Great Lakes water collaboration, Great Lakes water wars, Great Lakes water problems, Great Lakes water improvement, the Great Lakes of today, the Great Lakes of one hundred years from now – all of these were focal points Tuesday of a half-day conference at Marquette Law School titled “Lake Michigan and the Chicago Megacity in the 21st Century.”
The Marquette Water Law and Policy Initiative and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cosponsored a conference focusing on the Chicago megacity – southeastern Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois, and northwestern Indiana – in 2012 and a conference on public attitudes about the region in 2015. During the same period, the Law School has developed a water law and policy initiative, led by Professor David Strifling.
In opening remarks on Tuesday, Joseph D. Kearney, dean of Marquette Law School, said the conference brought together the Law School’s megacity and water policy interests and was “a continuing step in our efforts to become a leading center for the exploration of water law and policy issues.” Strifling and David Haynes, Solutions for Wisconsin Editor of the Journal Sentinel, were the principal organizers of the conference.
A sampling of the discussion:
Great Lakes water collaboration: Randy Conner, water commissioner of the City of Chicago, said he thought there was a good level of collaboration among the water authorities in the region, but there could be more. There was general agreement that working together on issues related to protecting the lakes and using them wisely was good — although ultimately almost every community has its own specific needs. (When it came to building collaboration, there may have been some tangential benefits of the conference. After the session ended, Conner and Jennifer Gonda, superintendent of the Milwaukee Water Works, were seen in the Zilber Forum of Eckstein Hall having a lengthy one-on-one conversation.)
Great Lakes water wars: Peter Annin gave a keynote address that focused on battles going back more than a century and continuing until this moment about diversions of water from the Great Lakes. Annin is co-director of the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation and director of environmental communication at Northland College in Ashland, WI. He also is author of a 2007 book, The Great Lakes Water Wars, which he is updating.
“The Chicago megacity is the front line in the Great Lakes water wars,” he said. “I think we’re just going to continue to see more of it.” He recounted the controversy over using Lake Michigan water to supply much of Waukesha, Wis., and the current debate over whether the Foxconn factory planned for Racine County should be allowed to use millions of gallons a day of Lake Michigan water. The planned factory site straddles the boundary of the Lake Michigan watershed. (Click here to read a piece Annin wrote about the Foxconn issue for the Journal Sentinel.)
Great Lakes water problems: Molly Flanagan, vice president-policy of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, based in Chicago, said a proposal to cut out the US Environmental Protection Agency from oversight of ballast dumping by ocean-going ships when they are in the Great Lakes is before Congress now. Ballast dumping has been the way some harmful invasive species have entered the Lakes. Giving the US Coast Guard sole oversight would harm the fight against such invasions, she said. Dan Egan, senior water policy fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and author of the 2017 book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, amplified on her concerns, saying that the only thing the Coast Guard cared about in the water was sailors. (Click here to read a Journal Sentinel story by Egan on the issue.)
Great Lakes water improvement: While Egan sounded warnings about several major concerns about the state and future of the Great Lakes, he said things had in some important ways improved in recent years when it came to water quality, use, and recreational opportunities. He contrasted the low use of Bradford Beach along the lakefront in Milwaukee years ago, when there were more problems with things such as dead fish, sewer overflows, and algae, with the large crowds of people using the beach in recent years.
The Great Lakes of today: A panel discussion on the Great Lakes as a tool for economic development in the megacity region included descriptions by economic development advocates from Milwaukee and Chicago not only of the advantages of siting the nation’s top water technology cluster near an abundant supply of water, but the need to use the water “wisely and carefully,” as Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council, based in Milwaukee, put it. That call was underscored by Bob Schwartz, senior policy advisor to the consulate general of Israel to the Midwest, who talked about the world-leading technologies related to water that have been pursued in Israel and about avenues for increasing involvement between Israel and the Midwest on water-related work.
The Great Lakes of a hundred years from now: Michael R. Lovell, president of Marquette University, recounted to the audience a conversation he had several years ago with the head of Kikkoman Foods, the Japanese company known for its soy sauce. Kikkoman located a plant in Walworth County, southwest of Milwaukee. The Kikkoman leader said one reason the company did that was because it believed that one hundred years from now, the population base of the United States would be focused in the Midwest. A big reason will be the value of water. Another reason was “to make great soy sauce, you need great water.” Lovell urged the participants in the conference to think about what should be done to see that water is available in good supply and quality a century from now.
Video of the conference may be viewed by clicking here.