Congress should pass the Great Lakes Compact

    H-O-M-E-S. This acronym helped many of us remember the Great Lakes in elementary school. Now, thanks to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resource Compact, these Great Lakes will be remembered for a long time to come.

    After a decade or so of negotiation, an agreement has been approved by the governors of all eight Great Lakes States – which of course includes Wisconsin – to provide comprehensive protections for the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin. Additionally, all eight State Legislatures have approved the agreement, otherwise known as the Great Lakes Compact. As the final step in the process, it is now the duty of Congress to ratify it.

    To that end, I am pleased to be an original sponsor of a bill introduced this week to ratify the Great Lakes Compact, ensuring that the Great Lakes remain the industrial and environmental resources they have been to the United States, and especially Wisconsin.

    Communities such as New Berlin and Waukesha that have had issues with water quality can greatly benefit from this compact. While the compact more stringently regulates the withdrawal of lake water, it would still provide opportunities for communities to use limited amounts of water for public purposes.

    In fact, when Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle came to Washington, D.C., to meet with me and other members of Congress to talk about the compact, I specifically brought up the water needs for Waukesha and New Berlin. My concern is based on one of the stipulations in the compact relative to water diversion, which allows any one governor to veto a community’s application for water. But in response to my question, the governor stated he doesn’t expect there to be any objections from any of the current governors of the eight states.

    While that is good news, it does underscore another important point regarding the timing of the passage of this legislation. Applications for water diversions can’t go forward until Congress ratifies the Compact. If that doesn’t happen this year, then we run the risk of it being pushed back long enough till a new governor takes office in one of the states, and he or she may not be as accommodating as the current slate of sovernors.

    Aside from serving as a resource for distributing much needed water, the compact also ensures the protection and sustenance of the lakes and river basin. Not only are the Great Lakes a mainstay for our area’s tourism industry and environmental enjoyment, but they are key to our nation’s economy.
    The hard work has been done. After 10 long years, all Congress has to do now is schedule the bill for a vote. With the clock ticking, I urge the new Democratic Leadership in Congress to move quickly.

    Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) represents Wisconsin’s Fifth District and lives in Menomonee Falls.

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