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DNR approves hearing for legal challenge to Foxconn diversion of Lake Michigan water

A legal challenge to Wisconsin’s approval of a 7 million gallon per day Great Lakes water diversion, to supply a Foxconn industrial complex, moved a step forward after the Wisconsin DNR notified Midwest Environmental Advocates that their request for a contested case hearing had been granted.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will soon be forwarding the case to the Division of Hearings and Appeals where an Administrative Law Judge will be assigned to oversee the proceedings.

“The DNR’s decision to grant our petitioners’ request is welcome news,” stated Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney, Jodi Habush Sinykin, “and it comes at a time of renewed support around the region for a strong Great Lakes Compact, whose core principles are honored in keeping with the letter and spirit of the agreement.”

On May 25, 2018, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a legal action on behalf of petitioners, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, to challenge Wisconsin DNR’s approval of the City of Racine’s request to divert Lake Michigan water to supply the Foxconn facility.

“It’s not right for one state to redefine the rules for the Great Lakes Compact without input from all states and provinces co-managing the largest freshwater resource on the planet,” stated Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

According to the petition, DNR ignored a key Compact requirement that any water diverted outside the Great Lakes basin must serve a public purpose, defined in the agreement as “serving a group of largely residential customers.” As stated in the petition, the 7 million gallon per day of diverted water requested by Racine will be provided to one private industrial user, Foxconn, rather than a group of households.

“We determined it vital to challenge Wisconsin’s approval of the diversion requested for Foxconn,” said Jimmy Parra, staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, “because Wisconsin DNR’s interpretation of public water supply purposes, if not corrected, creates a glaring loophole that opens our region to a potential onslaught of diversions to other private entities, jeopardizing the intent and integrity of the Great Lakes Compact.”

It appears that more states agree, as evidenced by letters and recent resolutions by other Great Lakes states and communities, including New York and Illinois. Since the legal challenge’s filing in May, citizens and organizations throughout the basin have contacted the petitioner groups, asking how they can help defend the Compact’s standards on diversions. The League of Women Voters of the Lake Michigan Region has formally approved active participation in working to protect the Compact from the dangerous loophole created in the Racine diversion approval.

“The integrity of the Compact’s careful consideration of when it is appropriate to send Great Lakes water outside the basin is essential to the central goal of protecting the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem from piecemeal decision-making that benefits some while burdening many,” said Cheryl Nenn, a petitioner from Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

President G.W. Bush signed the Compact into law in 2008, codifying standards developed over many years with participation from a large and diverse number of people.

“Experience world-wide shows us how quickly even large bodies of water can be depleted. In a just a few decades the Aral Sea was drained of over 90% of its water when the rivers that fed it were diverted. We have a duty to future generations to defend the Compact requirements designed to meet community and economic needs while sustaining our precious freshwater for generations to come,” said Raj Shukla, petitioner and executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

Midwest Environmental Advocates

Lee Matz

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