Milwaukee Biz Blog: MMAC backs Waukesha’s application for Lake Michigan water

Testimony from Thursday's public hearing

Editor’s note: Representatives of the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces visited Waukesha this week to learn more about the city’s application to use Lake Michigan water. A public hearing on the city’s water application was held Thursday at Carroll University. The following is testimony given at that hearing by Steve Baas, senior vice president of governmental affairs and public policy for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

On behalf to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), I am pleased to urge your favorable consideration of the City of Waukesha (Great Lakes) water diversion application.

The MMAC represents nearly 1,800 member companies employing more than 300,000 workers throughout the metropolitan Milwaukee area including Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties. MMAC’s vision statement calls for our organization to work to make the metro Milwaukee region globally competitive in an innovation economy. There are few public policy proposals that more directly and positively serve that vision than this request to provide a safe, sustainable, water supply to an area that is a one of the key economic drivers of our regional economy.

Waukesha water

Access to plentiful, safe water is one of the key economic advantages we boast as a region – both locally here in southeast Wisconsin and throughout the broader Great Lakes region.  In an effort to protect and maximize that advantage, the MMAC worked hard with local, state and regional policy makers to ensure approval of a Great Lakes Compact that prohibited water Great Lakes water diversions to counties outside of the Great Lakes Basin but allowed diversions applications within counties straddling the basin.

The Waukesha water diversion request is a key test for the compact.  The City of Waukesha has followed the requirements of the compact to the letter. Their diversion request follows a use, recycle, and return plan that will result in a zero-loss impact on the Great Lakes. It not only benefits Waukesha, but provides a benefit for Oak Creek as well by providing a market for the excess capacity they have in their water treatment infrastructure. In short, the Waukesha diversion request is a model for how intra-basin diversions can be and should be responsibly executed. While there are individuals and organizations that will oppose any water diversion, for any reason, under any conditions, their opposition to Waukesha’s request cannot be sustained by environmental rationale and is antithetical to the letter and the spirit of the Great Lakes Compact. Indeed, if the Waukesha proposal is rejected, it is hard to imagine any future diversion of Great Lakes water ever being approved under the compact, and would call into question the legitimacy of the compact itself.

Recently, right here in the Great Lakes region we have seen an unfortunate example of what can happen when critical water supply issues are decided by politics or parochialism rather than public health and sound science. The Waukesha water diversion request before you addresses a serious public health threat in a way that does not threaten Great Lakes water levels or water quality and that does not deplete our deep or shallow groundwater aquifers. The request strengthens our regional economy by deploying the economic advantage our abundant water resources give us in a responsible and sustainable way to facilitate continued job growth and development in Waukesha County. It also sets a responsible template for any future diversion proposals under the compact throughout the Great Lakes region. For these reasons, the MMAC urges prompt favorable consideration of this diversion request.

Steve Bass is senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

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