This guest post is by Nick Schroeck, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. While Nick was just recently named Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, he has long been the lead attorney on this precedent-setting water diversion case. See my prior post for more background on the dispute and legal issues.
The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and the Wayne State Environmental Law Clinic won a legal victory that will help ensure that issues like invasive species are given careful consideration in proposed federal water projects. The federal District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that the Bureau of Reclamation must properly consider the consequences of an environmentally unwise and economically unsound water transfer project. The New York Times covered the decision, citing our brief.
The case involves the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) project, a proposed Bureau of Reclamation pipeline that would pump water from the Missouri River basin across the continental divide into Manitoba, Canada and the Hudson Bay basin for the purposes of supplying water to Minot, North Dakota. Conservationists were concerned about the proposal, not merely because it is a federal boondoggle which has already wasted taxpayer money, but due to the precedent that a trans-basin diversion on this scale, without proper environmental impact analysis, could set for the Great Lakes.
In 2005, the same court found the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial environmental analysis faulty and ordered them to properly evaluate the potential consequences of the proposed water transfer and to revisit their environmental impacts analysis. The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center has been working on the NAWS project for years as part of our work on transbasin water diversions. We submitted comments on the Bureau’s draft Environmental Impact Statement in January of 2008 citing some of our concerns regarding invasive species, population trends, lack of water conservation, and lack of international cooperation. In December of 2008, the Bureau issued a final Environmental Impact Statement on the project.
The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, along with the National Wildlife Federation, and their affiliates South Dakota Wildlife Federation and Minnesota Conservation Federation, filed a friend of the court (amicus) brief in the case last fall in support of Manitoba’s challenge of the final Environmental Impact Statement. In strong language, the Court again ruled that the Bureau failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by not adequately evaluating the potential ecological consequences of invasive species transfer from the Missouri River basin to the Hudson Bay basin. The Court went on to conclude that potential impacts to Canada’s waters must also be studied and that the Bureau failed to analyze cumulative impacts to the Missouri River system from the proposed diversion.
Pursuant to the Court’s March 5, 2010 ruling, the Bureau will now have to correctly analyze the consequences of this potentially disastrous project. The decision is also helpful in ensuring that the environmental review process set forth in NEPA is followed and that federally funded water diversions are given a very hard look prior to approval. Overall it’s a great win for the GLELC, the Wayne State Environmental Law Clinic, and for freshwater resources. Former clinic student Catherine Deciechi deserves huge credit for doing the heavy lifting on writing the brief under my supervision.