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Great Lakes states approve water diversion for Waukesha, Wis.

The representatives from eight Great Lakes states unanimously approved a measure Tuesday afternoon allowing Waukesha, Wis. to divert water from Lake Michigan for use in its community.

The city of roughly 70,000 people applied to divert water from Lake Michigan but was required to seek approval from the governors of all member states in the Great Lakes Compact Council because Waukesha sits outside of the Great Lakes watershed.

The council met Tuesday afternoon in Chicago.

Waukesha stated it required the diversion because its aquifer supply source is naturally tainted with radium.

The issue proved to be a controversial one, however.

It was the first major test of the compact, a 2008 agreement prohibiting diversions from the Great Lakes by communities outside of its watershed without unanimous consent from member states.

Waukesha is less than 20 miles west of Milwaukee and was able to apply for the diversion because it is in a county that straddles the Great Lakes basin.

Opponents argued, however, that the diversion could set a precedent for future withdrawals from the Great Lakes, risked nearby communities with wastewater returns from its city and that Waukesha filed an insufficient application.

Waukesha will return the water it diverts from Lake Michigan back to the Great Lakes basin.

Wisconsin-based reporters tweeted from the compact meeting that several amendments were made, including by members in Michigan and Minnesota.

Reports stated amendments involved clarifying the area being served by the diversion as well as requiring audits and inspections of the city’s water management.

Those amendments were approved, then the final vote was passed about 1:45 p.m.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes and National Wildlife Federation, which were both opposed to the diversion, issued a joint statement shortly after the vote.

“While we have always believed that Waukesha has a reasonable water supply alternative, we understand that the (Great Lakes) Regional Body and Compact Council saw that issue differently,” according to the statement.

That statement also hailed the amendments that tightened conditions on Waukesha’s diversion plan and promised vigilance to assure the city of Waukesha and state of Wisconsin “honor the terms of the agreement.”

“We will be strong watchdogs to ensure that the Great Lakes are protected,” the organizations stated.