Schuette Asks for Further Review of Wisconsin City's Plan to Divert 10 Million Gallons of Water Per Day from Lake Michigan

March 31, 2016

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has issued formal notice to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors' and Premiers' Regional Body and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Resources Council to voice his concerns regarding the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin’s request to divert 10.1 million gallons of water per day from the Great Lakes basin.

The city of Waukesha is located outside the Great Lakes basin, in the Mississippi River basin.

“The Great Lakes are one of the greatest resources not only for Michigan, but for the entire country,” said Schuette. “Waukesha’s request to divert millions of gallons from Lake Michigan is very serious and unless the strict exception standard is met, should be denied. Our Great Lakes water resources are far too important to allow a major disruption without intensive research and an approval from all the Great Lakes states.”

The letter responds to the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin’s Water Diversion Application to the two bodies, as required by the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and the 2005 Great  Lakes  -  St. Lawrence  River  Basin Sustainable  Water  Resources  Agreement. Both the agreement and compact address preserving the Great Lakes and fostering  economic  development  through sustainable  management  of water  resources and  are  intended  to work  in concert.

A critical element of the agreements is a prohibition on diversion programs to areas outside the Great Lakes basin unless a very specific and narrowly defined set of exception standards are met.

The City of Waukesha must demonstrate that they:

  • Will use the water for a public water supply;
  • Will maximize the portion of water returned to the source watershed and minimize the return of water from outside that basin;
  • Are without an adequate supply of potable water;
  • Have no reasonable alternative water  supply within its own basin, including the possibility of meeting its own water demands through conservation efforts; and
  • Will not, by diverting water, endanger the integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem.

Since this request is the first of its kind, Schuette has a number of questions he is seeking to have answered in more detail, and is requesting that the City of Waukesha and State of Wisconsin answer the following before the bodies make final decisions on the plan:

  • Need and service area: The City proposes to divert Lake Michigan water for use not only by the City itself, but some other adjoining communities.  Do the other communities included in Waukesha's proposal actually lack an adequate supply of potable water and need the Lake Michigan water?  Is the larger water supply service area even a "Community within a Straddling County" eligible to apply for diversion under the Compact?
  • Alternatives: Is there a reasonable water supply alternative that would not require Lake Michigan water?
  • Return flow: Does Waukesha's proposal satisfy Compact requirements for maximizing return flow of Lake Michigan water? Does it include enforceable mechanisms ensuring that the full volume of water will actually be returned to Lake Michigan?
  • Protection of Great Lakes: Does the proposal ensure that there would be no significant adverse impacts to the Great Lakes? For example, will it ensure that invasive species, such as viruses, are not transferred into the Great Lakes through the return flows?