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GLIN==> Conservation Groups Call for Stronger State Laws in Wisconsin to Improve Compact Agreement, Water Protections

Submitted by Derek Scheer <dscheer@cleanwisconsin.org>

Conservation Groups Call for Stronger State Laws in Wisconsin to Improve Compact Agreement, Water Protections


Melissa K. Scanlan, Midwest Environmental Advocates, 608-628-2420
Derek Scheer, Clean Wisconsin, 608-345-8546

Keeping the Great Lakes Great

The Great Lakes are one of the natural wonders of the world and it is our responsibility to protect them. They enrich our lives, provide an ecosystem we depend upon for life, and serve as an economic engine for our state. The Great Lakes contain 20 percent1 of the world's fresh surface water and provide drinking water to more than 40 million2 people who live in the region. It is the only freshwater system of its kind and is essential to humans, businesses, and wildlife alike.

Wisconsin families flock to the Great Lakes for picnics, swimming, fishing, and boating, and to its surrounding lands to build their homes and grow their businesses. Wisconsin plants and animals thrive in their waters where bass, muskellunge, yellow perch, and northern pike swim near shore, while walleye, lake trout, and lake sturgeon ply the deep waters. Wisconsin businesses depend on the Great Lakes to support commercial fishing, international and inter-state shipping, and tourism. Nationally, the Great Lakes support a $15 billion economy through agriculture, industrial manufacturing, steel production, shipping, commercial and sport fisheries, boating and tourism.

Yet, the Great Lakes are vulnerable. Their ability to provide for the citizens of Wisconsin depends upon their own viability. Today, our Great Lakes are threatened, not just by persistent pollution and a growing number of invasive species, but also by the withdrawal and export of their waters.

Increasing pressures on existing water supplies across the nation and around the world could lead many to look toward the seemingly inexhaustible water resources that the Great Lakes hold. However, while the Great Lakes are a vast resource, they remain vulnerable to degradation and depletion. The Great Lakes are vast, but they are not infinite. Only 1 percent of Great Lakes water is renewable. The remaining 99 percent is finite and once gone, can never be replenished.3
Enhancing and maintaining the Great Lakes water supply and ecosystem is vital to the health of the people and economy of Wisconsin. Wisconsin must take steps now to ensure the long term protection and sound management of Great Lakes water supplies. By taking responsibility for the Lakes, we will protect one of the world's signature environmental resources as well as the unique quality of life in the region.


Now more than anytime in recent memory, we have a chance to guarantee the long-term protection and sound management of Great Lakes water, ensuring that they are not sold to the highest bidder and that they are protected for generations to come.

On December 13, 2005, the bi-partisan governors and premiers of the U.S. states and Canadian provinces that share the Great Lakes signed a cooperative agreement for the future protection of our waters. The agreement, known as the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact), calls for the responsible use and protection of Great Lakes waters. This binding "responsibility Compact" sets rules for the withdrawal of Great Lakes waters and ensures that local communities will have a say on any future diversions of our water to areas outside of the Great Lakes basin. The Compact contains many important protections for our Great Lakes.

If ratified, the proposed Compact would be a legally binding contract between the states for joint control of Great Lakes waters. To make the Compact enforceable and offer much needed protections for our Great Lakes, the legislatures in each state must pass legislation that authorizes the Governors' agreement.

In Wisconsin, the Compact authorization must include provisions to make sure that the Compact improves Wisconsin's Great Lakes protections especially those governing out-of-basin diversions, water conservation, and bottled water.

Wisconsin legislators and the Governor must enact contemporaneous legislation in four key areas in order to guarantee that the signed Compact is aligned with existing Wisconsin constitutional and statutory protections.

1. Eliminate Loopholes that Encourage Privatizing Great Lakes Water. Wisconsin must eliminate the bottled water loophole that allows the diversion of Great Lakes water based on the size of the container being used to transport the water out of the Great Lakes Basin.

2. Strengthen the Ban on Diversions. To ensure that diversions occur only in absolutely necessary situations and will not damage the Great Lakes or the waters of Wisconsin, the provisions concerning diversions to communities straddling or outside of the basin must be strengthened in the following ways:

* Establish the boundaries for "straddling communities" and communities within "straddling counties" seeking prospective diversions as of the date of the legislation's enactment. The failure to do so could lead to extensive diversions that damage the Great Lakes;

* Require that all water diverted from a Great Lakes water resource be returned to the point of its initial withdrawal, with consideration for natural flow regimes and prevention of any adverse impacts as a result of the return flow;

* Require a "no net loss" standard for return flow to the Great Lakes Basin for all Wisconsin diversions allowing for out of basin water to account for consumptive use;

* Require the implementation of measurable water conservation programs, including water recycling and reuse, prior to any application for a diversion of Great Lakes water.

3. Set Standards for In-Basin Users of Great Lakes Water. For the first time, the Compact establishes a uniform standard to apply to in-basin uses of water, but allows each jurisdiction to set the withdrawal level at which this standard will apply. Ensuring the reasonable and efficient use of our water resources by in-basin users allows the state and region to regulate out of basin users and limit unwise use of our waters. The following are needed:

* Require permits for all new or increased withdrawals of 100,000 gallons per day or more as of the date of the legislation's enactment;

* Regulate in-basin uses to ensure they are reasonable, prevent significant environmental impacts, and enforceable.

4. Require Strong Water Conservation Standards. Wisconsin needs to take steps to safeguard its water wealth, prevent future local water conflicts, and address communities already experiencing water supply problems. State officials and policymakers would be wise to rectify the existing gaps in state laws and regulatory systems that effectively forestall the implementation of water conservation measures on a local and statewide basis by enacting a statewide water conservation system which:

* Requires specific conservation measures and goals;

* Documents achieved conservation through monitoring and reporting;

* Identifies best available technologies and practices;

* Is mandatory for all users with no opt out;

* Requires the implementation of water conservation measures for all withdrawals of water in amounts at or above 100,000 gallons per day;

* Includes a provision providing that the conservation requirements and measures are enforceable by citizens.

Talking Points

Increasing pressures on existing water supplies across the nation and around the world could lead many to look toward the Great Lakes.
Only 1 percent of Great Lakes water is renewable. The remaining 99 percent is finite and once gone, can never be replenished. In recent years, Great Lakes' lake levels have dropped, making the pollution problems worse. Further lake level declines are predicted as climate change brings expected higher temperatures. Allowing communities and companies to divert water out of the Great Lakes basin will worsen the many problems the Great Lakes already have and threaten the quality of life and economic prosperity of communities in the Great Lakes Region.

The eight Great Lakes states are responsible for 30 percent of U.S. agricultural sales, while Ontario accounts for more than a quarter of Canada's.4
Eighty percent of farm sales in the Great Lakes region are tied to five commodities: milk, corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs.5 The region also offers unique climatic niches that are perfect for a variety of specialty crops, such as grapes, tobacco, tree fruits and nursery products.

Much of Wisconsin's economy was developed because of the Great Lakes.
Easy access to water for industrial processes, proximity to natural resources (such as iron ore) and the Great Lakes transportation system all contributed to the region's growth and prominence in the auto, steel, chemical and other industries. Wisconsin remains dependent on this structure to this day.

Transportation via the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence system played a pivotal role in the development of the Great Lakes region - promoting settlement, agricultural development and manufacturing.
Today, the lakes provide a 3,700 kilometer long, deep-draft navigation route. The St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, connecting Lake ports to global trade. Fifty million tons of cargo - mostly grain, coal, iron ore and petroleum products - are transported via the waterway annually, generating more than $3 billion in business revenue and personal income and more than 60,000 Canadian and U.S. jobs.6

Tourism and recreation play an important role in the Great Lakes economy.
The Great Lakes' beauty and wealth of fish, wildlife and natural places is appealing to boaters, beach-goers, anglers, hunters, wildlife-enthusiasts and campers. Hunters of the Great Lakes region spend more than $2.6 billion annually. Recreational boaters of the Great Lakes spend more than $2 billion annually and, in 2002, Great Lake anglers spent $4.5 billion. Employment, personal expenditures and tax revenue from tourism are growing faster than most other sectors in the region. In many areas, the growth of the tourism industry is balancing the decline of manufacturing.7

The Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact would protect the Great Lakes from harm by implementing an effective water management regime designed by the states.
The Compact represents the work of the Great Lakes Governors working over a four year period each having different concerns. The Governors also solicited advice from numerous stakeholder groups and tens of thousands of citizens in the process of creating this Compact. As such it is a compromise designed to set a regulatory floor and allow each state to set its own frame work.

Provisions in the Compact include:

* A prohibition on diversions with few very limited exceptions for straddling communities and straddling counties. Diversions outside of the Great Lakes States would be completely banned.

* Protection focused on preventing harm to the water resources of the basin by banning diversions and limiting unwise in-basin uses. The proposed Compact would accomplish this for the first time in many states.

* Precedent-setting protections for the Great Lakes, their tributaries, and tributary groundwater.

* Registration and management of most withdrawals, assuring both better knowledge of how the region is using its waters and a means for preventing the worst environmental damage caused by withdrawals.

* The Compact properly establishes the new environmental standards as a minimum, not a maximum system of protection. This allows states to put in place more protective standards for managing Great Lakes waters.

Additional Resources

Alliance for the Great Lakes
220 S. State Street, Suite 1900
Chicago , IL 60604
(312) 939-0838
Fax (312) 939-2708

Clean Wisconsin
122 State Street, Suite 200
Madison, WI 53703-2500
608-251-1655 fax

Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers
1845 N. Farwell Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202
414-273-7293 fax

Great Lakes Forever
c/o Biodiversity Project
214 N. Henry Street
Madison, WI 53703
608-257-3513 fax

Midwest Environmental Advocates, Inc.
702 E. Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53703
608-268-0205 fax

Waukesha County Environmental Action League, Inc.
PO Box 1532
Brookfield, WI 53008

Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
720 St. Croix Street, Suite 101
Prescott, WI 54021
715-262-5856 fax


1 US Geological Survey, http://www.usgs.gov/sci_challenge.html
2 International Joint Commission, http://www.ijc.org/en/activities/consultations/glwqa/guide_stat.htm
3 Great Lakes Forever, http://www.greatlakesforever.org/html/meetlakes/fanfacts.html
4 Great Lakes Forever, http://www.greatlakesforever.org/html/meetlakes/economy.html
5 ibid
6 ibid
7 ibid

Attachment: GLIN Compact File.doc
Description: MS-Word document