Blog  /  April 2017  /  Regional Access to Water is Heating Up

Blog Post Teaser


Region two currently encompasses Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  Collectively, the Great Lakes contain 6 quadrillion gallons of fresh water, or one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water, 95 percent of the U.S. supply, and 84 percent of the surface water supply in North America. Historically, water quality has been a primary concern in this region. Last summer, though, Waukesha, Wisconsin, became the first municipality to be permitted to divert Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes Basin. The City of Waukesha contended that a contaminated underground water supply meant Great Lakes water represents its only reliable drinking water source. However, the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative continues its effort to prevent the City of Waukesha from diverting Great Lakes water.

General Regional News and Trends:

Recently, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed an agreement with the USDA for $350 million in federal funds to improve water quality in 54 southern and western Minnesota counties. The State of Minnesota will commit $150 million to leverage the full amount via the New Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which is a state/federal effort to protect Minnesota’s natural resources. Funds will be used to create buffer strips, restore wetlands, and protect wellheads. CREP funds are expected to significantly decrease the amount of sediment and phosphorous within Minnesota’s lakes and streams and improve drinking water quality. Governor Dayton acknowledges that Minnesota has "serious water quality challenges". As a result, he intends to focus efforts on cleaning Minnesota’s rivers, streams, lakes, and groundwater during this “Year of Water Action”.

Michigan designated its portion of the Western Basin watershed as “Impaired”. Such a state designation is essential for the U.S. EPA to examine the affected waters and develop a remediation plan. According to C. Heidi Grether, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) director, “The failure of West Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) to meet Michigan’s water quality standards triggers the impaired waters reporting requirement under the Clean Water Act”. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have been collaborating with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to mitigate algae blooms and nutrient deposits into the WLEB. Plans from these three agencies will be used to help draft a Domestic Action Plan as part of the Annex 4 process, according to MDEQ.

Finally, the National Water Infrastructure Conference took place in Flint, Michigan, from March 7-9, 2017. The underlying purpose of the conference was to discuss what municipal officials have learned from lead from Flint’s water distribution network pipes contaminating its drinking water. Those who attended examined new technologies which might soon be used to repair water infrastructure not only in Flint, but also nationally.

Projects, Companies, Funding in Region:

Much of the stormwater and sanitary sewage equipment and infrastructure in Great Lakes states is hundreds of years old and prone to leaks and/or breaks. The majority of QA 2017 projects in the Great Lakes region, then, entailed providing and/or installing equipment, such as boilers, pipes, pumps, valves, and tanks. Projects also included installing water mains, sewers, manholes, lift stations, pump stations, and catch basins. Often, projects required engineers to first survey current conditions and then prepare designs to replace such equipment and infrastructure. Still other projects required vendors to provide a wide array of water treatment chemicals to ensure that water passing through water mains could be made safe for potable public consumption. Because the Great Lakes was largely first developed during the 1800s, stormwater and sanitary sewage equipment and infrastructure likely will need to continue to be inspected, repaired, and replaced on a grand scale in the near future.


In Region two, there seems to be a growing awareness of the importance of water quality on a macro level, as the State of Michigan’s recent designation of its portion of the Western Lake Erie Basin as “impaired” as a result of algal blooms and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s agreement with the USDA suggest. Moreover, the situation in Flint, Michigan implies that water distribution networks pipes in this region will likely need to be repaired and/or replaced during the coming years to prevent drinking water contamination. Beyond water quality, though, as the case of Waukesha, Wisconsin, shows, areas both within the region and outside region might increasingly demand access to Great Lakes water as public consciousness about the importance of conversing water grows.