Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Quiet' plan to tap Lake Michigan shut down

The first line of the story set off alarms:
A quiet bid by New Berlin and state officials to expand the community's access to Lake Michigan water was struck down this week by the governor of Michigan, an indication that the feel-good push by the eight Great Lakes governors to tighten laws protecting the world's largest freshwater system could soon turn ugly.
A quiet bid? How in the world could a request to divert Lake Michigan water, a hotly-debated and highly-publicized issue, be "quiet?"
New Berlin, facing a Dec. 8 federal deadline to stop pumping the radium-laced well water, opted to take the governors up on their apparent offer and this spring quietly filed an application with the state to pump lake water into every city home.
It was so quiet that the City of Milwaukee didn't even know about it. When the city found out, it understandably wasn't happy:
Milwaukee didn't learn about the application until early this week, when an engineering consultant contacted Milwaukee's water department on behalf of New Berlin about purchasing additional lake water, said Patrick Curley, Barrett's chief of staff.

"It's not the Doyle administration's water to barter," Curley said. "The application should have been a transparent process."

Curley also questioned why the state DNR, which helped with the application, didn't inform Milwaukee officials about the proposal.

"If it was such a great idea, where are all the press releases?" Curley asked.
Michigan has a law requiring disclosure of diversion applications from other Great Lakes states: On Wednesday, Gov. Jennifer Granholm's office said she would not consider it.

In a release on June 28, Granholm said Michigan law prohibits such diversions, and new Great Lakes water usage rules and procedures have yet to be approved by any of the Great Lakes state legislature.

All eight US Great Lakes states are required to approve a diversion like New Berlin's; political and environmental observers have said that any diversion approval will establish a precedent, making it impossible to turn aside other applications from communities both near and far.

The Great Lakes contain 20% of the world's fresh surface waters - - supplies that are sure to be in growing demand as populations grow and warming temperatures lower lake levels.

Like some other Waukesha communities, New Berlin is under federal orders to provide drinking water without naturally-occurring radium.

There's another interesting twist to the "quiet" New Berlin application, according to Jim Rowen, a consultant who works on water policy issues:

The application was put together for New Berlin by the Waukesha consulting firm Ruekert/Mielke. That firm is also the consultant to SEWRPC, the regional planning commission, which is conducting a regional study that includes the possible endorsement of diversions to solve some communities' drinking water problems.

SEWRPC said in response to an inquiry that using Ruckert/Mielke to study diversions while Ruekert/Mielke had assisted New Berlin write its application for a diversion did not harm the SEWRPC study's neutrality.

State officials have said privately for years that Michigan, regardless of which party or person controls that state's governor's office, would block all Wisconsin and other states' diversion requests.

The implication of that belief is that it effectively cedes control and decision-making over Wisconsin water supply policies to neighboring Michigan and that state's historically-strong support for Great Lakes water preservation.

In response to the Michigan letter, Doyle said the state would continue to work with New Berlin in its efforts to bring Lake Michigan water to its western residents and businesses that now get drinking water from municipal wells.

The article makes Gov. Jim Doyle sound like a booster of the water diversion:
"We're working with lawyers to determine if New Berlin's request actually is a diversion," Doyle said.

New Berlin Mayor Jack F. Chiovatero said he was still optimistic.

"I'm really hoping that Gov. Doyle will go back and talk to (Granholm) and try to work out some of her concerns. I do not find this discouraging at this time. We're still going to push forward and hope that we can get our application around to the rest of the governors."
Whatever the lawyers call it, New Berlin wants to take 4 million gallons of water a day out of the lake. And if New Berlin gets the OK, the floodgates will literally be open for other communities to tap the Great Lakes, too.

The tone of the Journal Sentinel article makes it sound like the rejection was a surprise: "Gee, the governors said they were going to consider new rules and maybe give some water to communities that straddle the Great Lakes basin, but now they've said no to New Berlin" which was simply "taking the governors up on their apparent offer."

The new compact, rules and regulations haven't even been approved yet. When they are, they are far from an open-ended offer to send billions of gallons of water to the suburbs.

If Wisconsin's position is to be all for the diversions, and hope that Michigan or some other state serves as the safety valve and shuts off unreasonable requests, it's time for Bucky to go back to the drawing board and develop a policy of its own. Maybe post-election?

UPDATE: Gretchen Schuldt, the Story Hill website, and Jim Rowen have more.


At 2:23 PM, Blogger Jim Rowen said...

Xoff's suggestion at the end of the posting makes the DNR/New Berlin sneak attack even more ironic: the legislature had recently announced the formation of a Leg Council study committee, with the expectation that it would devote much of 2007 to working on Great Lakes issues for Wisconsin - - including diversions.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger J.J. said...

How ironic and outrageous. Todd Ambs and the WDNR have spent the last few years trumpeting how wonderfully open and broad the public involvement process has been for the Great Lakes Compact.

Now in one fell swope the WDNR's top secret diversion plan has destroyed all of their credibility on the issue. What were they thinking? That no one would find out?

At 9:31 PM, Blogger Spotlight said...

So we have to look across the very Lake that Doyle and New Berlin (and probably Waukesha and their cronies at the SEWRPC, too) were willing to use for political purposes, to Michigan?

Michigan. That bastion of open, sensible government. Where people believe in protecting the environment.

I guess the Wisconsin Idea has become the Michigan Idea.


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