For several years now, it’s been clear that Wisconsin would be a key battleground in passing the Great Lakes compact. This is because many of the wealthy, fast-growing communities in suburban Milwaukee are just outside of the Great Lakes basin watershed divide, and those communities want Lake Michigan water. Current federal law prohibits them from getting Great Lakes water without the approval of all of the region’s governors – a long shot at best. The Great Lakes compact would also subject these near-basin community diversion proposals to unanimous approval, but the approval decision must be based on water conservation and environmental protection standards and is subject to judicial review. The compact thus opens the door, just a bit, to Great Lakes diversions to communities just outside the basin divide. This is a fair compromise, further justified by the hydrologic reality that the groundwater these communities currently rely on is connected to the Great Lakes.
A good compromise does not always make for good politics, and for several years consensus on the compact in Wisconsin proved elusive. When the Wisconsin legislative session ended this year without any final action on the compact, it looked like Wisconsin would be the hold-out state preventing the compact from going to Congress. But now we get a wonderful reminder that sometimes political leaders can come together for the greater good. As reported by Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Governor Doyle and legislative leaders announced that a deal had been reached to support the compact’s passage. Governor Doyle will convene a special legislative session next week so the compact can be passed, and Wisconsin will join four other states (Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and New York) in doing its part to protect the Great Lakes.
The Wisconsin breakthrough also leaves the Ohio state senate, and in particular Ohio state senator Tim Grendell, as the lone ideological hold-out opposing the compact. Senator Grendell announced yesterday that he would drop his opposition to the compact if Ohio passed a constitutional amendment protecting property rights in water. I’ll wait to see the details of Senator Grendell’s proposal, but on first glance it seems like a risky and unnecessary stalling tactic.