A Great Lakes Compact Now
For the past five years or so, we who live in the Great Lakes water basin have been experiencing an increasingly intimidating phenomenon. The eyes of dry states, cities, industries and agricultural operations have been turning more intently toward our seemingly vast supply of fresh drinking water. Routinely now we hear of water shortages, whether just outside our basin's limits (Waukesha, WI) or further south in Florida, Arizona and California.
The twenty largest aquifers in the U.S. have already lost over half their volume of water. Farmers, businesses and communities are forced to drill their wells deeper every year. As they do so, they bring up less, but more toxic water. Most of these aquifers cannot be recharged, so once the water is pumped out, the aquifer dies. In other places, where communities use surface water to satisfy their needs, drought conditions are causing lakes and streams to dry up well before the next rainy season has a chance to re-fill those bodies. Atlanta's Lake Lanier, cannot keep up with the population growth and water use of that Georgian metropolis.
In the Southwest, less rain is falling while the temperature keeps rising. In a recent article in the Denver Post, Jonathan Overpeck, Director of the Institute for the study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona, stated, “The West is warming dramatically. Things are just going to get hotter. You can bet the farm on it.”
In an article by Mark Saunders ("Ears to the Ground," Water Efficiency, Sept., 2007), he indicates that "according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the American West is already 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than its 100-year annual average. And the US Geological Survey is on record stating the western United States is in the middle of a 500-year drought." LasVegas gets only 4.13 inches of rain a year. Yet more people continue moving to this desert community. The Colorado River is at its lowest levels in recorded history and Lake Mead's water level has fallen 70 feet since 2002.
The Great Lakes are rapidly becoming the only major water source left in the U.S. And the rest of the dry country knows it. A recent EPA report estimated that at least 36 states expect local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013. The same report also ominously announce that by 2012 "the Great Lakes will shrink dramatically."
Many of these dry places and organizations will soon be coming to our shores demanding the shrinking supply of Great Lakes water to fill fill their sinks, keep their desert lawns green and their cattle fat and edible. Immediately, the Great Lakes States need to approve the Compact protecting and controling the flow and use of these one-time glacial waters. In particular, the Wisconsin legislature needs to act fast in approving the Compact and hurry it along to the U.S. Congress, where with every passing day it will face more difficult passage to approval.