Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great Lakes Water Should be Valued, Not Discounted

A central premise of the new Great Lakes Compact is that Great Lakes waters are worth protecting and that a premium be placed on water conservation and efficiency. In short, we need to put our own house in order.

That point is being missed by Milwaukee, however, as that city looks to offer Great Lakes water at a discount to lure high-volume business and industry water users to relocate and expand there.

It’s not that we shouldn’t lure sustainable businesses to invigorate the Great Lakes economy. In fact, quite the opposite.

But it’s time community leaders in Milwaukee and other Great Lakes communities put their money behind the words of the compact -– that the lakes are an asset to be touted and protected, not discounted and squandered. Put another way, if Great Lakes cities don’t recognize the intrinsic value of being situated near the world’s largest concentration of freshwater lakes, how can they convince others of their value?

In comments presented to Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission (PSC) in Milwaukee Wednesday, Alliance Water Conservation Director Ed Glatfelter urged the commission to reject Milwaukee’s bid for a discounted “economic development” water rate, terming it a “a false bargain with cheap water.”

“Great Lakes municipalities with a ready supply of water who want to promote economic development need to promote the reliability and long-term sustainability of their water resource -- genuine qualities that contrast with artificially low prices,” he said.

Indeed, Glatfelter –- with more than 26 years of water supply management experience under his belt -- notes that smart marketing could even help communities pay for water infrastructure if they use full-cost and conservation pricing for water.

There are other reasons to deny Milwaukee’s request. Among them: the city’s water rates are already low. A draft PSC survey of large cities in Wisconsin and throughout the United States determined Milwaukee’s water rates would be the fifth lowest of the 28 cities surveyed even after proposed rate increases on the city’s existing water users are enacted.

Another reason: Fully 68 percent of respondents to a recent survey of corporations considering relocation or expansion say sustainable development is more important now than ever.

Noting growing concerns about the availability of long-term water supplies beyond the Great Lakes Basin, Glatfelter said, “The reliability, long-term sustainability and quality of the Great Lakes Basin’s water resource should be attractive enough -- even at fully valued prices -- to be an effective economic development tool.”

Attractive enough, to be sure, but still taken for granted by many in the region. It was this same complacency that drove adoption of the Great Lakes Compact back in 2008, a policy that largely bans water diversions from the Great Lakes at the same time that it calls for ratcheting up conservation and water efficiency in the region.

The simple thinking was this: the region must demonstrate that it values and protects the waters of the Great Lakes before it can tell others who come calling for water to do the same.

Ultimately, the battle for maintaining the Great Lakes over time won’t be won with a single sweeping piece of legislation, but with many smaller acts that underscore our reverence and commitment to these waters.

The Wisconsin PSC has an opportunity now to send a clear message that Great Lakes water doesn’t belong on the closeout rack.

Alliance For The Great Lakes

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