Great Lakes

As Wisconsinites, we take great pride in our natural environment, from our 15,000 lakes to the hardwood forests of Northern Wisconsin to the biking and hiking trails winding their way through the state. But perhaps one natural resource reigns as the greatest – the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes represent 20% of the world’s fresh surface water(1), supply drinking water to over 42 million people(2), and support a $65 billion economy, from shipping and fishing to the restaurants that dot its’ shores.

Despite the passage of the Great Lakes Compact that prevents other thirsty states and countries from taking our Great Lakes water in 2008, they remain threatened on many fronts:

View a map of successful Great Lakes restoration initiatives
  • Climate change and declining water levels
  • Invasive species, like flying Asian Carp
  • Implementation of the Great Lakes Compact
  • Waning support for restoration efforts
  • Contamination from toxic spills

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is fighting on all fronts to keep our Great Lakes great, but this challenge requires all hands on deck. Get involved by signing up for updates and alerts.

The Strong Great Lakes Compact

Thanks in large part to the great work of thousands of conservation voters, on May 27, 2008, Governor Doyle signed into law the Strong Great Lakes Compact which helped ensure the protection of the Great Lakes. Other thirsty states and countries often eyed our Great Lakes, hoping to fuel their growth by syphoning off our water. Thanks to the Great Lakes Compact, that is no longer an option. Passage of this historic policy was the result of the support of more than 7,000 citizens, 40 local elected officials, 50 organizations, and years of negotiations.

But now there is the first test of the Great Lakes Compact. The city of Waukesha has submitted an application to divert water out of the Great Lakes basin for their use. Because they are located in a county that straddles the Great Lakes basin, Waukesha can request water, but only in extraordinary circumstances and as a last resort. That is not the case here, setting terrible precedent for the entire Great Lakes region and weakening the Compact.

Waukesha’s application has failed to meet critical requirements to justify a Great Lakes water diversion under the Compact. Specifically:

  • Waukesha’s application does not meet the definition of a community in need and contains inflated estimates for future water needs.
  • Waukesha has an alternative option available that would use local water supplies and increased conservation methods. Not only is the suggested alternative safe from contamination and assures future growth, it also costs almost half as much.
  • Waukesha has not implemented the necessary conservation measures to reduce their water use before seeking Great Lakes water.
  • Waukesha’s proposal to return water to Lake Michigan through the Root River will have negative impacts on the Root and surrounding areas.

Find out more about the Waukesha application here:

Plastics in the Great Lakes

BlurryLakeBoyResizeThe 2015 legislative session kicked off with a bill to keep plastic microbeads – those tiny beads in exfoliating soaps and other personal care products – out of the Great Lakes by phasing out their production over the next few years.

These plastic beads are not only bad for the health of our lakes, they’re bad for our health, too. Microbeads absorb some of the most harmful pollutants already present in the Great Lakes, such as DDT and PCBs. Fish eat the tiny plastic pellets – and when fish eat microbeads and we eat the fish, we’re exposed to higher levels of toxins.

Illinois has already banned products containing microbeads and passing similar legislation in Wisconsin brings us one step closer to a regional moratorium on a harmful but easily preventable pollutant.

Conservation voters sent more than 1,600 letters to legislators asking them to sign on in support of keeping plastics out of the Great Lakes. And the bill passed both the Assembly and Senate with strong bipartisan support.


(1) University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (2009). “Our Waters – The Great Lakes Compact.”

(2) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (n.d.). “About Our Great Lakes: Great Lakes Basin Facts.” Web. Retrieved 2013.