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U.S. plan to draw from Great Lakes called 'wrong decision'

File photo courtesy: Wikipedia

File photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 4:00 PM -

The Mayor of Leamington, Ont. is calling the recently-approved plan to draw water from Lake Michigan the "wrong decision." On Tuesday, a group of eight U.S. officials voted to allow Waukesha, Wisconsin town to begin drawing 30 million litres of water a day from the lake for drinking water.

Mayor John Paterson immediately took to Twitter to voice his discontent, calling the recent decision "the end of the Great Lakes as we know them."

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"This should not be allowed," he told the CBC.

"I'm really disappointed it happened. That was unexpected. I actually thought the governor of Michigan was going to side with us. He even bailed."

Meanwhile, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, defended his in-favour vote, arguing the initiative is "the best way to conserve" Lake Michigan.

According to a statement on Gov. Snyder's website, the agreement will require the city to follow strict withdrawal conditions, which include:

  • Ensuring close to 100 percent of the water borrowed is restored to the lake
  • Implementing a pharmaceuticals and personal care products recycling program for the returned water
  • Protecting wetland habitats, and
  • Conducting environmental monitoring with mandatory reporting.

Starting in 2005, Canada and the U.S. have been setting up measures to protect the Great Lakes. Currently, diversions from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin are banned, with limited exceptions.

Waukesha, a state-side community of about 70,000, has become the fist community granted an exception to divert. The city argues that while it is located outside of the boundary of the Great Lakes basin, it belongs to a county attached to it and should therefore have access to the lake.

Waukesha has been asking for permission to draw from Lake Michigan because its aquifer is running low and what's left is contaminated with high levels of naturally-occurring radium, a known carcinogen.

Over the past few months Ontario officials have expressed a "number of concerns" with the proposal, prompting the city to revise its submission.

“We appreciate the scaling back of this proposal in part thanks to pressure from Ontario,” Bob Duncanson, executive director of Georgian Bay Association, a group representing 20 cottage associations, told the Toronto Star.

“But we still feel that it sets a bad precedent for protection of the finite water resources in the Great Lakes ... despite the fact they look like large bodies of water, they don’t replenish easily.”

“The Government of Ontario has identified a number of concerns relating to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource's [DNR] explanation of how Waukesha satisfies the ‘straddling county’ exception,”  Jason Travers, director of the natural resources conservation policy branch at Ontario’s ministry of natural resources, wrote earlier this year.

The province is also concerned potential impacts of the water diversion have not been sufficiently studied.

“Based on Ontario’s analysis of the proposal, additional information regarding wastewater return flow and water quality discharge standards is required to evaluate aspects of the proposal,” Travers said, according to CP.


Concerns on both sides of the border

Residents in Great Lakes communities in both Canada and the U.S. have reportedly expressed concern about the plan, with some arguing an approval could set a dangerous precedent.

“The Government of Ontario is concerned with the potential precedent that would be set if the proposal were to be approved without adequate demonstration that all communities in the defined service area have met each criterion of the standard,” Travers wrote.

“The issue of increasing radium concentrations in public groundwater water supplies is occurring up and down eastern Wisconsin and is therefore not restricted to just Waukesha. The Waukesha water diversion proposal is only one part of a bigger water demand scenario that the

province of Ontario should be prepared to address in the future.”

According to a government website for the state of Wisconsin, Waukesha submitted its original application to divert water in May 2010.

"Over the last five years the DNR conducted an extensive technical review, requested additional information and worked with the City on modifications to the application to meet the Compact review criteria," the website says.

The Great Lakes supports approximately 33 million people, with an economic output of $5.8 trillion in 2014, according to the Toronto Star.

Sources: The Canadian Press (via the Toronto Star) | State of Wisconsin | CBC | Gov. Rick Snyder


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