Dry Wells and Wet Slides

The western Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, which drinks from its wells faster than nature can recharge them, has been called 'Exhibit A' in the case of the greater Great Lakes region's quiet water supply planning crisis.

But it's hard to empathize with the good people struggling through shortages there when they approve construction, of all things, a new water park.

Ironically, the popular fear hovering over Great Lakes society is that the parched people of distant lands like Georgia, Arizona, or even Asia are the ones standing at the front of the line to siphon off the region's fresh water.

But clearly the most immediate threat is much closer to home. New Berlin, like neighboring Waukesha, and countless other cities, townships, and villages - both inside and just over the edge of the Great Lakes drainage boundary - are sticking more straws into the big lakes and digging deeper into aquifers to keep up with increasing demand, even questionable proposals like a water slide.

Meanwhile, the freewheeling approach lowers water tables, sparks small water wars, and runs up municipal water costs in Michigan and parts of Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The lack of clear, common, and consistent standards to promote sustainable water use also sends a dangerous signal that Great Lakes water is free for the taking.

“We have seen the enemy and he is us,” Ron Kuehn, the Madison-based lobbyist who represented Wisconsin farmers in state water use negotiations, told me in May 2005.

So the debate goes on in Wisconsin...

...and in Ohio...

...and Michigan.