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

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. (more…)

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

Groundwater: A “Gaining Stream” Of Controversy

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:

(more…)

Continue ReadingGroundwater: A “Gaining Stream” Of Controversy

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

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. (more…)

Continue ReadingFoxconn 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

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,…

Continue ReadingConference on Chicago Megacity and the Great Lakes Covers a Big Waterfront

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

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.

(more…)

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