February 12, 2016

Great Lakes Governors should veto this request.

In recent years, there have been calls by communities at varying distances from the Great Lakes to divert Great Lakes water for drinking (and development) purposes. Under the 2008 Great Lakes Compact ( ), Great Lakes water generally must remain within the Great Lakes basin – except that municipalities within counties that straddle the basin can request water. That request, however, can be vetoed by even just ONE governor of one of the Great Lakes states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin).


The first test case is coming from Waukesha, Wisconsin, an 86% white city in a 90+% white county adjacent to a far more diverse county containing the majority-minority city of Milwaukee. Wisconsin’s non-white population is overwhelmingly concentrated in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha, older established cities located on Lake Michigan.[1] Waukesha proposes to return its diverted water to Lake Michigan in the form of treated wastewater piped to the Root River, which flows through Racine before entering the Lake.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has rubber-stamped Waukesha’s application for Lake Michigan water, and last month sent it to the Great Lakes Compact states for review.  If Waukesha succeeds it will literally open the floodgates for other (often white suburban) communities throughout the Great Lakes states to seek water diversions to support their sprawl development, and predominantly minority cities on the Lakes are likely to suffer. As a matter of racial justice, we urge allies in these states take whatever actions are likely to make these governors more likely to veto the “Waukesha Water Diversion” request. 

[1] Waukesha County, with just about the highest household income in Wisconsin, is almost entirely white.  As of 2010, only 1.3% of Waukesha County’s entire population – about 4900 people - was African-American, while almost 52 times as many African-Americans – about 253,800 - lived in Milwaukee County, which is adjacent to Waukesha County (and on Lake Michigan). Waukesha County’s Latino population constitutes only 4% of its total population, and almost eight times as many Latinos live in Milwaukee County as in Waukesha County. Nor can these disparities be blamed on Milwaukee’s larger overall population: only about 1½ times as many non-Hispanic whites live in Milwaukee County as in Waukesha County.


Stay informed

ACLU of Wisconsin is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National