Many people and organizations recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Great Lakes Compact, the historic agreement which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008. The Compact made it possible for Waukesha to apply for a reliable and safe water supply from Lake Michigan.

The Great Lakes Compact is the agreement between the Great Lakes states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) detailing how they will work together to manage and protect the waters of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin. There is a similar agreement among the states and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

“The beauty of the Compact is that it requires decisions to be made on objective and scientific criteria, not on politics,” said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.

The Compact generally bans diversions of Great Lakes water, but makes exceptions for communities that straddle the Basin and for communities in need that are in counties that straddle the Basin. Diversions beyond straddling counties are not allowed.

The Waukesha Water Utility (WWU) was the first outside of the Basin, but in a straddling county, to apply under the Compact for Great Lakes water, in order to replace its current groundwater source. In 2010, WWU submitted an application to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After five years and many supplemental documents, the DNR completed its review and recommended that the Compact states approve the request.

In 2016, the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers who reviewed the Waukesha project under the Compact unanimously concluded that Waukesha had no reasonable alternative to a Lake Michigan water supply. Waukesha was granted permission to access up to an average of 8.2 million gallons a day of Lake Michigan water as long as it returns an equal amount of treated water to the Basin. The switch to lake water will occur within the next five years.

“It gave us the chance to show that using and returning Great Lakes water was a necessity for Waukesha and that it would provide environmental benefits to the region,” stated Reilly. “Our application showed that the Compact process works.”