February 20, 2008

Great Lakes Compact

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Wisconsin residents have a historic opportunity in the coming weeks.  After years of dialogue and negotiation, a bill version of the Great Lakes Compact is finally before our Legislature.  Wisconsin will be the last state in the Great Lakes region to take up enacting the Compact.  But as the old saying goes, it’s better late than never.

 

The Senate version of the Compact that was introduced last week is aggressive and responsible, but also fair.  It ensures that water taken from the Great Lakes is cleaned and replaced once it’s been used.  It limits the potential for water to be diverted from the lakes to other areas.  It protects our lakes without harming our economy.

The Great Lakes maintain a $15 billion economy.  In Milwaukee, Great Lakes shipping and industry employ hundreds of workers.  Further, Great Lakes-related tourism channels millions of dollars more into Wisconsin businesses.

But even the Great Lakes have limits.  Only 1% of Great Lakes water is annually renewed; anything we consume outside of that is gone for good.  If we’re not careful to limit consumption and diversion of the lakes’ water, they might be sucked dry.  Plummeting lake levels would decimate our economy and our ecosystems, two reasons why 80% of Wisconsinites support the current Compact.

Some Republicans seem willfully indifferent to these consequences.  In a recent open letter to the Ohio State Senate, two prominent Wisconsin Assembly Republicans said that they oppose the pact because it protects the Great Lakes aquifers and restricts outlying areas’ access to Great Lakes water.  They favor a less restrictive Compact that opens up the waters for increased consumption and diversion.

The proposed compromise Compact benefits a few outlying businesses and municipalities to the detriment of the vast majority of Wisconsinites.  The point of a Compact is to prevent businesses and municipalities from using water in a way that detracts from other Great Lakes communities.  That’s why the Senate version of the Compact restricts irresponsible water uses, ensures that people put back what they take, and protects the rivers and aquifers that supply the Great Lakes with water.  The compromise Compact achieves none of these goals.  It only makes it easier for overgrown communities and wasteful businesses to siphon off the Great Lakes, taking jobs, revenue, and environmental benefits from the rest of Wisconsin.

The compromise Compact is nothing more than an unconditional surrender pact for the Great Lakes.  It floats the idea that we can protect our lakes without making serious changes to the wasteful and irresponsible practices of the past.  It forces people around the state to pay a heavy price so that a handful of suburban communities might continue to expand.  Economically, ecologically, aesthetically, and climatologically, the compromise Compact is a losing proposition for our state. 

It’s estimated that water, not oil, will be the most precious resource on earth before the close of this century.  With that in mind, I pray that Wisconsin will seize this moment and protect Wisconsin’s natural fresh water supply by supporting the Senate’s Great Lakes Pact.  Our economy, our environment, and our children can’t afford that we do otherwise.