Groups file challenge to Lake Michigan water diversion approval for Foxconn development

Several environmental groups being represented by Midwest Environmental Advocates have filed a legal petition under the Great Lakes Compact to challenge the DNR’s approval to divert up to 7 million gallons per day for Foxconn and related developments in Mount Pleasant.

Mount Pleasant, which currently gets its water from Racine and returns wastewater to the city’s treatment plant, is known as a straddling community, with part of it in the Great Lakes Basin and the other part in the Mississippi River basin. DNR approval is needed in order for the city to provide Lake Michigan water to the portion of the village that’s in the Mississippi River basin. Diversions of Great Lakes water outside the basin are governed by the Great Lakes Compact.

The DNR approved Racine’s application April 25.

Midwest Environmental Advocates in a statement late Friday announcing its legal challenge said the DNR disregarded a requirement under the compact that water transferred out of the basin must be used for public water supply purposes, which it says is “clearly defined as serving a group of largely residential customers.” The group said Racine’s application has designated none of the water for residential purposes.

Racine’s diversion application shows the Foxconn facility would require 5.8 million gallons of water each day. Of those 5.8 million total gallons each day, 3.3 million gallons would be directed to the wastewater treatment facility and returned to Lake Michigan, while 2.5 million gallons would be lost — mostly through evaporation from the site’s cooling towers. Meanwhile, the remaining 1.2 million gallons of water each day not going to the Foxconn facility would be designated for a still-undetermined commercial or industrial development in the same diversion area of the Foxconn plant.

A DNR press release on the April 25 approval noted that because the city’s public water system would “continue to serve a group of largely residential consumers” — including Mount Pleasant — the agency “determined that Racine’s proposed diversion is for ‘public water supply purposes.’”

A spokesperson for Foxconn said the company believes the DNR decided appropriately on the diversion application and directed to its April 25 press release supporting the decision.

In that statement, Foxconn said it brings “sustainable practices” into its operations, including plans to reduce and optimize water use.

“Our compliance with all relevant regulations and a commitment to uphold the high environmental standards we set for ourselves will be overseen by various government agencies, our customers, and our internal compliance teams,” Foxconn said at the time. “This is part of our commitment to be a good corporate citizen and a responsible member of the Wisconsin community.”

Midwest Environmental Advocates said the legal challenge is needed to defend the Great Lakes Compact.

“This legal challenge is essential, as Wisconsin’s approval of the Lake Michigan water diversion requested by Racine tests the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact by ignoring a key requirement of the historic agreement entered into by the eight Great Lakes states and enacted into federal law,” said Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin. “This mistake must be corrected to defend the Great Lakes Compact and to protect our magnificent Great Lakes in the near and distant future.”

The petitioners in the suit include Milwaukee Riverkeeper, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

See the Midwest Environmental Advocates statement:

See the April 25 DNR release:

See Foxconn’s April 25 statement: