Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

December 2, 2006

A Brief History of Great Lakes Diversion Projects

The New York State Barge Canal, which has been in operation since the early 1800s, diverts a small amount of water to the Hudson River watershed.

1848-1899. Chicago River reversed (“Illinois Diversion”) diverting water from Lake Michigan down the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and eventually to the Mississippi River to reverse flow of untreated domestic sewage into Lake Michigan and Chicago’s drinking water intakes.

1939-1943. Water begins to be diverted into Lake Superior from the Long Lac and Ogoki watersheds (Ontario) in the amount of 5580 cubic feet per second (3.6 billion gallons per day) for hydromanufacturing for WWII.

Proposed in the 1960’s, The Great Recycling and Northern Development project, known as GRAND, involved constructing a barrier to separate James Bay from Hudson Bay to keep out salt water and thereby create an enormous freshwater reservoir. GRAND also proposed to reverse the flow of some Canadian rivers to take water from the James Bay and transport it into Lake Huron where it could be further pumped to water-hungry communities across North America.

1981. The Powder River Coal Company proposes to build a $2.1 billion coal slurry pipeline to the Great Lakes to bring western low-sulfur coal to the mid- west. The proposal includes a fresh water line to Gillette, Wyoming for feed for the coal slurry line. For the proposal to go forward, the company must obtain authority for eminent domain from the Federal government. The Federal government does not give the company eminent domain, and therefore the project does not go forward.

1982. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performs a study on the possibility of diverting Great Lakes Water to recharge the Ogallala Aquifer, which stretches from Wyoming to Texas. After the study is completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refuses to allow the proposed diversion to go forward.

1990. The Village of Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin seeks and receives approval from the Great Lakes Governors to divert 3.2 million gallons per day from Lake Michigan for public water supply purposes.

1992. The City of Lowell, Indiana is denied approval for a diversion of 2 million gallons per day for public water supply purposes. The proposal is vetoed by the Michigan Governor John Engler.

1995. The Great Lakes Charter’s prior notice and consultation procedure for in-basin withdrawals exceeding 5 million gallons per day consumptive use is initiated when Michigan’s Mud-Creek Irrigation District proposes to use Great Lakes water that will result in a consumptive loss of between 5-6 million gallons per day. Despite objections raised by Indiana Governor Evan Bayh and the Canadian Premiers of Ontario and Québec, the proposal goes forward.

1998. The City of Akron, Ohio seeks and receives approval from the Great Lakes Governors to divert up to 4.8 million gallons per day from Lake Erie for public water supply purposes. Approval by all Governors stipulates requirement to achieve no net loss by returning an amount of water to the Great Lakes basin equal to the amount of water withdrawn from the Great Lakes basin.

1998. The Nova Group (Ontario) requests and receives a permit from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to ship (in bulk containers) approximately 160 million gallons per year of raw water from Lake Superior for the purpose of selling the water “in Asia.” Because the amount of water withdrawn is less than 5 million gallons per day average over any 30-day period, and because the proposal is in Canada, neither the Great Lakes Charter’s prior notice and consultation requirements nor the WRDA are applicable. The permit is rescinded in response to strong objections raised by the Great Lakes Governors and the general public.

2002. Nestlé/Perrier (Ice Mountain) water bottling plant in Stanwood, Michigan, 50 miles north of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The plant does not withdraw directly from the lake, but an aquifer that feeds the Muskegon River, which flows into Lake Michigan. Ice Mountain has been permitted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to withdraw up to 400 gallons a minute since May, 2002, even though a judge said the state had no standard to issue the permit. The judge shut down the Ice Mountain bottling plant in 2003.



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