Waukesha, Wis., plan to tap into Lake Michigan called 'wrong decision'

Leamington, Ont., Mayor John Paterson is irate after a group of eight U.S. governors voted Tuesday to allow a small Wisconsin town to draw its drinking water from Lake Michigan.

'Next in line? California? Heck, let's just drain the entire basin'

Leamington, Ont., Mayor John Paterson has demanded Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne take action to protect the province's fresh water supply.

Leamington, Ont., Mayor John Paterson is irate after a group of eight U.S. governors voted Tuesday to allow a small Wisconsin town to draw its drinking water from Lake Michigan.

A panel representing governors of the eight states adjoining the Great Lakes unanimously approved a proposal from Waukesha, Wis., which is under a court order to find a solution to radium contamination of its groundwater wells. The city says the project will cost $265 million Cdn for engineering studies, pipelines and other infrastructure.

Waukesha is only 27 kilometres from the lake but just outside the Great Lakes watershed. That required the city of about 72,000 to get special permission under the compact, which prohibits most diversions of water across the watershed boundary.

Paterson immediately took to Twitter to denounce the decision. His peninsula town, the self-proclaimed Tomato Capital of Canada and home to hundreds of greenhouses, is surrounded by Lake Erie.

"This should not be allowed," Paterson told CBC News. "I'm really disappointed it happened. That was unexpected. I actually thought the governor of Michigan was going to side with us. He even bailed."

The Michigan Senate adopted a resolution last month opposing Waukesha's request. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder went against that and voted in favour of Waukesha's plan Tuesday.

A 2008 pact established a potential exception for communities within counties that straddle the line. Waukesha is the first to request water under that provision.

"There are a lot of emotions and politics surrounding this issue, but voting yes — in co-operation with our Great Lakes
neighbours — is the best way to conserve one of our greatest natural resources," Snyder said.

Snyder also took to social media, to defend his decision.

His defence included this short video explanation of the vote.

Waukesha is not part of the Great Lakes Compact. It is outside of the area. So, it shouldn't have access to the Great Lakes, Paterson argued.

'They'll be gone'

"If you open it up to one, how do you then deny it to, let's say, the State of California, which is in a drought condition," Paterson said. "If this continues, the Great Lakes won't be very great anymore. They'll be gone.

"It's kind of a fear-mongering comment that if you open the floodgate to one city it will go elsewhere and we won't have any Great Lakes left, but that's the ultimate concern."

Paterson even demanded action from Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne.

"I don't know where we go from here," he said.

Paterson said the decision affects communities from Windsor to Montreal, as water flows from Lake Superior down and then east to the Atlantic Ocean.

"If you start draining from Lake Michigan, it affects all of us. There won't be as much water coming into the Great Lakes if this goes any further," Paterson warned.

Waukesha will withdraw 31 million litres daily and shrink its water service area. The city said it would remove only a tiny fraction of Lake Michigan's supply and return the same amount as treated wastewater.

The replacement plan still doesn't sit well with Paterson.

Leamington doesn't just draw its drinking water from Lake Erie. Hundreds of greenhouse crops are also irrigated with the fresh water. Paterson defended that practice.

"The waters we draw here are recycled, repurposed and they're cleaned and put back into the Great Lakes," he said. "The Great Lakes only has a certain volume of water. That's what the compact was designed on, looking at the population the Great Lakes feed in both the U.S. and Canada.

"To start opening it up to more southern areas is threatening the future of the Great Lakes."

With files The Associated Press