Great Lakes Compact – Friend or Foe

Written by on May 14, 2018. Posted in Water

In April 2018, Wisconsin granted permission to the City of Racine to divert water from Lake Michigan outside of the Great Lakes water basin. The diversion of water is not for drinking water and instead to service a Foxconn factory to make LCD screens. It is estimated that approximately 7 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan will be diverted to serve the Foxconn facility.

The electronics company from Taiwan proposes the construction of a flat-screen facility in Mount Pleasant which is situated approximately 30 miles south of Milwaukee and 60 miles north of Chicago. Racine requested permission from the Department of Natural Resources to divert water from Lake Michigan to serve the facility.

Environmental Groups are reviewing the approval to determine whether or not it violates the Great Lakes Compact. The Great Lakes Compact is an agreement among Great Lake states and Canadian provinces that governs and oversees how water from the Great Lakes can be used. The concern is that the City of Rancine’s application for the diversion of the water clearly indicated that none of the diverted water from Lake Michigan would be used for public purposes as required by the Great Lakes Compact and applicable state laws.

The Great Lakes Compact also requires that all water diverted from Lake Michigan must be returned minus the amount lost to evaporation or what is used by the manufacturing process. The City of Rancine has requested that 7 millions of water daily be diverted; 4.3 million gallons would be returned to the Great Lakes in the form of treated wastewater resulting in approximately 2.7 million gallons being consumed and not returned to the lake. All of the waste water from the manufacturing process would return to the wastewater treatment facility and then the Lake.

The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (“Great Lakes Compact”) is a legally binding interstate compact among the U.S. states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Great Lakes Compact details how these states manage the use of the Great Lakes Basin’s water supply and builds on the 1985 Great Lakes Charter and its 2001 Annex. The Great Lakes Compact is the mechanism for the states to implement the governors’ commitments under the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement that includes the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec. However, Ontario and Quebec (in addition to the named states under the Great Lakes Compact) were not provided an opportunity to comment on the water diversion application.

The effects of this decision could have wide-reaching effects in Ontario. The amount of water being requested by Foxconn is approximately the same amount that most of Ontario relies upon. In addition, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are interconnected to such an extent that hydrologically they are considered as a single body of water. If water levels in these lakes are lowered, 90 percent of the population of Ontario and 40 percent of the Canada’s economic activity could be adversely impacted.

Recently the water levels of Lake Michigan and Huron reached a historic low point. The application for the diversion of the water assumes that Wisconsin is not required to consult with the other Great Lake states and provinces let along seek their approval. There should be some type of a mechanism whereby Ontario and Quebec can review and if necessary reverse this decision to ensure the protection of the quality and quantity of water in the Great Lakes basin. If such a review cannot be conducted under the Great Lakes Compact it arguably has failed to meet its intended purpose.