VALPARAISO — Places like Lowell could end up in a heated battle over access to Lake Michigan water if the community ever reapplies to divert drinking water from it.
The Great Lakes Compact has banned, with limited exceptions for straddling communities, diversions from the lakes. That means communities like Lowell — which is located five miles from the natural Great Lakes basin but in Lake County, which straddles Lake Michigan — would have to go through a rigorous review before it could be granted permission to divert water.
Peter Annin, a journalist and prominent author of books on the Great Lakes, talked about those issues in a presentation at Valparaiso University on Tuesday night.
“Lowell’s problem before was that it had natural contamination; too much FLUORIDE,” he said. “Lowell was under heavy federal pressure in the 1990s to find an alternative water source or invest in expensive treatment technology. That’s why they turned to Lake Michigan.”
At the time, Michigan Gov. John Engler vetoed Lowell’s request. The town now drinks ground water from new wells.
But if Lowell were to apply to use Lake Michigan water because of water contamination or a water shortage, it would have to promise several things: that it would return the used water to the basin after it’s cleaned to federal standards, that it wouldn’t have a negative environmental impact, and that it would implement water conservation plans. Then eight Great Lakes governors would have to approve.
Annin said areas like Valparaiso would also be up for a battle to get water, but that it is the kind of community for which diversion exceptions were written into the compact.
“So people may not realize that now, but if there’s a water contamination issue or a water quantity issue, you’re in a fortunate area because you have the right to ask,” he said. “People down the road wouldn’t even have the right to ask.”