June 21, 2016
By Josh Paciorek
The “YES” vote to the Waukesha request will stop the current diversion of 1.6 million gallons of water per day from the Great Lakes.
Waukesha’s current aquifer is contaminated with radium, and for years the city has been pumping water from a deep well that draws from the Lake Michigan Basin, using it for their municipal water supply. The city then treats and diverts the water to the Mississippi River Basin. Today’s approval at a Chicago meeting means Waukesha can withdraw water directly from Lake Michigan, but now has to return all of it, with strict environmental standards, back to the Great Lakes.
“There are a lot of emotions and politics surrounding this issue but voting yes — in cooperation with our Great Lakes neighbors — is the best way to conserve one of our greatest natural resources. Mandating strict conditions for withdrawing and returning the water sets a strong precedent for protecting the Great Lakes.”
-Governor Rick Snyder
Because this is a complicated issue, be sure to share this list of FAQs with your friends and family:
Why does Waukesha currently take 1.6 million gallons of water from the Great Lakes?
The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin has been drilling so deep that it is drawing water from the Great Lakes Basin. Ultimately, the water, which is becoming unusable due to radium contamination, is being diverted from the Great Lakes and sent west to the Mississippi River Basin through the water treatment and discharge process.
How can Governor Snyder stop the diversion and solve the health risks?
The city of Waukesha sought permission through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact to withdraw water directly from the Great Lakes Basin (Lake Michigan, specifically) to eliminate the public health threat of radium poisoning. The State of Michigan, one of eight member states in the Compact, voted yes to stop the current diversion of Great Lakes water to the Mississippi River with the specific conditions that all of the water withdrawn will be treated and returned to the Great Lakes. This will help prevent the current net loss of 1.6 million gallons per day from the Great Lakes.
What conditions did Gov. Snyder require in order to protect the Great Lakes?
To ensure the water is indeed withdrawn and returned to the Great Lakes, Gov. Rick Snyder insisted that numerous conditions be included in the proposal that the Compact members approved unanimously. Among these are:
- Limiting the service area and the amount of water that can be withdrawn
- Prohibiting the city from using its deep wells again
- Requiring the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to prevent other groundwater pumping or withdrawals that would reverse the benefits created by using Lake Michigan water directly
- Requiring approximately 100% return flow from Waukesha back to the Great Lakes
- Requiring that all water discharged from Waukesha be in full compliance with state and federal law and be scientifically monitored to minimize any potential adverse impact to the Great Lakes
- Requiring the city to implement a pharmaceutical and personal care products recycling program to reduce the release of these products into the water
- Requiring annual reporting on the amount of water withdrawn and the amount returned to the Great Lakes
- Establishing audit capabilities and enforcement actions that allow any member state of the Compact to conduct audits on Waukesha’s activities and enforce the established conditions
Who voted ‘Yes’?
Representatives of the Governors from New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota voted Yes.
Who voted ‘No’?
No states voted no.
Now what happens?
The approval of the Waukesha request means:
- Creating real net benefits to the Great Lakes Basin by stopping the current loss of over a half billion gallons of water per year.
- Creating a sustainable, accessible, adequate and uncontaminated water supply for the people of Waukesha.
- Bringing an end to the extraction and dispersion of radium into the environment.
- Preventing adverse impacts on wetlands.