Great Lakes Compact Legislation Expected This Week

With water levels dropping and regions in the Southeast and Southwest United States getting parched, Wisconsinites are growing more protective of Great Lakes water, according to a new poll released by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

The poll, conducted by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center between October and December and commissioned by several Wisconsin conservation organizations, revealed bipartisan support for the proposal.

Poll respondents (409 randomly chosen people) were given a brief explanation of what the compact would do and how it would work. After hearing the explanation, 80 percent of those polled indicated they wanted Wisconsin to make the Great Lakes Compact law.

People identifying themselves as Republican, Democrat or Independent support the compact roughly equally (83 percent, 76 percent, and 82 percent, respectively). Support in the poll also transcends geography, as poll results show that support for the compact is as strong in regions of the state far away from the Great Lakes as it is in communities adjacent to the lakes.

About 83 percent of poll respondents from non-Great Lakes shore communities support passage of the Great Lakes Compact, compared to 77 percent of respondents living in Great Lakes shore communities.

“This isn’t a surprising finding. Everyone in Wisconsin has some deep connection with the Great Lakes, no matter where they live. People everywhere appreciate their beauty, and they also seem to understand their fragility,” says Denny Caneff of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

The compact, signed two years ago by the governors of the eight Great Lakes states, would prevent diversion of Great Lakes water by industries and municipalities, with limited exceptions. All eight legislatures of the Great Lakes states must approve the compact, and Congress must ratify it before it takes effect.

Wisconsin is the only state where legislation to approve the compact has yet to be introduced, but two legislators are poised to introduce legislation this month that puts the Great Lakes Compact on the winter agenda of the state Senate.

Communities that would see their rights to the water restricted (such as some Milwaukee suburbs) and manufacturing interests have tried to block the compact’s passage.

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) have led efforts to draft and introduce a Strong Great Lakes Compact.

“This [poll] shows that keeping Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes is a non-partisan issue, a fact reflected in the very encouraging bipartisan sponsorship of a strong compact bill,” says Anne Sayers of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Other findings in the poll suggest that Wisconsin residents favor several specific actions to protect the Great Lakes, some of which may end up in the compact legislation.

• 86 percent of those polled said it was important (“very” or “somewhat”) that Great Lakes water should not be bought and sold without more oversight and regulation.

• 86 percent of those polled said it was important to prevent local communities from changing their boundaries so they could qualify to take water from the Great Lakes

• 94 percent of those surveyed said it was important to require local communities to put in place water conservation programs before they could increase their use of Great Lakes water

A large majority of those polled said they favored programs in their communities to help them conserve water, and said they think dropping water levels in Wisconsin’s lakes, streams and groundwater is a serious problem.