Great Lakes states to decide on thirsty city’s water plea

CHICAGO (AP) — Representatives of the eight states adjoining the Great Lakes prepared Tuesday to decide whether a city in the Milwaukee suburbs qualifies to tap Lake Michigan for its drinking water, a key test of a compact designed to prevent raids on the region’s abundant but vulnerable water supply.

Waukesha, Wisconsin, has submitted a $207 million plan to draw water from the lake, describing it as a necessity because the groundwater wells on which it has long relied are contaminated with radium. The city is only 17 miles from the lake but lies just outside the Great Lakes watershed.

The 2008 compact prohibits most diversions of water across the watershed boundary, but creates a potential exception for communities within counties that straddle the line. Waukesha is the first community to request water under that provision.

The city won a conditional endorsement last month from a panel representing the eight states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — plus the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. It required Waukesha to reduce the volume of water it would withdraw daily from 10.1 million gallons in its application to 8.2 million gallons, and to shrink the size of the area it would provide with Lake Michigan water.

But the final decision will be made by a council representing the eight states’ governors meeting Tuesday in Chicago. Unanimous approval is required. An objection by one state can scuttle Waukesha’s bid.

Local officials say the city would return as much water to the lake through its wastewater treatment system as it withdraws.

“Approval of Waukesha’s application would be no threat to the Great Lakes,” Mayor Shawn Reilly said.

Opponents say the city has other alternatives and approving its request could set a bad precedent.

“The most important part about this decision isn’t whether the city of Waukesha gets water or not,” said Molly Flanagan, vice president of policy for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “It’s whether it sets a strong enough bar for future communities that might look to get Great Lakes water.”

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