Ontario concerned with Wisconsin city’s proposal to draw water from Great Lakes

Lake Michigan

A Wisconsin city’s request to draw water from the Great Lakes is raising concerns among communities within the basin and the province of Ontario.

If the plan were approved, water would be diverted from Lake Michigan to the city of Waukesha, because its own aquifer is running low and the water is contaminated with high levels of radium.

Currently, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec as well as eight U.S. states have a regional agreement that was signed to protect the waters within the basin. The agreement effectively bans communities from diverting water from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River, with small exceptions when certain conditions are met.

According to recent reports, Waukesha is hoping to become the exception to that rule. The city of 70,000 has argued that although it’s located outside the Great Lakes basin, it’s part of a county that straddles the boundary line, and therefore should be allowed to access the lakes’ water.

The city is promising to return the treated water back to Lake Michigan, but the Toronto Star says the proposal is still worrying Canadian and American communities around the Great Lakes. Many of its opponents are concerned about the precedent this sets for other communities facing water shortages, and in a technical review of the diversion application, this was a major issue for the province of Ontario as well.

The Great Lakes support a total of 33 million people and provide drinking water to 8.5 million Canadians. Considering these figures, it’s not hard to see why the province is concerned that Waukesha’s request is only the beginning of many like it.

“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 review stated. “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 reports, the review also found that although Waukesha doesn’t have a proper supply of potable water, it’s not yet evident whether or not the surrounding communities involved in the diversion are also in need of water.

Overall, the province’s analysis found the potential impacts of the proposal have not been sufficiently assessed. Its review will be considered at a meeting scheduled for mid-April, but Ontario and Quebec will not be part of the final vote on Waukesha’s request.