Minnesotans know and love their lakes, especially Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes, which contain 95 percent of the planet’s fresh water. Once gone from the lakes, this water cannot be replaced. I was on the Great Lakes Commission and in the Minnesota Senate during development of the Great Lakes Compact, which was intended to guard and protect this irreplaceable resource and the people and ecosystems it supports.
So I was pleased to see the Star Tribune Editorial Board (“Dayton can help protect Great Lakes,” May 1) weigh in on the ill-advised proposal — now under review by the governors and premiers of U.S. states and Canadian provinces bordering the Great Lakes — under which the city of Waukesha, Wis., would divert water from Lake Michigan to supplant its own radium-contaminated groundwater. I agree that Gov. Mark Dayton should vote no on behalf of Minnesota, since neither the original nor the revised diversion proposal can meet the stringent standards we included in the Great Lakes Compact.
I was also happy when last week Minnesota exercised leadership in insisting on more time to evaluate changes in the Waukesha proposal and to allow for stakeholder input on those changes. This action showed real leadership and made me proud. My thought is: Take all the time you need to get it right.
All of us involved in the compact’s early development worked hard to create a fair, workable document that would keep the water of the Great Lakes in the Great Lakes Basin. The concept of the compact is simple: Prohibit taking water from the lake, except in extraordinary circumstances.
A Compact Council was established to bring together the Great Lakes governors to make decisions regarding proposed exceptions to the no-water-outside-the-basin rule. The council will soon receive a recommendation on the proposed Waukesha diversion from the Regional Body, set up to evaluate the diversion request.
Watching the process being used by the Regional Body to evaluate the Waukesha diversion proposal has raised serious concerns:
• The public has not had a window into all of the deliberations of the Regional Body, since these have not been consistently shared through webcast or other means.
• While public comments were taken on the initial Waukesha proposal, the Regional Body has proposed significant revisions, and it is not clear that the public will be able to provide feedback on the revised proposal that is now under consideration.
• The meetings seem to lack a clear goal, with some states believing their job is to negotiate approval of the Waukesha application and others believing that the proposal cannot meet the strict terms of the compact.
Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held a listening session in Duluth on the Waukesha diversion proposal. Twenty-three people testified, and not a single one supported the proposal. And Minnesotans have let Dayton know that they do not approve of the proposed diversion — they filed 3,815 comments with the Regional Body itself, expressing near-unanimous opposition to the project. Yet all of these comments were on the original proposal, not the revised one. This process needs to be reviewed so that future diversion proposals are evaluated in the sunshine, not in the shadows.
Like the Great Lakes themselves, the Great Lakes Compact is worth protecting. Let’s do it right. I applaud the Minnesota DNR in asking for additional time and insisting that stakeholders and the public have a chance to weigh in on the actual proposal, not just on the first draft. But I also question whether one more week is enough to evaluate a proposal with significant changes. Let’s not rush to judgment on something this important.
Like other residents of Duluth, I have a personal love for Lake Superior in particular. Protecting the compact and the lakes it is meant to protect is at the top of my list, and I know that all Minnesotans share that priority.
Yvonne Prettner Solon, of Duluth, is a former lieutenant governor of Minnesota, a former state senator and a former chair of the Minnesota delegation to the Great Lakes Commission.