The Great Lakes Compact
The Great Lakes are a critical asset to the economy, environment, and quality of life in the Great Lakes states and beyond. They hold 20% of the world’s available surface freshwater and provide drinking water to 40 million people in the Great Lakes basin. Between population growth, climate change, and other realities, communities throughout the United States are outgrowing their water supply and looking for alternatives.
Proposals to divert water out of the Great Lakes basin have been proposed at a national and regional level. In past decades, the role of the Great Lakes in water scarcity issues in southern and western states was a frequent topic of discussion. Realizing that the Great Lakes were not adequately protected against diversions, a number of policies were developed in the 1980s to prohibit large-scale, long-distance diversions – including the Great Lakes Charter of 1985 and the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. While these policies protected the Great Lakes against large, long-distance diversions, the Great Lakes were still susceptible to more localized diversion proposals throughout the Great Lakes region.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact)- signed into law in 2008 – was developed to protect the Great Lakes against the localized, smaller diversions that were not covered under previous policies. The Compact sets standards for water use within the basin and bans diversions outside of the basin, with limited exceptions. One of the exceptions to the ban on diversion is eligible to communities that straddle the basin line or exist within a county that straddles the basin line. These straddling communities must meet certain criteria established in the Compact to receive a diversion request. The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin has submitted the first application for a diversion as a community in a straddling county under the Great Lakes Compact.
Save the Dunes is active on implementation of the Great Lakes Compact on a number of fronts. We are Indiana’s state lead for the Compact Implementation Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations across the Great Lakes basin ensuring that the city of Waukesha’s application to divert Great Lakes water is adequately reviewed and scrutinized. The Compact Implementation Coalition has a number of concerns with the City of Waukesha’s application to divert Great Lakes water. You can learn more at protectourgreatlakes.org.
Save the Dunes is also active in ensuring that Indiana’s state rule for Compact implementation meets the standards of the federal law. We have worked alongside the Hoosier Environmental Council, Alliance for the Great Lakes, National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council to monitor the state’s implementation of the Great Lakes Compact through Indiana Code.
The Great Lakes Compact is a relatively new piece of policy, but it is critical in protecting the Great Lakes from overuse. Efforts to protect the meaning and integrity of the Great Lakes Compact are crucial for ensuring its effectiveness.