Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's In, What's Not

A few days ago, I learned that quagga mussels are “in” so to speak and zebra mussels are “so yesterday”.

On another in and out topic, I knew that the issue of diverting water out of Lake Michigan to Pleasant Prairie was a last century issue, having been decided several years ago. More this century is the decision of whether to divert water to Waukesha, which is also out of the Great Lakes Basin. That is an on going debate, and in terms defined by the Great Lakes Compact, which was signed in December 2008, all states and provinces in the compact have to agree to the diversion. You can see where that would get to be a complicated and time-consuming legal battle.

I did not know until the other day that another Wisconsin community has applied to divert water. That community, New Berlin, is neither in nor out of the basin. It is what is called a “straddling” community. The city of New Berlin seeks an exemption from the Compact, which states that water cannot be diverted out of the basin except with limited exceptions. Because part of New Berlin is within the basin, only the State of Wisconsin, not the other compact members, need approve the diversion. Still it is not a straightforward decision and at least two conservation groups are against New Berlin’s plan as it has been proposed.

The Great Lakes Compact was designed to protect Great Lakes water but already is being challenged by communities in need of water who see themselves as pretty darn close to the Great Lakes. But the protection of the watershed is not a “no brainer” even for straddling communities. The community needs to establish need and that there is no other “reasonable water source” available. The community must provide a detailed plan to protect rivers, creeks, and wetlands. It needs to minimize the amount of water taken out and maximize the amount returned to the lake. You can read more about the New Berlin plan, including a 55-page letter from city officials responding to questions, on the Wisconsin DNR website.

Whether New Berlin is in or not, one cannot help but wonder, as in the case of the invasive mussels, what’s next? Will it be a community outside the basin or a straddler? New Berlin is the first test of the Great Lakes Compact. I don’t expect it will be the last. What will next year’s “last year’s” issue be?

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