Racine Mayor John Dickert doesn’t hold back when he talks about water quality concerns for the town of 78,000 on the Lake Michigan shore.
“My people are afraid,” says Dickert.
The mayor was referring to the potential of diminished quality of the water that would flow through the Root River in Racine if the Waukesha water diversion becomes reality.
Great Lakes governors have approved Waukesha’s request for Lake Michigan water and a condition of the approval is that the quantity is returned to the lake.
Racine is dependent on clean water and beaches for its tourism economy according to Dickert.
Dickert claims any reduction in quality of the treated waste water Waukesha is required to return to Lake Michigan would not only harm the economy but the health of people using the beaches.
He said as mayor, water quality is not a remote issue and he would have to deal with harm to Racine families. Dickert says he’s strident on the issue because he’s “doing it for the kids.”
Dickert made his comments to a group of visiting journalists sponsored by the non-profit Institute for Journalism & the Natural Resources.
Racine is a member of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a group of U.S. and Canadian mayors who work on environmental issues in the region. Dickert is a past-president of the group.
The Initiative has requested a formal hearing with the governors and wants the Waukesha decision overturned claiming it does not meet the terms of the Great Lakes Compact. The Compact governs water diversions in the region. The hearing request is required before legal action could be taken by the mayors.
Dickert’s complaints have not gone unnoticed by Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.
When the mayors filed their formal request for a hearing Reilly said in a press release that “our return flow water is actually cleaner than the water in the Root River.”
Reilly told visiting reporters that he called the Racine mayor to discuss his concerns about the quality of the return flow, but did not get a response.
Dickert said he ”respects Mayor Reilly” and understands that he is trying to do what is right for his constituents. But with litigation pending Dickert said he has stayed away from dialogue with Reilly.
In their decision, Great Lakes governors said Waukesha’s return flow of water via the Root River would “provide a net environmental benefit” to the river.
Dickert wants to know who will monitor water quality and does not want Racine to incur any associated costs. Waukesha is required to secure permits for its actions related to the diversion.
The decision to divert Lake Michigan water to Waukesha by the governors was unanimous and was supported by Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec in their advisory capacity. Canadian interests have historically been skeptical of any U.S. diversion of Great Lakes water.
The decision followed years of analysis, debate and public comment.
Any lawsuit would be filed in federal court and could take years to resolve.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told this reporter last year that a lawsuit over Waukesha would be the worst possible outcome and the parties need to collaborate to resolve issues. Cities Initiative executive director David Ullrich said he disagrees with Snyder and that his group’s legal action would “strengthen the compact.”
There is no timeline for the governors to rule on the mayor’s request for a hearing but a decision is expected by June.
A record of Waukesha’s application including comments, findings, the decision and legal proceedings is at www.waukeshadiversion.org.
For more information on this subject visit, www.wbfo.org