Clouds linger over Lake Michigan at Lighthouse beach seen, deserted and serene last week.Photo By Mary Mumbrue

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Ten years ago, all eight U.S. states that border the Great Lakes joined the legally-binding Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, better known as the Great Lakes Compact, to promote water conservation, stimulate data collection on water use and defend against threats. The Compact was approved by each state’s legislature, and Congress and neighboring Canadian provinces. President George W. Bush signed it into law on Oct. 3, 2008.

Over the last decade there have been a number of efforts to build on and reinforce the Compact. As the RoundTable reported in April of this year, five shoreline community foundations joined the Great Lakes One Water Partnership, designed to help communities along the Great Lakes safeguard the future of the lakes, their natural habitats and the fresh water they supply.

Among those foundations are the Evanston Community Foundation, Legacy Foundation of Indiana, Porter County, [Indiana] Community Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust and Unity Foundation of La Porte County [Indiana].

Together with their local partners, the foundations are working to advance water infrastructure plans that they hope will improve health, economic development, and equity in their communities. Their focus is the southwest corner of Lake Michigan, stretching from Evanston to the Indiana border with Michigan.

Ron Seely is Senior Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the University’s Life Sciences Communication department. He writes about the Great Lakes region. Mr. Seely wrote late this summer in Crain’s Chicago Business, “The soon-to-be-celebrated 10th anniversary of the Compact’s creation comes at a time when the durability and effectiveness of the agreement are under close scrutiny. With a major proposed diversion being challenged in court and scientists warning of climate-driven drought in coming decades, the 10-year-milestone offers a timely opportunity to consider whether the Compact is working as intended and whether it is likely to withstand the political challenges that will come with fending off a thirsty world.”

The “major proposed diversion” is the Wisconsin government’s approval of a factory near Racine owned by the Taiwanese company Foxconn Technology Group that will divert 7 million gallons of water a day from the lake, which the RoundTable reported on earlier this year.

Company officials and Wisconsin government officials have argued that the plant, which would manufacture liquid-crystal display [LCD] screens in a facility reported to be the size of three Pentagons, would create 13,000 jobs.

The local group Midwest Environmental Advocates, which is pursuing a lawsuit, argues that Wisconsin’s approval is in defiance of one of the key elements of the Great Lakes Compact, which indicates that all water withdrawn from the Great Lakes Basin must be used for public water supply purposes.

Through a statement released earlier this month the Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates said, “As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Great Lakes Compact this week, there is plenty of reason for celebration as well as significant cause for concern. . . . Skeptics claimed that the project was too ambitious and that getting such a diverse group of stakeholders to agree to the legislation could never be achieved. In the end, champions of the legislation proved the naysayers wrong, and we now have a law that protects the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world.”

The group’s statement, however, registered concern over the proposed Foxconn plan which they said would “set a dangerous precedent and imperil the integrity and continued existence of the Compact.” Midwest Environmental Advocates has filed a legal challenge to stop the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from proceeding with approval.

Among the purposes of the Compact, as stated when it was enacted by the 110th Congress into public law on Oct. 3, 2008 is “To prevent significant adverse impacts of Withdrawals and losses on the Basin’s ecosystems and watersheds.”