A two-day conference in Chicago was held this week for regional communities coping with water shortages. At issue was the federally mandated line that determines which communities can use Great Lakes water and which cannot. The line was drawn to prevent the Great Lakes from shrinking from overuse.
It may seem paranoid to hold a water shortage conference on the shores of the world's sixth biggest freshwater lake, but a collision of politics, public health and hydrology has put a crunch on many communities that lie just beyond the Great Lakes basin dividing line, including a host of suburbs west of Milwaukee.
The line is the boundary Congress uses to determine who is entitled to Great Lakes water and who is not. The idea behind keeping Great Lakes water inside the basin is to prevent the lakes from shrinking; water taken from lakes but kept inside the basin ultimately flows back into the Great Lakes. Lake water taken beyond the basin line, in this region, ultimately flows down the Mississippi River.
The eight Great Lakes governors are plodding ahead writing new rules that could stretch the lake-use boundaries. But the rule-writing has been under way for more than three years, and nobody is expecting changes any time soon.
Meanwhile, the people whose job it is to keep the water flowing in the communities just beyond the dividing line are starting to sweat.
Their wells are, literally, running dry.
The informal conclusion some attendees have come to is, "One: People really don't know where their water comes from. And two: They're going to be really mad when it's not there."