RACINE — Despite a recent court ruling, environmental advocates are considering whether to continue fighting a decision that would allow 7 million gallons of water per day to be diverted from Lake Michigan to provide water to Foxconn’s planned manufacturing campus.
Per the agreement, as much water as is diverted to the industrial area, which would include Foxconn and several other prospective developments, in Mount Pleasant would need to be returned to Lake Michigan.
On Friday, a Wisconsin administrative law judge upheld the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ approval of the requested water diversion after 13 months of deliberations.
Midwest Environmental Advocates, speaking for several environmentally mindful groups, issued a response on Tuesday that restated their opposition to the water diversion and announced their intent “to explore further legal options in this matter.”
How we got here
Those groups — which included the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, League of Women Voters-Lake Michigan Region, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, River Alliance of Wisconsin, and the National Resources Defense Council — initiated the court process by filing a petition with the state in May 2018, one month after the DNR approved the water diversion.
The groups believe that diverting the water, which would take water out of the Great Lakes Basin, will violate the Great Lakes Compact. Under the compact, which became law in 2008, water can only be diverted out of the Great Lakes Basin for “public water supply purposes.”
In Tuesday’s release, Midwest Environmental Advocates claimed that “Racine’s proposed diversion fails to satisfy this requirement because not a single gallon of diverted water will be used to serve residential customers.”
Tressie Kamp, a Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney, added in a statement: “While this ruling is disappointing, we stand by our interpretation of the ‘public water supply purposes’ requirement which prohibits the diversion of Great Lakes water for the benefit of a singular industrial user. We will be working with our clients to explore further legal options in this matter.”
Judge Brian Hayes addressed this argument in his legal decision, saying that businesses still fall under “public water supply purposes,” according to state law.
Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot and Racine Water Utility General Manager Keith Haas both backed Hayes’s decision.
DeGroot said that the diversion will help bring development in the Interstate 94 corridor, thus helping current and future Racine County residents. Haas said he was glad to see his colleagues at the DNR have their work “vindicated” through the courts.
Jennifer Bolger Breceda, Executive Director of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, feels otherwise.
“We have an obligation to uphold the Great Lakes Compact and to protect and conserve this unmatched freshwater resource for the over 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for their drinking water,” Breceda said in a statement Tuesday. “The Great Lakes Compact provides that diversions should be for largely residential purposes, which is not the case here.”