Monday, February 01, 2016

Michigan Tech Professor co-authors Great Lakes Water Diversion Report

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Tech Director of News and Media Relations
Posted on Tech Today Jan. 28, 2016
Reprinted with permission

Michigan Tech Professor Alex Mayer, Great Lakes and water resources expert and former director of Michigan Tech's Center for Water and Society, consulted with the International Joint Commission (IJC) and co-authored a report and recommendations on Great Lakes water diversion. The IJC recently adopted and released the report.

The IJC is an independent bi-national organization responsible for monitoring the boundary waters between the US and Canada and Great Lakes water quality.

"Our charge was to make a 10-year review of how well the Great Lakes, the contributing watersheds, and groundwater resources are protected against diversions or overuse, in light of policy changes and climate change," Mayer said.

Mayer's co-author was Ralph Pentland, a former federal water resources manager in the Canadian government.

In the report, the IJC says, "What is described in this report is for the most part a good news story. The policy gaps identified by the IJC in 2000 have been largely filled. No new inter-basin or intra-basin diversions which would have significant negative impacts on the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes have been approved, the growth in consumptive use appears to have been at least temporarily arrested, and institutional arrangements, such as the Regional Body, are in place to continue those positive trends. But both ongoing management vigilance and additional scientific advances will be required to maintain that positive momentum."

Mayer's recommendations include the following:

(1) We should explore the idea of holding water in the Great Lakes basin in public trust; that is, the citizens of the Great Lakes should own the water.

(2) Since we don't have a good idea yet about how climate change will affect Great Lakes flows, water volumes and water levels, we should take a flexible approach to managing water in the Great Lakes.

(3) We don't have a very good idea about how much water is consumed in the basin. Although water consumption in the Great Lakes is relatively small today, we need to get a handle on these numbers now, in anticipation that these numbers may rise in the future.

(4) We recommended a broad-based collaboration to fix the region's decaying water infrastructure, which at least indirectly relates to the Flint water crisis.

"The focus of the report on protecting the Great Lakes against diversions is very relevant now since the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, has applied for an exemption to the Great Lakes Compact's ban diversion, to draw Lake Michigan water for its city water supply," Mayer noted. "The Waukesha application is seen as a big test of the Compact."

(Inset photo of Alex Mayer courtesy Michigan Tech University)

Click here to see the IJC news release about the new report.

Click here for the new IJC report.

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