Public ‘Use’ and Public ‘Interest’

There can be little mistake that current law prohibits the diversion of water to the ‘straddling community’ of the proposed Foxconn site, for the fact that five plus million of that request is squarely for private use by Foxconn, and therefore not public (Statue 281.346).  People who argue to the contrary are conflating public use with what they deem to be in the public interest. 

There is some claim in this matter that the diversion is in the regional public interest.  In fact, I would be optimistic about the near-term prospect of public improvement.  But the public use requirement is a far-sighted clause and overturning the clause in this case quite clearly sets a precedent whereby non-straddling communities (at a minimum straddling counties like Waukesha) can make a claim to water diversions for the sake of industry.  That, it must be clear, is where this is eventually headed, should we allow for non-public use in this case.

What difference does it make?

The diversion is 1/300th of the current Chicago consumptive diversion, it is therefore very hard to see how this doesn’t amount to a drop in the bucket, which ties Wisconsin’s hands when trying to be competitive with neighboring Great Lakes states.  But overcoming the ‘but what about them’ mentality is what The Council is supposed to achieve.  By bypassing the recommendations and ratification of The Council (who did ratify the Waukesha diversion), we may be stepping backwards, and again into a sibling rivalry mentality. Keeping us out of a competition that is detrimental to our Great Lakes is in large part the purpose of the Council.  What do they have to say?

The future we don’t want

The visionary fear is of a day when any and all great lakes states are diverting great lakes water everywhere for the sake of industry, and even if that water is returned to the basin – as it should be – it is in a polluted state, making a great dumping ground of our lakes.  It is important that pollutants meet current regulations, but there is always something more, something else, something complex we cannot account for, which we know is inevitably coming – even if we know not what.  The next invasive species introduced through ballast water with increased shipping would seem inevitable (Egan, 2017).  Will nanoparticles’ effect on ecology be an Ice-9 we learn about too late?  Who knows?  But we cannot engineer our way out of every scenario and take them one at a time as they arise; given the pace of innovation it is best not to introduce new problems in the first place.  This starts by limiting pollution to entities resident to the Great Lakes basin.


My recommendation is that this diversion not be accepted without guidance and ratification from The Council, but that The Council should not ratify it, because it is not for public use.  Noting premature investment in the project site, all or part of the offer should be made to, e.g. rebid for Amazon HQ2, who should be happy to add Environmental Steward to their portfolio – and therefore may make an exception- even if this premature investment in the site seems to be irresponsible.