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Great Lakes mayors challenge Waukesha water diversion

National Park Service

Mayors of 123 American and Canadian cities are challenging a Wisconsin city’s plan to divert water from Lake Michigan. This is in direct opposition to the Great Lakes governors who approved the precedent-setting request in June. 

A provision in the Great Lakes Compact allows counties bordering the Great Lakes Basin to request water in extraordinary circumstances.  Waukesha applied for Lake Michigan water six years ago because city wells are laced with radium.

But a group of mayors in the U.S. and Canada want a hearing to challenge that plan. Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson is one of them.

“While we are sympathetic to a community that may have problems with the delivery of drinking water, that has to be balanced against other communities,” said Hicks-Hudson.

Hicks-Hudson says Waukesha's plan needs more review because water diversion is such an important issue. Waukesha would be the first community outside of the Great Lakes basin to receive its water since a 2008 agreement meant to protect the five lakes. 

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly says his city will not significantly impact the Great Lakes.

“Waukesha will borrow less than one, one millionth of 1 percent of Great Lakes water,” said Reilly.

The Compact Council, which approved Waukesha's plan, has not responded to the mayors, a spokesman said Monday.

The group of mayors also asked President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the International Joint Commission, the organization that resolves water-related conflicts, to stop the diversion.

The commission does not have a role in the dispute, a spokesman said Monday.

Reporter/producer Elizabeth Miller joined ideastream after a stint at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., where she served as an intern on the National Desk, pitching stories about everything from a gentrified Brooklyn deli to an app for lost dogs. Before that, she covered weekend news at WAKR in Akron and interned at WCBE, a Columbus NPR affiliate. Elizabeth grew up in Columbus before moving north to attend Baldwin Wallace, where she graduated with a degree in broadcasting and mass communications.
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