Great Lakes Compact

Milwaukee Riverkeeper worked in collaboration with groups locally and throughout the Great Lakes Region to advocate for passage of the Great Lakes Compact, to protect Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes from water diversions and other threats to lake health. We continue to monitor the implementation of the compact locally.

Enforcing the Compact: Waukesha’s Diversion Application

In July 2011, DNR began formal review of Waukesha’s application for a proposed Lake Michigan diversion and held public hearings regarding the application, as well as the scope of what should be included in the Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

Riverkeeper testified at this hearing, and along with the Compact Implementation Coalition, submitted written comments. On October 18th, DNR released its summary of the comments made at these hearings, as well as a response to those comments. DNR expects to release its draft Environmental Impact Statement by early 2012, which will indicate whether or not it will approve Waukesha’s application. If the application is approved, DNR will then forward it to other Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces for their consideration per the Great Lakes Compact.

We maintain that Waukesha needs to prove that returning flow to Lake Michigan via Underwood Creek and the Menomonee River is protective of the “physical, chemical, and biological integrity” of the receiving water in conformance with the Compact and other state and federal laws and regulations. Waukesha also needs to show it has no other reasonable water supply alternatives. This is a high bar to meet considering that the City has other well publicized water supply options available. Waukesha has also begun meeting with potential water suppliers in Racine, Oak Creek, and Milwaukee. In late September, Milwaukee’s Public Works Committee voted to begin compiling the information necessary in order for city officials to make a decision on whether or not to sell water to Waukesha per an earlier City resolution, which laid out a formal

Passing the Great Lakes Compact

Milwaukee Riverkeeper worked with state and federal partners and with our members to advocate for passage of a strong Great Lakes Compact, and in 2008 the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact was signed into law.


The process has been long with its first major accomplishment in 2005 when following a nearly five-year negotiation, the Governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin reached agreement on the Compact. The Compact provides a comprehensive management framework for achieving sustainable water use and resource protection. The eight Great Lakes States reached a similar, good faith, agreement with Ontario and Québec.

The Great Lakes are a national treasure—important to our nation and the world as both an environmental and economic asset. Our national economy depends on the Great Lakes for industrial uses, hydropower, maritime commerce, agricultural irrigation and many other uses. The Great Lakes are also a globally unique and important environmental resource. The Compact will ensure that the Lakes are used sustainably in order to continue to provide benefits to us all.

The Compact includes the following points:

  • Economic development will be fostered through sustainable use and responsible management of Basin waters.
  • In general, there will be a ban on new diversions of water from the Basin but limited exceptions could be allowed in communities near the Basin when rigorous standards are met.
  • Communities that apply for an exception will have a clear, predictable decision making process; standards to be met; and, opportunities to appeal decisions. These processes and standards do not exist under current law.
  • The States will use a consistent standard to review proposed uses of Basin water. The States will have flexibility regarding their water management programs and how to apply this standard.
  • Regional goals and objectives for water conservation and efficiency will be developed, and they will be reviewed every five years. Each State will develop and implement a water conservation and efficiency program that may be voluntary or mandatory.
  • A broad, bi-partisan consensus has been built in support of the Compact. The Compact was developed in collaboration with regional partners who have also played a key role in its implementation. Members of Congress, Mayors, local government officials and stakeholders have all been instrumental.