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Editorial: Use science, not politics, to guard Great Lakes water

With Wisconsin legislators preparing to adjourn for the year, Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch suddenly wants to rework the proposed Great Lakes Compact, which governors of eight states and two Canadian provinces approved two years ago.

With Wisconsin legislators preparing to adjourn for the year, Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch suddenly wants to rework the proposed Great Lakes Compact, which governors of eight states and two Canadian provinces approved two years ago.

In a Friday news release, it's unclear whether the West Salem Republican doesn't understand or doesn't agree with the Compact's most important provision: Great Lakes water must be kept within the Great Lakes Basin. Put simply, the water must flow back into the Great Lakes once extracted for public or private uses. It can't be taken from the Great Lakes but discharged into the Mississippi River Basin, or any other watershed.

In his prepared statement, Huebsch laments the plight of Wisconsin cities that deplete their supply of well water and want it replaced from the Great Lakes.

But that's the whole point. For decades, regional residents have feared the day when scorched southeastern cities such as Phoenix would seek access to Great Lakes water. That's why the Compact was negotiated.

Fate, however, has thrown an unexpected curve ball. The water isn't being sought by cities far away. The demand is coming from Milwaukee suburbs that are becoming packed with middle- to upper-income families that can afford to escape the big city, its poor education system and its growing crime rate. That's called "urban flight" or sometimes "white flight," because it leaves behind poor minorities who can't afford to live elsewhere.

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Given that social phenomenon, how can Great Lakes Basin officials justify sending water to upper-crust municipalities, which haven't done enough to contain growth and conserve water, while denying it to southern residents?

The answer is simple: They can't.

Scientific study suggests the water should stay within the basin -- because it will flow back into the Great Lakes. Once an exception is made for political reasons, the ethical fabric tears and the entire effort disintegrates.

The Compact may contain flaws, but the plea being made by Huebsch simply doesn't hold water. It's one aspect of the Compact that shouldn't be negotiable.

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