17.2.08

THE TRAGEDY OF DEFINING THE COMMONS. If there is to be a water war, it could start in our back yard. There is a procedure for what the states so delicately call a "diversion" of water from the Great Lakes. There are some amendments being considered.
The existing law already requires unanimous governor approval for Great Lakes diversions, and some states will see a switch away from that as a step backward in Great Lakes protection. The Wisconsin legislators say they only want to change the compact so the diversions require a majority vote, rather than a unanimous vote, but compact proponents say the results could be disastrous.
It seems like a small detail, although the situation is not one where perfect is the enemy of good enough.

[David] Naftzger [of the Council of Great Lakes Governors] notes that the rules were drafted with input from business leaders, environmentalists and political leaders from both parties. He said the process included more than 60 public meetings and generated more than 13,000 public comments.

He said more than just the compact could be at stake here, because the existing rules governing diversions are considered by most to be too weak and arbitrary to withstand a court challenge - and such a challenge could lead to an opening of the Great Lakes floodgates. That's why passing the compact is so important to so many people.

But in order to prevent a court from granting Arizona, let alone southern parts of Illinois or Ohio from running water mains from the Lakes accompanied by treated sewage discharge to the Lakes, parts of Wisconsin almost in sight of the Lakes could be cut off.
[Wisconsin state representative Scott] Gunderson's district covers areas of Waukesha County, which has become famous in the debate over who should be allowed access to the Great Lakes because it is so close to the shores of Lake Michigan but just outside the basin. Many of its residents are in dire need of a fresh source of water because the wells they have historically relied upon are contaminated with radium, a naturally occurring but potentially cancer-causing substance.
One consequence of revising the compact, which defines property rights to the water, is that a decision to build mains and discharges once taken by Waukesha officials, perhaps with Wisconsin state funding, will now require consent of all eight governors of the Great Lakes states. The role of the two Canadian provinces has yet to be settled.

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