2014 Briefing Recap: Water Wars in the Great Lakes

On Friday, December 5, 2014, NEMWI’s Great Lakes Washington Program hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on the status of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact). The 110th Congress ratified the Compact to protect Great Lakes water from being overdrawn to the point of negatively affecting the livelihoods and environment of the region. The Compact provides a system for review of proposed water withdrawals, with an approval process involving all eight Great Lakes states. A request for water withdrawal by the City of Waukesha, Wisconsin attracted renewed attention to the Compact process, and primarily, who does or does not have access to Great Lakes water.

Peter Annin, Managing Director of the Environmental Change Initiative at the University of Notre Dame and author of The Great Lakes Water Wars, placed the Great Lakes water diversion debate into historical, global and continental context. David Naftzger, Executive Director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, described the comprehensive development, implementation, and ongoing review of the Compact within the states, and the role of the U.S. Congress during ratification and now. In regards to the specific Waukesha application, he explained that the state of Wisconsin will first review the City of Waukesha’s request for water withdrawal. If the request is deemed “approvable” by the state, the other Great Lakes Governors, as well as the two Canadian Premiers of Ontario and Quebec in an advisory role, will review the case and determine if the requested withdrawal is consistent with the Compact.

Senate Great Lakes Task Force Co-Chairs Sens. Carl Levin (MI) and Mark Kirk (IL), Senate Vice-Chairs Sens. Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Rob Portman (OH), and House Great Lakes Task Force Co-Chairs Reps. Candice Miller (MI-10), John Dingell (MI-12), Sean Duffy (WI-07), and Louise Slaughter (NY-25) served as honorary co-sponsors of the briefing.