Sucker punch on the compact

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel                             February 27, 2008

Have you ever walked into the wrong public washroom? The Assembly speaker did when he announced his opposition to the multistate, bipartisan Great Lakes water compact. His tardy objection sounded like an early April Fool's joke.

Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) and his sidekick, state Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, intend to kill the compact. This is the law to prevent the Southwest, the South, China, anyone not living in the Great Lakes basin, from taking our water. After nine years of sometimes acrimonious negotiations, public hearings and line-in-the-sand compromises involving eight states and two Canadian provinces, we finally have a Great Lakes agreement.

Walk into Lake Michigan to your knees. The entire lake from knees to feet is replaced every year by rain and rivers. The rest is ancient, deposited there at the end of the last ice age. We can consume enough water to lower the level to your feet. That is the point of no return. Take more, and the lake shrinks. Continue taking, and eventually it will disappear - forever.

Sound like science fiction? You may have seen those National Geographic photos of the rusting ships sitting in the middle of the desert. That is the old lakebed of what was once the fourth-largest lake on Earth, Asia's Aral Sea. The ships are now 60 miles from the shrunken lake, its water diverted to cotton fields.

The compact's final wording was released at a ceremony in Milwaukee two years ago. Huebsch and Gunderson have been AWOL for two years.

They object to a prominent clause that requires a unanimous decision among the eight states for any water diversion outside the Great Lakes basin. The two say this is giving up state authority. Their solution: Make it a majority decision. That still spreads the decision across the basin. If I were their schoolteachers, I would be embarrassed for ever letting them graduate.

But that's not all. They want the president of the Ohio Senate to defeat it in Ohio. Since every state must ratify it, if one state doesn't sign, the entire compact is null and void. They are asking Ohio to legislate for Wisconsin. Talkin' outta both sides of your mouth again, boys.

They also claim that the compact is taking private groundwater in Wisconsin's portion of the basin and turning it over to the state. Don't they do their homework? The Department of Natural Resources gave an opinion to the Senate that said this had been Wisconsin law for more than 20 years. Let me say again: 20 years.

The groundwater objection sounds like it came out of the mouth of Ohio state Sen. Tim Grendell who has made the same claim in his state where groundwater is owned by private landowners. Our boys must think this is Ohio. Maybe that's where they belong, because it sure isn't in the Wisconsin Assembly.

They want the compact changed to satisfy their demands, which means imposing those changes on the seven other states. Why did they wait so long?

Were they waiting for other states to pass the compact? Three have, but that seems the point. No state is going to overturn a law it just passed. It's like the groom yelling down the length of the packed church to the bride at the altar: "I am not marrying you till you change the color of that dress!"

Huebsch and Gunderson sucker-punched Wisconsin.








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