In 2008, the states and provinces surrounding the Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec) joined together to manage and protect the largest collection of freshwater in the world. The agreement is known as the Great Lakes Compact. One of the main reasons the Compact was forged was to regulate water use from the Great Lakes.
There are 3 kinds of regulated water use:
Withdrawal - This includes any action that takes ground or surface water from the Great Lakes Basin
Consumptive Use - This includes any withdrawal that is not returned to the Basin because it is used up or lost to evaporation.
Diversion - This includes moving or transporting water from the Great Lakes Basin to any other watershed outside the Basin’s borders.
While the first 2 types mostly apply to entities within the watershed, Diversion regulates how water moves outside the watershed borders. To date, there is only one instance of an approved water diversion from the Great Lakes Basin to Waukesha, WI, a community on the border of the watershed. The rules for water diversion are strictly enforced, and any request for diversion must be approved by the Great Lakes Compact Council.
There is currently a national discussion surrounding the need to ship water to the Western United States to support the growing population and relieve the stress of persistent drought. The Great Lakes Compact Council will undoubtedly face requests for water diversion to the Western United States. Using the regulation tools created by the Compact, the Council can assess the potential impacts to the Great Lakes Basin and weigh them against the requests for water diversions. Without this legal collective, the Great Lakes would face growing pressure to divert water outside the Basin, and there would be no group to assess and regulate the impact of withdrawal, consumption, and diversions.
The Council wields regulatory powers that are becoming increasingly relevant as the United States faces clean water shortages. As such, it faces the dilemma of responsibility to protect the regional water use weighed against the needs of the greater United States.