Lake Michigan
Photo by Kenneth Keifer/

Wisconsin city’s proposal to draw water from Great Lakes approved

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A Wisconsin city has been given approval to draw water from the Great Lakes.

The city of Waukesha, which is home to about 70,000 people, will draw water from Lake Michigan, despite an agreement that was signed by surrounding provinces and states that bans diverting water from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin.

Waukesha’s proposal was brought forth months ago because its aquifer is running low and its water supply is contaminated with high levels of naturally occurring radium. City officials argued that although they’re located outside the Great Lakes basin, they’re part of a county that straddles the boundary line, and therefore should be allowed to access the lake’s water. They also promised to return treated water to the lake.

Despite these conditions, the idea was met with resistance by both Canadian and American critics, who warned that it would set a precedent for other communities facing water shortages. When the province of Ontario conducted a technical review of the proposal earlier this year, they found that the potential impacts of the request had not been sufficiently assessed, and it seems their views haven’t changed.

“We remain apprehensive about the diversion by Waukesha and will continue to voice the concerns of Ontarians,” Jason Travers, director of the National Resources Conservation Policy Branch at Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources, recently told the Toronto Star.

But Ontario and Quebec were not part of the final vote, and after a series of amendments to the proposal, representatives of the eight states bordering the Great Lakes approved the request at a meeting on Tuesday.

Following the decision, John Paterson, the mayor of Leamington, Ontario, expressed his discontent on Twitter.

“This signals the end of the Great Lakes as we know them. The door has now been opened by irresponsible U.S. government officials,” he wrote.

According to the Star, Huron-Kinloss mayor Mitch Twolan is also frustrated with the decision. Twolan sits on the board of directors for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition that works to advance the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

The Initiative, which represents more than 100 local governments on both sides of the border, urged the state governors to reject the proposal. They argued that the amended service area was still too large, there was not enough public participation in the approval process and, as Ontario’s review pointed out, certain measures have not been analyzed closely enough.

“A lot of time, effort, and money has gone into making our Great Lakes beautiful and preserving the water quality,” Twolan told the Star. “And this is what can happen in a blink of an eye.”