February 2008

Hello on this cold Wisconsin morning. As I write this, our lake level is 27 inches below its seasonal average and only 7 inches above the all-time record low set in 1964. The Corps of Engineers estimates it’ll get lower due to below-average precipitation in the Great Lakes Basin, and a lack of ice cover that retards evaporation. The heavy snow we’re having this winter will help, but only a few inches. At our place, the dunes are coming back, and trees, not just grass, are growing on them. I’m not a scientist but it looks like Mother Nature is up to something.

So what’s being done about it, and about the other problems facing ‘our’ lake? As you know we’ve tried to cover all these issues with you in the past, and will continue to do so. There’s a slogan you’ll hear from Marketing people – “People change, but not much.” Well, our version of that is “There’s good news out there, but not much.” And here it is…………..
The Compact
As you know this is the law governing use of the Great Lakes water, such as exporting it outside the Basin to places like Waukesha (or Alabama or New Mexico). As you also know, all eight Great Lake states have to pass it, then the Canadians have to do something equivalent, then our U.S. Congress has to pass it, and then it’ll take effect. We think this process will take about three years. Minnesota and Illinois have passed laws, the other states are working on them. The delay in Wisconsin comes from two concerns – first, the so-called ‘one governor veto’, where any one Great Lakes governor can veto a diversion in another state; and a concern about ground water and who does it belong to. Both of these issues are covered by existing Federal law and cannot be changed by the states, so we should just get on with it and write the best law we can.
Our media likes to point out that Wisconsin hasn’t done anything to get this legislation moving. Not true – as I write this, the Senate Natural Resources committee has issued a draft of the legislation and there will be a hearing on it Feb. 14. By the time you read this, the Senate should have passed it and sent it on to the Assembly. The current legislative session ends March 13 but the Governor may keep the committee in session until the bill is complete.
A lot of progress has been made in the last few weeks. The draft of the bill is very thorough and includes not just the law itself but implementation requirements so it’s useable in Wisconsin as soon as the governor signs it. Most of the credit goes to Senator Mark Miller, Sen. Bob Wirch, Sen. Neal Kedzie, Sen. Rob Cowles, and Sen. Bob Jauch. Please remember them when it’s time to vote. Next it goes to the to the Assembly, where things are still a little up in the air. Stay tuned.
This is the abbreviation of ‘International Upper Great Lakes Study’, the new name given to the study being done by the Corps of Engineers to determine whether or not they should change the way they manage the water level in Lake Superior. This is super important for us because what comes out of Lake Superior goes into (only one guess now!) Lakes Michigan/Huron. Remember the high water in 1986? Our lakes were high due to above-average precipitation, and so was Superior. But when Superior went above the maximum level set for it, the 14 gates on the ‘control structure’ were opened and we had water flooding buildings in Chicago. Again there’s some good news – they’ve actually started, and two people from our sister group in Michigan are on the Public Interest Advisory Group. The study has been extended to include Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River, the river that drains Lakes Huron/Lake Michigan into Lake St. Clair and eventually Lake Erie. Due to a lot of pressure from Congress and a many public groups, the project has been expedited so the first report will be issued in February, 2009. You’ve no doubt read in the papers about the ‘drain hole’ – the deepening of the channel in the river that allows too much water to flow out of the lakes. Preliminary work shows that’s not what’s happening, but no-one really knows yet. Stay tuned.
In April and May, the IJC and the Corps will hold public hearings around the basin to get people’s thoughts and opinions. None have been scheduled in Wisconsin yet, but there will be. As soon as we know dates and places, we’ll let you know.
One last point on this issue – as we speak, Lake Superior is 12 inches below seasonal average and only 7 inches above its record low. Precipitation was high in December and January but the rest of the year was below average. Our lake will probably rise a little, but not much.
Great Lakes Restoration
Very little is going on here because all the people needed to work on it are tied up with the Compact. Our Lake Michigan Stakeholders’ Group is making some progress, with two work groups actually working on projects in their areas. Their progress is excellent and we’re going to use their plans as models for the other work groups. I hope to have more to report to you by our next newsletter.
You’ll remember this is the DNR’s upgrade of their shoreland management rules. Expect another round of public hearings this summer. None are scheduled, but so many people are concerned about limitations on what they can and can’t do on their properties that the DNR will have to listen. Our concern is the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM), which is not well-defined and in many cases will prevent us from adding on to our homes or cottages. We’ll keep you posted.
Odds and Ends
–           Your president will be meeting with Rep. Sensenbrenner in March. I’ll be accompanied by a few of the environmental groups and the DNR. We’ll brief him on what’s going on and the help we’ll need from him. Our intent is to bring our politicos into the process at the front end so they can help us when bills are actually written. We’ve done this with Reps. Kagen and Petri so far and it went very well. We will try to get to Reps. Moore and Ryan during the year. Our two senators present a somewhat greater challenge but we’ll get to them too.
–           The DNR has a new Secretary, as you may have known. He has no background in environmental work. I’ll meet with him in the next few months so that he can understand who we are and what our objectives are and we can get to know him. The DNR has been noticeably absent from much of the Great Lakes work going on, possibly because they only have five people – a manager, one part-time person, two temporaries, and one full time. Now the full-time person is leaving so I don’t expect much help from them for the next few months.
–           Some of you will find a fund-raising mailer with this newsletter. People, we can do some great things, but not without money. Right now we can’t even make four newsletters in 2008, let alone attend meetings and other events or run our Stakeholders’ Groups. We need your help – please be generous. If you’ve already paid, thanks very much, and you may disregard the fund-raiser.
That’s all for now! Thanks for your attention and support.
Jim Te Selle, President