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June 26, 2016

Waukesha Pipeline Sets Great Lakes Compact Precedent

On June 21, 2016, representatives from New York and seven other Great Lakes states unanimously approved a measure allowing Waukesha, Wisconsin a municipality located outside the Great Lakes watershed to divert water from Lake Michigan for use in its community. Waukesha's application required approval from the governors of each member state in the Great Lakes Compact. See Great Lakes states approve water diversion for Waukesha, Wis., T.J. Pignataro, Buffalo News, June 21, 2016.

The Great Lakes Compact prohibits diverting water from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin to areas beyond counties straddling the drainage basin under any circumstances. Waukesha is 1.5 miles west of the basin divide, but it is in a straddling county so it was eligible under the Compact to ask for lake water to solve public health or environmental problems. Local officials asked to use Lake Michigan's water because groundwater in their community is contaminated with radium.

A number of environmental groups in New York had urged Governor Cuomo to veto the plan. See Green groups urge Cuomo to veto Great Lakes water diversion, Capitol Pressroom and Brian Mann, North Country Public Radio, April 27, 2016. Elizabeth Moran with Environmental Advocates of New York, said Waukesha had other options. She said, "They can treat the radium in their water. They don't have to have the water from the Great Lakes. That's a key part of the compact, evaluating that every option has been looked at. Waukesha hasn't done that."

Opponents argued that the diversion would set a precedent for future withdrawals from the Great Lakes and risked nearby communities with wastewater returns. "Whatever decision that Governor Cuomo will make or all the Great Lakes governors will . . . set a precedent for whatever future application of Great Lakes water may come. So we want to make sure that precedent is the right one," said Marc Smith, policy director with the National Wildlife Federation.

The precedent has now been set.

Posted by Rachel Treichler 06/26/16.



Copyright 2016, Rachel Treichler



About NY Water Law

New York Water Law covers legal developments relating to water usage in New York and in jurisdictions that may be influential in New York. The author, Rachel Treichler, practices law in the Finger Lakes region.
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