Be careful, Waukesha, Wisconsin. Some lawmakers have actually threatened to cash in their favors to the Michigan Militia to keep aquifer-drained areas from sticking a straw in Lake Michigan to compensate for a drained aquifer like you guys are. Waukesha, faced with a depleted aquifer and rising concentrations of carcinogenic radium in the water, is drafting plans to draw 9 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan. The problem? Even though they’re 27 miles from Lake Michigan, they’re still a mile and a half west of the Great Lakes watershed. They’re technically on the Mississippi side of the sub-continental divide. And remember that bit about the Michigan Militia?
“I would suspect we’d call up the militia and take up arms.” That’s an impassioned 2007 quote from Michigan Republican congressman Vern Ehlers during a national water policy debate that seemed to entertain the notion of Great Lakes water diversions to water-stressed regions of the country. Adding gasoline to the fire, Bill Richardson, presidential candidate and Governor of New Mexico, made the mistake of calling for a national water policy saying “I believe that Western states and Eastern states have not been talking to each other when it comes to proper use of our water resources, I want a national water policy… States like Wisconsin are awash in water.”
Just imagine the blaze of outrage in the Great Lakes states as a presidential candidate seemed to thirstily eye up the Great Lakes while whipping out a large straw.
Despite intractable political differences, you can safely bet Michigan lawmakers will come together as a phalanx on one thing: Protecting Great Lakes water supplies from outsiders. With Great Lakes levels already at historic lows, damaging ecosystems and threatening shipping, combined with news of drought and empty aquifers nationwide, there’s a very real concern about water diversions, sucked out from a pipeline to drought ravaged parts of the country.
That’s why in 2008 the eight Great Lakes states formed a legally binding Great Lakes Compact, joined by two Canadian provinces, Quebec and Ontario, to create a framework to manage water in the Great Lakes water basin. Basically, the Great Lakes Compact is part of an effort among Great Lakes states and provinces to protect the Great Lakes from water diversions. They can veto each other’s water diversion requests.
Cities like Waukesha have a pretty good case. They will be cleaning the waste-water and returning most of the water to the Great Lakes water shed. And better yet, they plan to return it via a drying river that’s been an important Wisconsin fish hatchery. The city’s proposal may be accepted.
But who’s next? What unbearable and cruel water shortage tragedy will come up next? Las Vegas? Phoenix? Climate change and drought are leaving whole regions with depleted aquifers. The Ogallala aquifer in the Texas panhandle is severely strained. Demand is on track to outstrip supply in Lake Mead and the Colorado River, already dangerously low. When national tragedy strikes and water levels evaporate, eyes will naturally fall on the six quadrillion gallons of fresh water we call the Great Lakes. With the city of Waukesha, that day has arrived.