Our Great Lakes hold 21 percent of all the world’s fresh surface water. Wisconsin has over 1,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. More than half our population lies within its watershed. The lakes provide us with many opportunities for recreation, commerce, transportation and immeasurable occasions to enjoy their immense beauty.
Folks are worried about protecting our Great Lakes, particularly when the state rushed through, about a year ago, a very large corporate subsidy to a Taiwanese company. David Hon of Eau Claire was one of many who wrote, “The environmental exemptions proposed are unfair to the companies that have had to struggle through permitting for good reason. … (Environmental protections) are there to protect what little is left of natural resources in that part of the state. I’m concerned the Great Lakes Compact would be substantially violated.”
The Great Lakes Compact protects our Great Lakes. This agreement between the states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes is enshrined in law.
Wisconsin recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the signing of this law.
Across the world, citizens worry about where their water will come from and how it will be kept clean. Fear that others would look to divert the water from the Great Lakes inspired leaders to collaborate to protect our region’s incredible water resource. Leaders of areas bordering the Great Lakes formed an agreement between eight states and two Canadian provinces.
The anniversary of the Great Lakes Compact is a great opportunity to remember why this arrangement exists and how we all benefit. It also reminds us of the challenges we face while protecting our Great Lakes.
According to Bridge, a publication of the Center for Michigan, the Great Lakes Compact was forged over five years. The compact was approved by all eight states bordering the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin State Senate took up the compact on May 15, 2008. I recall, as a rookie senator, reading the 250-page bill. Next to the state budget, the compact was one of the most complex pieces of legislation I voted on. The compact was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 3, 2008.
The Great Lakes Compact was not limited to just protecting what we have, but it was also designed to improve the lakes. This work is accomplished through Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Strategy and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. According to the Great Lakes Commission, more than $330 million was invested for more than 400 protection and restoration projects in Wisconsin.
A new report coordinated by the University of Michigan and a host of economists and others showed that every dollar invested in the Great Lakes Initiative project produced $3.35 of additional economic activity.
The benefits come back to us in many ways, including recreation, tourism, and commercial navigation. Study authors pointed to an “emergence of a new type of tourism focused on kayaking, kitesurfing and paddle-boarding; improved quality of life, as indicated by a willingness to pay more for housing in coastal areas; and increases in the number of young people who are choosing to stay in or relocate to Great Lakes communities.”
Among many parts of that 250-page bill, the compact stops new or increased diversions of water from outside of the Great Lakes watershed. One exception is for communities where part of the community is inside the Great Lakes basin. These communities are known to “straddle” the watershed border.
The Foxconn deal challenges this agreement.
Almost 10 years to the day of the compact’s passage in Wisconsin, environmental groups filed a formal legal challenge that Wisconsin violated the requirements of the compact with the Foxconn deal. In addition to this challenge, both New York and Illinois raised questions about the nearly six million gallons a day that Foxconn is expected to withdraw from Lake Michigan.
Our Great Lakes Compact is “regarded as one of the most significant public water policy achievements in the world,” author Peter Annin recently told Bridge. “You wouldn’t even be grappling with these questions (of Foxconn) if you didn’t have the compact.”
Congratulations to all those who worked on the compact in 2008, including the DNR, advocacy groups, lawmakers, and Governor Doyle. Join me in learning more by reading Mr. Annin’s book, The Great Water Wars.