Rep. Miller Calls for Additional Action to Mitigate Damage to the Great Lakes

Apr 17, 2013 Issues: Great Lakes

Miller calls for timely analysis of diverted Great Lakes water, and for States to revisit Consent Decree, stop Great Lakes water diversion to Illinois

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Candice Miller (MI-10), the Co-Chair of the House of Representatives’ Great Lakes Task Force, sent the following second request to the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to provide a review of the inter-basin diversion of water from the Great Lakes through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal because of the negative impact it is having on the water levels in the Great Lakes.  The last published review was conducted in 2009.  Additionally, Miller sent a letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder asking him to work with governors of the Great Lakes States to consider revisiting the consent decree to stop the diversion of Great Lakes water to Illinois.  In 1967, the eight Great Lakes States entered into a U.S. Supreme Court consent decree regulating the diversion of Great Lakes water into the Chicago River. The consent decree states that the State of Illinois may not divert more than 3,200 cubic feet per second from Lake Michigan for navigation, domestic or sanitary uses. The consent decree was modified in 1980 to allow Illinois to extend domestic use of the water to additional communities and to provide additional guidance on the parameters of the measurement of the diversion.  It was modified again in 1995 after Illinois was found to be violating the consent decree by diverting more water than allowed.  Miller said:

“Clearly there are many reasons why our Great Lakes are experiencing low lake levels; Mother Nature is cyclical and we have had warmer winters, less ice cover and less precipitation.  While I appreciate the Corps’ assurances that the current amount of water being diverted from the Great Lakes through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and down the Mississippi River has a minimally controlled impact on water levels, I have a great concern regarding our low water levels especially since the Corps has yet to produce a timely report providing sufficient review of the inter-basin diversion of water from the Great Lakes.  In the 1990s, the State of Illinois was caught diverting 15% more water than allowed and without a thorough and timely review of the water levels by the Corps how do we know this type of excess diversion isn’t continuing, or worse yet increasing especially with low water levels in the Mississippi River? 

“Once water is diverted from the Great Lakes Basin, it is gone forever which is why a hard look must be taken to reconsider and hopefully end this diversion of Great Lakes waters.  The consent decree allowing for this regulated diversion is decades old, and with the extreme change in our water conditions, our boaters and shippers who rely on access to the Great Lakes are being significantly disadvantaged so that barges on the Mississippi River are advantaged.  I am asking Michigan Governor Snyder to work with the governors of the Great Lakes States to consider a thorough review of the consent decree, to stop this diversion of the Great Lakes’ through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and down the Mississippi River.  The Great Lakes Basin Compact was designed to responsibly manage the use and conservation of the water resources from the Great Lakes Basin, and especially during these historic low water levers we must take steps to end any further damage.  Over 100 years of our Great Lakes water being diverted is enough.

“The Corps must make it a priority to finish the current study, and they need to provide a sufficient review and issue a report every year.  As the Co-Chair of the House of Representatives’ Great Lakes Task Force, I will work with my fellow members of Congress from Great Lakes States and our governors to engage with the Corps and find solutions to protect our magnificent Great Lakes, our economy and our environment.”

Below are the letters Rep. Miller sent to the Army Corps of Engineers and to Governor Snyder:

April 17, 2013
The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy
Assistant Secretary of the Army
Department of the Army, Civil Works
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0108

Dear Secretary Darcy:

I writing in response to your letter dated April 2, 2013, regarding my inquiry over the low water levels in the Great Lakes and the water diversion from Lake Michigan to the State of Illinois.  While I appreciate your assurances that this diversion has a negligible impact on the water levels of the Great Lakes, I respectfully disagree and request that we continue to find ways to mitigate the damage caused by these historically low water levels.

As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court consent decree in Wisconsin v. Illinois, 388 U.S. 426 (1967), and the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 require the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to provide an accounting of water diverted from Lake Michigan to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The Corps’ Chicago District is responsible for this accounting – the data collection, computation, and report.  I appreciate the complexity of this scientific process but continue to be concerned that a report has not been produced since 2009.  Without a timely analysis of the accounting of water that is diverted, it remains difficult to find an appropriate remedy for the low water levels in the Great Lakes. 

I respectfully request a thorough explanation as to the processes and procedures used to produce the Lake Michigan diversion accounting report, with specific emphasis on the aspects that create the lag time.  I would also like to provide any assistance the Corps’ believes is necessary to end this backlog and provide these reports in a more efficient manner. 

Additionally, I will be exploring the possibility of working with Michigan’s governor and the governors of the Great Lakes States to revisit the Consent Decree and amend the amount of water diverted to Illinois.  Moreover, I will be exploring options during consideration of the Water Resources Development Act for an independent outside evaluation of the water diversion accounting.

I stand ready to assist the Corps in continuing its efforts in protecting the Great Lakes and I am eager to work together to find solutions that will stop the damage being caused to the region by these record low water levels.

Sincerely,
Candice S. Miller
Member of Congress

 

April 17, 2013
The Honorable Rick Snyder
Governor
State of Michigan
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Dear Governor Snyder:

I write today to respectfully request your assistance with an issue of extreme importance: the historically low water levels in the Great Lakes.

As you are aware, the water levels on all the Great Lakes are lower than average this year.  In fact, the forecast recently released by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) predicts below average levels for the next six months.  This is continued bad news for a state whose economy heavily relies upon the Great Lakes as a superhighway for the transit of goods and as an economic engine for the upcoming summer tourist season.  A variety of explanations have been provided that include dry weather, lack of snow, warm air temperatures and the cyclical nature of the water levels.  However, I am concerned that one theory that has not been given sufficient review is the inter-basin diversion of the water from the Great Lakes through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal down the Mississippi River.

Since 1900, water has been diverted from Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes system in Chicago, Illinois, for a variety of reasons such as sewage disposal and commercial navigation.  Diversion of the Lake Michigan waters has varied substantially over the years and has been the source of controversy, including a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and a subsequent consent decree with the State of Michigan.  Under the consent decree, Illinois was limited to diverting no more than 3,200 cubic feet of water per second each year.  In 1995, a dispute arose between Michigan and Illinois because more water was being diverted from Lake Michigan through the Chicago diversion than was allowed by the court decree.  Subsequent inquiries revealed that Illinois was exceeding the agreed upon water diversion levels by nearly 15%.  Illinois took steps to restore the excess amount of water it withdrew; yet, the water levels of the Great Lakes continue to remain below normal levels.

In recent months, you have taken a proactive approach to mitigate the damage that is wreaking havoc on our Great Lakes by successfully implementing an emergency dredging strategy.  This initiative to use state funds for harbor maintenance projects is a welcome relief.  It is certainly an example of your commitment to facing this crisis affecting our communities.  In addition to this

approach, I believe there is another solution that should be considered – revisiting the consent decree and amending the amount of water that is diverted to Illinois.

In the past, Illinois has shown the propensity to divert more water than is permissible.   With the Corps having failed to produce its annual Lake Michigan diversion accounting report since 2009, there is much uncertainty about the true amount being sent to Illinois.  Between historic low levels and outdated science, I believe now is the time to revisit this decree and provide long overdue relief to our dry Lakes.

As a lifelong resident of Michigan who has lived along the shores of the Great Lakes, I have a deep understanding of the challenges we face.  I have heard from my constituents whose livelihoods are dependent upon the Lakes.  I stand ready to work with you in solving this pervasive problem and I am eager to speak with you further about the option of revisiting the consent decree.

Sincerely,
Candice S. Miller
Member of Congress

###