Thunder Bay

Tapping into Great Lakes may start 'water wars'

Thunder Bay's mayor says he'll fight an American city's bid to take Great Lakes water.

Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs objects to American town using Lake Michigan water

waves on the water (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Thunder Bay's mayor says he'll fight an American city's bid to take Great Lakes water.

Waukesha, Wisc. is located just a few kilometres from the shores of Lake Michigan, but the municipal boundaries fall outside the Great Lakes watershed.

It's fresh water supply is drying up and the city wants to use Lake Michigan for drinking water, but Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs said communities on the shores of the Great Lakes need to protect their water.

Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs. (Canadian Press)

"This is an issue that's kind of frightening for us," said Hobbs, who recently became chair of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

"We're already looking at low water levels in Lake Michigan, Lake Huron. And those levels are really having an effect on all kinds of things like industry, tourism, recreation."

But the general manager of Waukesha's water utility said the city's aquifer is running out of fresh water, and it makes sense to turn to Lake Michigan — a giant source located only a few kilometres away.

"That would be the equivalent of taking a teaspoon of water out of an Olympic-sized swimming pool," Dan Duchniak said.

‘Where do you draw the line?’

When the 100-year-old aquifer runs out of fresh water, the city will be left with old salt water from the Mississippi basin at the bottom, he said, adding it's contaminated with naturally-occurring radium.

The city could treat the water if it were just the radium, Duchniak continued, but because it's salt water at the bottom, the aquifer if not sustainable.

Duchniak noted the city has a plan to return the equivalent amount of water through a river, but Hobbs said that would set a dangerous precedent.

"Where do you draw the line," Hobbs asked.

"You know, the next municipality over from Waukesha or ... municipalities in Canada that aren't on the Great Lakes ... I could see water wars coming if that's the case."

Hobbs remarked the U.S. and Canadian governments will likely need to step in to resolve the issue.

"Call it protectionism, but you know, those waters ... border our cities so we're going to protect them," he said.

"For other municipalities to be drawing from the Great Lakes when they don't live on the Great Lakes is a big concern and it's high on our radar."