Conference Gives Milwaukee a Good — But Not Great — Progress Report as a Water Hub

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Ten years ago, Marquette Law School sponsored a conference, “Milwaukee 2015: Water, Jobs, and the Way Forward.” Speakers at the conference, including Wisconsin’s then-Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, put forward a vision of Milwaukee becoming a world leader in water expertise with a Milwaukee area economy boosted by an influx of water-based jobs and companies.

On Nov. 5, 2019, a decade later almost to the day, the Law School convened a follow up conference (titled “Milwaukee 2025: Water, Jobs, and the Way Forward”) with some of the same speakers, as well as others, to ask how things have been going and what lies ahead.

How would you rate Milwaukee’s record on becoming a water hub? Mayor Barrett responded that the area has moved in the right direction. “I won’t give us an A plus, I’ll give us a solid B for moving in that direction,” he said. “We have changed the perception of Milwaukee in a significant way in the last 10 years.”

Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell, a major proponent of the emphasis on water, said the goal in 2009 was to make Milwaukee a global center of excellence for all things related to water, “something like the CDC for water,” a reference to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Lovell said, “We have not gotten there yet; we are still striving to do so.” Milwaukee should be proud of what has been done, including the creation of The Water Council, the Global Water Center, and the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Lovell said. Continue reading “Conference Gives Milwaukee a Good — But Not Great — Progress Report as a Water Hub”

How Might Courts Interpret the Great Lakes Compact?

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When a coalition of environmental advocacy groups challenged the state of Wisconsin’s approval under the Great Lakes Compact of an out-of-basin water diversion to supply the Foxconn project, it came as no surprise to Peter Annin. “It’s not unexpected at all that there would eventually be legal challenges over the Great Lakes Compact,” Annin, the well-known Great Lakes journalist and author, said during an appearance last October at the Great Lakes from spaceLaw School’s Lubar Center. Like any other legal text, the Compact includes ambiguous terminology. For example, the Foxconn challenge centered on whether the application satisfied the Compact’s requirement that any out-of-basin diversion be for “public water supply purposes.” Annin predicted that the Compact’s meaning will be “refined” during such litigation, much as has happened with other important environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act.

The Foxconn challenge made history as the first state-level legal challenge based on the Great Lakes Compact; an earlier objection to the Waukesha approval was heard by the Compact Council itself. The Foxconn case never made it all the way to court, however; it ended with an administrative ruling by Wisconsin Administrative Law Judge Brian K. Hayes upholding the diversion approval. The plaintiffs decided not to appeal the decision. As I explained in a previous post, the context of the “public water supply purposes” language admitted of two possible interpretations: that the proposed diversion would be used for “public water supply purposes,” or that the system requesting the diversion, taken as a whole, served “public water supply purposes.” ALJ Hayes adopted the latter, vindicating the position of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. That decision—predicated on a textual analysis of the statute—is the primary takeaway from the case, and certainly important in its own right.

But other features of ALJ Hayes’ decision have been overlooked, and provide important clues about how future courts will interpret the Compact. Continue reading “How Might Courts Interpret the Great Lakes Compact?”

Israel Reflections 2019 – Supreme Court and Eco Peace

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As we said our goodbyes to Yad Vashem, we headed towards the beautiful Israeli Supreme A picture of the Israeli Supreme CourtCourt to hear from former Chief Justice Asher Dan Grunis. Justice Grunis spoke to the students about the differences between the U.S. Supreme Court and the Israeli Supreme Court.  The comparison in the annual caseload (about 70 cases in the U.S. versus 15,000 cases in Israel!) really stood out for the students.  The court have 15 justices that generally sit in panels of three to hear the cases.

After driving up north, we ended the day with a speech from Adam Waddell from Eco-Peace. Eco peace is an NGO that works to facilitate peace talks and promote sustainable development between the Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli governments. Aurusa Kabani shared her thoughts about this NGO.

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2019: The Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin is blessed with an abundance of water resources: 15,000 lakes, 43,000 river miles, 659 miles of frontage on two of the Great Lakes, and Sunrise over the lakegroundwater supplies sufficient to cover the whole state to a depth of 100 feet, just to name a few. But Wisconsin has its share of water problems, too, including many lead water service laterals, widespread well contamination, and battles over diversions from the Great Lakes.

Thus it came as a pleasant surprise to see state political leaders from both sides of the aisle prioritizing the importance of a clean, safe, abundant water supply for all Wisconsinites. First, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced the creation of a water quality task force to study water contamination issues. Then, in his January “State of the State” address, Governor Tony Evers declared 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin.” Governor Evers specifically mentioned widespread contamination in private wells and large numbers of lead service laterals among his priorities.

Last week I conducted an informal Twitter survey to learn what Wisconsin citizens believe that our political leaders should prioritize as part of these efforts. The response was overwhelming. In no particular order, here is a shorthand “top ten” list of issues for the administration and the task force to consider:

Continue reading “2019: The Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin”

Flint Water: Author Describes a Clear Crisis and Unclear Answers on Accountability

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Anna Clark admits there are thing she wishes she could have probed in greater depth for her critically-praised 2018 book, The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy. At the top of that list is the broad question of accountability for the actions that led to a nightmare crisis of lead contamination in water in the city near Detroit.

At the conclusion of an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Wednesday at Marquette Law School, Clark said, “There are lot of unanswered questions.” Investigations of Flint’s water problem are continuing, she said, and she had to stop work on the book at some point.

“If I had more time and more space, I would love to devote it to following a little more what this accountability question looks like,” Clark said. She said that her concern apples not only to Flint but also more broadly to questions of who and what to hold accountable when major environmental harm is uncovered anywhere.   Continue reading “Flint Water: Author Describes a Clear Crisis and Unclear Answers on Accountability”

Minimizing the Risk of Lead Intake at Schools

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It might come as a surprise to learn that federal law does not require public or private schools to test their drinking water sources for lead or for any other contaminant. Instead, the Safe Drinking Water Act operates by regulating the “public water systems” that deliver water to the schools. Too often, this broad focus on public systems overlooks the potential contamination sources on private (or school) property, such as lead service lines and indoor lead plumbing “fittings”—valves, bends, and the like. This gap in federal law presents an important opportunity for state intervention.

Indeed, the loophole has already led to some disturbing results. In Detroit, for example, officials found unsafe lead and copper levels at 57 of 86 schools tested. Testing in Vermont recently revealed lead contamination in over a dozen schools. And here in Milwaukee, testing showed high lead levels at 183 of Milwaukee Public School’s 3,000 drinking fountains, and at 28 of 425 water outlets tested at charter schools. Worse yet, a recent federal report shows that more than half of public school districts don’t test their water for lead at the point of delivery. Those that did test often found elevated levels of lead, as illustrated in the report’s summary figure:

Graphic showing lead testing by public school districts

Continue reading “Minimizing the Risk of Lead Intake at Schools”

The Great Lakes Compact At 10: Significant Achievements, But Still A Work In Progress

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Enacting the Great Lakes Compact was a remarkable achievement that likely wouldn’t be possible in today’s political climate; it is a bipartisan, multi-jurisdictional agreement that will benefit future generations and was adopted in the absence of a crisis. Yet its ultimate success or failure remains Great Lakes from spaceto be determined, as questions persist about its staying power and about our commitment to its consistent application. Those two conclusions were broadly shared by presenters and attendees at a conference held earlier this month at the Law School’s Lubar Center. The Law School’s Water Law and Policy Initiative organized the event to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Compact’s signature into law by President George W. Bush, and to evaluate its success since then.

Former Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle opened the conference by reflecting on his work as one of the Compact’s architects. Doyle acknowledged the Compact’s primary feature, a general ban on diversions of water outside the basin, and also highlighted lesser known provisions resulting in the creation of a framework for employing sound science in the joint management of the Lakes. He struck a note of caution, however, predicting that thirsty regions across the country are still focused on the Great Lakes as a potential water source, and at some point “people will go to Congress and say we have to get rid of [the Compact].” The Compact will not be fully tested, Doyle suggested, until water shortages strike broad swaths of the country, including areas outside the Great Lakes basin but within the Great Lakes states. The basin line bisects Wisconsin. Would a future Wisconsin governor remain committed to the Compact even if severe water shortages struck Madison or other Wisconsin communities just outside the Basin? Doyle urged audience members to ask all candidates for public office about their commitment to the Lakes and the Compact. Continue reading “The Great Lakes Compact At 10: Significant Achievements, But Still A Work In Progress”

Groundwater: A “Gaining Stream” Of Controversy

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In hydrologic terms, a “gaining stream” is a surface stream augmented by groundwater flow. In a more conventional sense of the term, legal and policy disputes surrounding groundwater are also “gaining” in importance, though localized groundwater-related issues have perplexed the courts for generations. In a 1903 opinion, at the end of a lengthy discourse summarizing various authorities on the subject of groundwater withdrawals, Justice John B. Winslow of the Wisconsin Supreme Court admitted that “[p]erhaps more time has been spent in reviewing these decisions than is profitable, but the subject is interesting, and . . . should be given serious consideration.”[1] Winslow’s comments came during the latter part of a long period of judicial unfamiliarity with the science of groundwater. Nineteenth century jurists characterized its movement and sometimes its very existence as “unknown”[2] or even “occult.”[3]

About twoA high-capacity well-thirds of Wisconsinites draw their drinking water from the ground. Still, both in this state and elsewhere, groundwater lacks the intuitive familiarity of surface water. Perhaps as a result, many states still don’t have well-developed jurisprudence or legal management systems for groundwater even though hydrogeology has become a well-developed and well-accepted science. Judicially-created groundwater doctrines vary widely from state to state. This legal dissonance is of increasing concern in light of a surge of groundwater problems and disputes involving water quality concerns, the viability of the public trust doctrine as a tool for groundwater regulation, and transboundary management issues, among many others. This societal and legal evolution proves Justice Winslow correct: The law of groundwater is indeed “interesting,” and courts are giving it ever more “serious consideration.” Consider the following examples:

Continue reading “Groundwater: A “Gaining Stream” Of Controversy”

Foxconn Water Diversion Approval to be Tested in Administrative Hearing; Judicial Review to Follow?

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In recent years, it has become relatively common knowledge that the Great Lakes Compact generally bans diversions of Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes basin but offers limited exceptions. A community that straddles the basin line, or that lies within a county that straddles the basin line, may Great Lakes from spaceapply for a diversion subject to certain stringent technical conditions. I have previously written in this space that the Compact has been successful at least insofar as the party states were able to agree on and subsequently enforce a common decision-making process to consider such requests. In October 2018, Compact supporters will celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

But the Compact’s first decade has not passed without controversy, much of it centered on the diversion provisions generally and on southeastern Wisconsin in particular. In fact, during a recent conference keynote address here at the Law School’s Lubar Center, Compact expert Peter Annin noted that our area has more “diversion hotspots” than the other Compact party states combined. Consider that in 2009, the City of New Berlin (a straddling community) became the first community to successfully apply for a diversion, and in 2016, the City of Waukesha became the first community within a straddling county to successfully apply for a diversion.

Just last week, the region made Compact history for yet another reason. For the first time, opponents to an approved diversion have filed a legal action to challenge the approval in a state administrative hearing, potentially as a precursor to an appeal to Wisconsin circuit court. The proceedings to follow will provide important and novel insights on how to interpret the Compact. Continue reading “Foxconn Water Diversion Approval to be Tested in Administrative Hearing; Judicial Review to Follow?”

Conference on Chicago Megacity and the Great Lakes Covers a Big Waterfront

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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.

 

Will the Foxconn project “transform” Wisconsin’s water resources?

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Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Secretary Mark Hogan have often said that the Foxconn project will have a “transformational” effect on Wisconsin. During Hogan’s recent appearance at the Law School’s Lubar Center for an On the Issues with Mike Gousha program, an audience member asked Hogan whether the project might be “transformational” in a negative way because of the potential impacts on water and the environment. Those misgivings are shared by many in the community, judging by the responses to a recent Marquette Law School Poll item reporting that 62% of Wisconsinites are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the plant “will have substantial negative impacts on water and the environment.”

Foxconn executives and Governor Walker sign agreement at Milwaukee Art MuseumNevertheless, as Hogan correctly pointed out in responding to the question, manufacturing has always been an important part of Wisconsin’s economy and culture. According to some recent estimates, Wisconsin companies produced over $56 billion of goods in 2016, accounting for over 18% of the state’s GDP and 86% of its exports. These firms have long had to comply with environmental regulations. Hogan maintained that, with a few exceptions spelled out in 2017 Wisconsin Act 58, Foxconn would be treated no differently than our existing industries, and would have to fully comply with all federal and state laws related to environmental pollution. In this post, I review the relevant parts of Act 58 and explore Foxconn’s potential impacts on water quantity and water quality.

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Lake Michigan and the Chicago Megacity in the 21st Century

Posted on Categories Environmental Law, Lubar Center, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Public, Speakers at Marquette, Water LawLeave a comment» on Lake Michigan and the Chicago Megacity in the 21st Century

I have previously written in this space about the difficult water policy issues facing “megacities,” generally defined as cities with a population of over ten millA photo of the cover of Marquette Lawyerion people. Meanwhile, the Law School, working in partnership with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has taken an increasing role and interest in studying various aspects of the “Chicago Megacity,” the region stretching from the Milwaukee area, across metropolitan Chicago, and into northwest Indiana. For example, see hereherehere, and here for discussion of a variety of issues such as economic development, transportation, and education.

We are excited to announce that on April 17, the Law School and the Journal Sentinel will continue those efforts, hosting a conference titled “Lake Michigan and the Chicago Megacity in the 21st Century.” The event is free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required; find out more and register at this link. More details about the conference follow.

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