Great Lakes Compact Goes Into Effect Dec. 8

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The Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water, are now protected under an international agreement.MADISON – The Great Lakes Compact takes effect Dec. 8, ushering in a new era of cooperation and conservation among those states that border the five Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water.

The historic agreement binding Wisconsin and seven other Great Lakes states largely prohibits water from being diverted outside the Great Lakes basin (pdf) while committing residents and businesses within the basin to sustainably use that water.

“This is a great day for Wisconsin, the Great Lakes region and the world community,” says Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank. “The Great Lakes are an international treasure. The compact assures they’ll be the foundation for a healthy economy and a healthy environment for generations to come.”

The agreement was signed by President George Bush on Oct. 3, 2008 following its passage by eight state legislatures and a swift ride through the U.S. Congress. A companion agreement with two Canadian provinces takes effect Dec. 8 . Conventional wisdom had put passage of the agreement at five to 10 years or more, if ever, but the compact is going into effect barely three years to the date after it was signed by Gov. Jim Doyle and his counterparts in the seven other Great Lakes states, Frank said.

The compact prohibits long-distance, large-scale diversions from the Great Lakes with a few carefully regulated exceptions that allow communities near the basin boundary to apply for Great Lakes water. It also directs the Great Lakes states to develop water conservation and efficiency programs, and promotes the sustainable management of the groundwater and surface waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states and the two Canadian provinces are racing to enact its provisions. DNR has pulled together veteran drinking water and groundwater staff into a new section to focus on implementing the compact and Gov. Doyle’s statewide water conservation initiative, both of which will require years of administrative rulemaking.

The compact’s Dec. 8 effective date brings immediate requirements for more than 1,500 existing municipalities, manufacturers, irrigators and other operations in Wisconsin that have the capacity to withdraw large volumes of water under existing permits.

For now, users within the Great Lakes basin with the capacity to withdraw 100,000 gallons per day or more in any 30 day period need to register with the DNR and start reporting their annual water use as part of the compact’s requirement that states track Great Lakes water use.

These high volume uses will be reviewed for possible impacts on lakes, streams and other waters if the proposed new or increased water withdrawal is more than 1 million gallons per day for 30 consecutive days.

Eventually, residential water users in Wisconsin and other Great Lakes state will likely see changes aimed at spurring them to save water and use it more efficiently.

“Transforming the compact from a paper agreement into a working system will be challenging, but we think the benefits to Wisconsin and the region will be well worth the effort, and will help us all be good stewards of the great treasure that is the Great Lakes,” Frank says.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Eric Ebersberger (608) 266-1722; Shaili Pfeiffer (608) 267-7630