MILWAUKEE (AP) — 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 about transparency.
The decision in 2010 gave the Kenosha County village 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.
Peter Annin, a journalist who directs the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College in Ashland, calls attention to the decision in his revised 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 parts of the village outside the Lake Michigan basin. Those places 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 to 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 spot 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 case in Pleasant Prairie, said he was never told by staff workers that the village would be in line for a major increase in water from Lake Michigan.
Ambs, now the director of Healing our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, 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,” Annin said.
Molly Flanagan, vice president of policy for the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, said lawyers for the organization are evaluating the Pleasant Prairie case for possible violations of the compact.