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Great Lakes guardians must be vigilant

Photo by Richard Thomas

In 2008, a very important binational agreement, the Great Lakes Compact, was made between eight northern states and two Canadian provinces. Passed by Congress, the agreement between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as Ontario and Quebec, was a way to safeguard the greatest body of freshwater lakes in the world and to ensure only communities within the Great Lakes basin could withdraw water from the lakes.

But in 2013, the city of Waukesha — which is 17 miles west of Lake Michigan but not within the Great Lakes Basin — applied for permission to withdraw water from the lake. The city had experienced high levels of radium in its water and was forced to find an alternate source by the year 2018. The reason the city of 70,000 could even make a case for diversion is because exceptions to the Great Lakes Compact can be made for communities located in counties that straddle the hydrological divide between the Great Lakes and other watersheds. Waukesha met these conditions.

It would take an affirmative vote by every member of the Great Lakes Compact to agree to let Waukesha begin drawing water from the lakes. Many suspected that Gov. Mark Dayton might be that deciding vote. But after intense negotiations and an agreement that Waukesha would draw 8.2 million gallons per day (as opposed to the 38 million gallons initially proposed), all states and provinces voted in late June of this summer to allow Waukesha to proceed.

This sets a bad precedent. As Duluthians, we sit on the shores of the largest body of freshwater in the world. Not only are we stewards of this incredible natural resource, we are also its guardians. Much has been done to safeguard these lakes and we spend millions of dollars each year preserving our other bodies of water. It is important that Waukesha does not become the starting point for countless other "exceptions" to the rule.

Part of the beauty of being a Minnesotan is not having to worry about where we'll get water. As Minnesotans, we are willing to offer help where needed. But we also have a duty — an obligation — to stand our ground and protect our precious water resources.

I am disappointed that the Waukesha diversion project has cleared this major hurdle. However, I am also encouraged by the many advocates and organizations who will be closely watching Waukesha to ensure it abides by the agreements set forth by the compact. And while my time as a legislator is drawing to a close, I encourage others to remain vigilant and support opportunities to keep Great Lakes waters in the Great Lakes. As a citizen, I will be doing the same.

Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate.

Roger Reinert

Roger Reinert is a Duluth resident.