...

Apparently a state can abstain from voting.

Anonymous said...

Apparently there is no timeline to approve the application. Therefore all states should take as much time as they need and ask for as much information as possible before making a conclusion.
The original application apparently had so many flaws that it's likely four years will have passed before the final version will be released.