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Great Lakes Compact

Compliance Failure

The Great Lakes Compact, passed in December, 2008, is a binding agreement among the Great Lakes states to protect the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin from diversions and excessive withdrawals.

Terms of the Compact require the states to take a series of actions to be completed within five years time.

The Council, empowered with assessment authority, failed to critically assess the progress of the states at the first deadline in 2009, declaring the states were in compliance because the deadline had not as yet passed.

Since Compact passage, two applications for water diversion, from Waukesha, Wisconsin and Lake County, Illinois, have been filed.  Though opportunities for public comment during the Waukesha planning stage were severely limited (not in accordance with Compact guidelines), the Lake County diversion was approved without any revision to 1990 plumbing efficiency standards or lawn sprinkling limits, blatantly flaunting a provision of the Compact that required implementation of “best management” practices.

By December 8, 2010, Compact terms required each state to take three actions to improve water conservation and efficiency by users:

  1. Each state must have developed water conservation and efficiency goals consistent with the regional goals as stated in the Compact.
  2. Each state must have developed and implemented a voluntary OR mandatory water conservation and efficiency program for all Basin users, adjusting for climate.
  3. Each state must have committed to promote environmentally sound and economically feasible water conservation measures.

The Compact also requires that each state’s program be based on state goals and objectives, which in turn must be consistent with regional goals and objectives.  These are

  • Guiding programs towards long-term sustainable water use.
  • Adopting and implementing supply and demand management.
  • Improving and monitoring and standardizing data reporting across the region.

Implementation of Compact Requirements Report Card for Individual States

Ohio has done exemplary work.  Unfortunately, the Assembly recently passed a bill that, first, doesn’t incorporate Ohio’s innovative proposals, and second, takes away the authority of the Dept. of Natural Resources to implement voluntary conservation and efficiency programs.

No state has elected to impose a mandated program.  Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio only gave state agencies authority to create a VOLUNTARY program.  Even when a proposed withdrawal would create a moderate adverse impact, users of the same source are only required to “review and consider implementing” the applicable measures.

All of the states have failed to meet at least one of the Compact’s conservation requirements by the December 20, 2010 deadline.  Indiana, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania have failed to develop goals and objectives.  Illinois’ program is closer to the type of comprehensive program needed.  Wisconsin appears to be developing a program that will meet its state goals and objectives.  Michigan and Pennsylvania have only focused on identification and promotion of conservation and efficiency measures.  New York just passed legislation, while Indiana has not complied with its General Assembly’s direction to implement a program through rules.

The failure of implementation of Compact rules is widespread across the region.  The Council has not held the states to account.  The Council will have another chance to assess and respond to the 2011 state reports, due in December of 2011.

–submitted by Mary Lee Orr, Nov. 2011


Lake Michigan League members recently read The Good The Bad and The Ugly, an appraisal of the implementation of the Compact, published by the National Wildlife Federation.  Check it out for yourself!


The League of Women Voters’ Elizabeth Kinney volunteered to research the Great Lakes Compact, U.S. Public Law 110-342.  She attended the 2010 meeting and reports that a number of environmental organizations are monitoring enforcement of the Great Lakes Compact.  A problem is that the Compact leaves intra-basin transfers to the states.  So, Elizabeth wrote to our 4 Lake Michigan states regarding policy and procedures for public involvement in this process.  These are her findings, resources, and some valuable websites you might like to bookmark:

Public hearings are required before making a decision on water withdrawal applications.  Of note is that so far, Illinois has not had any diversion applications subject to the compact; water withdrawals are considered different from water diversions since the water stays in Illinois.

Info:  Daniel Injerd, Chief of Lake Michigan Management, Illinois, DNR (telephone 312-793-5746).

The state is in the process of developing regulations which will cover public notices.  The have received 3 applications regarding diversions, but none have moved forward.  The department enjoys giving presentations to groups, and if your league would like one, please call Mr. Basch at 317-232-0154 or  Their focus is on water quantity, not quality.

Public comment periods are required for all in-basin proposals over 2 million gallons per day, including transfer diversions.  Applications and invitations for public comment are posted on the DNRE website above.  So far, they have not received any diversion applications subject to the Compact. Further information:

Andy LeBaron, 517-241-1435 or

David Hamilton, Chief, Water Management Section, Water Resources Division, 517-335-3174 or

As reported in the Wisconsin report, Waukesha has applied for a diversion of Great Lakes water and is subject to the Compact.  They do provide public hearings.  You may track Waukesha’s progress at:

Further information on diversions and withdrawals can be found here:

Eric Ebersberger, Water Use Section Chief, WDNR, Bureau of Drinking Water and Ground Water, 608-266-1722.


LWLWV concurs with Elizabeth in her recommendation that our LMLWV delegates share this information within their states with an eye to follow-up.  Each state should designate one person to check with their DNR to monitor water withdrawal applications in that state and report back to the LMLWV Board., This will ensure that the public has an opportunity to comment, and analyze the effectiveness of their respective state DNRs in conserving and preserving Great Lakes water.

Board members taking on this task are:  Mary Lee Orr, Michigan; Jeanette Neagu, Indiana; and Jennifer Runquist, Wisconsin.  We are still looking for an Illinois volunteer.

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