First Diversion of Great Lakes Water Granted Under New Protections

One of the most significant victories for the Great Lakes came in 2008 with a new agreement that included protections from diversions or withdrawals that could harm our waters. It’s called the Great Lakes Compact. Together with groups and community members from around the region, we succeeded in getting all eight Great Lakes States and the two Canadian provinces to pledge to protect the world’s largest supply of surface freshwater—the Great Lakes.

The hallmark of these protections is a ban on diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes watershed. However, there is one exception to this ban on diversion. That exception is for communities that are within a county that is part way in, but not all the way in, the Great Lakes watershed. Along with this limited exception is the requirement that the water be returned to the Great Lakes watershed after it is used.

The Compact faced its first real test from such a town in Wisconsin called Waukesha. This community asked for diversions because its groundwater is contaminated with radium. However, Freshwater Future along with groups around the region didn’t find that the original request met the strict requirements of the Compact. Together with these groups we asked that the application be denied and helped 11,000 citizens voice their concerns to the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers.

There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that on June 21st, the Great Lakes Governors voted to grant their request to divert 8.2 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day. The good news is that the provinces and states took their role seriously, thanks in part to the many people who voiced their concerns, and worked hard to ensure additional conditions were placed on the approval of the application—most importantly that all water taken must be put back. With recent drinking water crises in Flint, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio, people are increasingly recognizing how fragile a resource clean water is. Freshwater Future continues to work hard to ensure that the intent of the Great Lakes Compact is followed along with other measures that protect 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater.