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Stalled Water Compact Progresses

Compromise is more like a few small tweaks

Apr. 16, 2008
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A new draft of the Great Lakes Basin Compact has been tentatively agreed to by Gov. Jim Doyle, Senate Democrats and once-reluctant Assembly Republicans. Heralded as a “compromise” when it was announced last week in New Berlin, the draft compact includes clearer rules on when communities would be allowed to take water out of the Great Lakes basin; preserves a Great Lakes governor’s one-vote veto over water diversions outside of the basin; and creates statewide conservation water guidelines.

Assembly Republicans had wanted to make more extensive changes to the compact—changes so extensive that all eight Great Lakes governors would have had to renegotiate the agreement. Legislatures in four of the eight Great Lakes states have already approved the current version of the compact.

Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) and state Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford) had attempted to work with Ohio Republicans to establish a majority veto rule, instead of the one-vote veto provision. But that Wisconsin-Ohio effort went nowhere.

“Without a doubt the biggest thing that we got done was beating back the attempt to change the compact itself,” said Patrick Henderson, deputy secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Rep. Gunderson said it himself last week at the press conference that that’s a major give by him. The compact itself didn’t change. The biggest change is what didn’t happen.”

Henderson said he felt Assembly Republicans wanted to clarify language in the compact so that they felt more confident about supporting the agreement. “A lot of it was education,” Henderson said.

Although details are still being hammered out and amendments will most likely be offered by individual legislators, Henderson said the current draft of the compact includes the following provisions: Long-distance diversions out of the Great Lakes basin are banned.

All water taken out of the Great Lakes must be returned to the Great Lakes basin and the discharged water must meet all current water quality standards. Mukwonago, a community that straddles both Waukesha County and Walworth County, would be able to apply for Great Lakes water. Its application could be vetoed by one governor.

Because a portion of it lies within the Great Lakes basin, New Berlin would be able to get permission for water diversions from the state DNR. It would not be subject to the onegovernor veto after the compact passes. Waukesha County and other “straddling counties” that are partially within the Great Lakes basin would continue to have their water requests subject to the one-governor veto.

Water conservation programs would be mandatory within the Great Lakes basin and optional outside of the basin. But communities that apply for Great Lakes water would have to implement a water conservation program before making a water request.

Gov. Doyle has called a special session for the Legislature to take up the compact on April 17, although Henderson said it seemed unlikely that the Legislature would debate the compact on that date.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.


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