"Here & Now" invited the DNR to share its perspective about the diversion, but the agency declined to issue a statement or provide an official to be interviewed. In a statement to "Here & Now", Racine Mayor Cory Mason affirmed the DNR's interpretation of the compact's language on "Public Water Supply Purposes."
"Racine's water utility certainly meets that definition and would continue to meet that definition if the small part of (Mount Pleasant) outside the basin were served with Great Lakes water," said Mason.
Meanwhile, Parra and the law firm base their argument on the Great Lakes Compact's requirements for diversions that specifically states "all the Water so transferred shall be used solely for Public Water Supply Purposes within the Straddling Community." That language suggests that when sussing out how "public" a diversion is, the state should simply consider the specific area served by the diversion.
Since the compact was ratified, only two other parties have applied for diversions. The Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, which straddles the basin line, received DNR approval in 2009 to use Lake Michigan water. The city of Waukesha, which is located wholly outside the Great Lakes Basin but can apply for water access under certain terms because it's in a county that straddles its boundary, had to seek the unanimous consent of the governors of the eight Great Lakes states, and got it in 2016. (Some terms of the compact requires the involvement of a regional body where each state has a voice, but much of its enforcement is left to to state-level regulators.)
Both New Berlin and Waukesha sought drinking water for residential users first and foremost. Waukesha's bid for Lake Michigan water has been controversial for a variety of reasons, but its opponents are not saying the city is making a massive water grab on behalf of a single company.
Parra told WisContext in a phone interview that the New Berlin and Waukesha diversions provide an example of how "Public Water Supply Purposes" language of the compact should be applied, and noted they may bolster the argument that the reasoning behind the Foxconn diversion approval misinterprets it. The way the DNR currently interprets the compact, he told "Here & Now", opens the door for industrial users outside the Great Lakes Basin to take advantage.
"In Minnesota there's a number of mines or mineral deposits that are close to the basin line in the Iron Range," he said. "Under the Wisconsin DNR's interpretation, it's possible that Great Lakes water could now be used to supply that very water-intensive industry. It's not this project, it's what comes next."
The 7 million gallons Foxconn and Racine are asking for is indeed a lot of water, though not very much relative to the Great Lakes as a whole. But it's the longer-term significance of the diversion that is at the heart of this debate. What kind of precedent would the Foxconn diversion set, and how that will affect the Great Lakes as a freshwater resource over the long run? What if more industrial users set up operations in Great Lakes states with an eye toward using that water?
Several of Wisconsin's fellow Great Lakes states have raised concerns and questions about the Foxconn diversion, though none have yet launched a formal effort to block it. But the entire region will be affected by the outcome, as states and local communities contemplate the future role of water resources in their economies
Gravity Of Precedent Fuels Challenge To Foxconn's Lake Michigan Bid was originally published on WisContext which produced the article in a partnership between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.