Book: Wisconsin quietly OK'd Lake Michigan water diversion

A decision by Wisconsin officials eight years ago to approve a big, new allotment of water from Lake Michigan to Pleasant Prairie is raising questions of transparency.

The 2010 decision gave the Kenosha County community on the Illinois border the right to tap millions of gallons of more water a day for years to come. The move by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was made in the final year of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration.

Journalist Peter Annin highlights details of the decision in his updated book, "The Great Lakes Water Wars." The book will be re-released Oct. 3 to mark the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Great Lakes Compact, which bars water diversions outside the basin in most cases.

Under the decision, the water will go to areas of the village outside the Lake Michigan basin. Those areas have struggled with radium and shrinking groundwater supplies.

The DNR told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the agency was following Wisconsin law. Officials increased the upper limit of water available for Pleasant Prairie from 3.2 million gallons a day to 10.69 million gallons a day. All the water taken has to be returned to Lake Michigan.

That additional 7.49 million gallons a day is nearly as much as the 8.2 million gallons a day that Great Lakes Compact council members granted to the city of Waukesha in 2016.

Pleasant Prairie is not using that water yet. Last year, its average daily diversion of Lake Michigan water was 2.49 million gallons a day, according to DNR figures.

But the village's location at the edge of the Chicago metro area, and 20 minutes from Foxconn Technology Group's industrial complex now under development in southeastern Wisconsin, gives Pleasant Prairie a strategic edge.

"To me, it's a pretty significant marketing advantage — an economic advantage for them," said David Strifling, director of Marquette University Law School's Water Law and Policy Initiative.

Todd Ambs, the DNR water division administrator for much of the time the agency was working on the Pleasant Prairie case, said he was never told by staff that the village would be in line for a major increase in water from Lake Michigan.

Ambs said he would have pressed for more openness.

"I don't think it was envisioned that states would unilaterally increase water diversions by millions of gallons a day and not announce it publicly," said Annin, who is now director of Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

Molly Flanagan, vice president of policy for the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, said attorneys for the organization are evaluating the Pleasant Prairie case for potential violations of the compact.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com