The Great Lakes Compact has often been portrayed as a battle between Milwaukee and Waukesha. It’s not. The compact’s rules for how to use and conserve Great Lakes water have been portrayed as pitting Democrats who favor them versus Republicans who don’t. Also untrue. In fact, more Republicans than Democrats support the compact, with a […]

The Great Lakes Compact has often been portrayed as a battle between Milwaukee and Waukesha. It’s not.

The compact’s rules for how to use and conserve Great Lakes water have been portrayed as pitting Democrats who favor them versus Republicans who don’t. Also untrue.

In fact, more Republicans than Democrats support the compact, with a majority of legislators favoring a bill to approve it. But a small group of Republicans have so far prevented the Assembly from voting on legislation.

If you want all the background on these issues, you can check an excellent article by Barbara Miner that ran last month in Milwaukee Magazine or a fine, two-part Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Dan Egan from last week.

At issue is one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water, which other states and even the Canadian province of Ontario have at various times proposed to divert for use outside the Great Lakes basin. This water is not inexhaustible: Just 1 percent of the lakes is replenished each year by rainwater and snowmelt. If there is enough diversion to outside communities that is not replaced, the lakes will decline. A disastrous example of this scenario is the freshwater Aral Sea, which overlaps Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and shrank by 25 percent in less than 50 years, turning areas once submerged by 45 feet of water into dry land.

Once you allow one community outside the Great Lakes basin to grab some of the water, how do you prevent countless American and Canadian cities from doing the same?

To protect the Great Lakes, eight governors of the states in the Great Lakes basin labored for five years, holding more than 60 public meetings and generating more than 13,000 public comments, to create the compact. It gives any governor the right to veto the diversion of water to communities outside the basin.

The compact was easily approved by legislatures in Minnesota, Indiana, New York and Illinois, with more than 90 percent of lawmakers voting in favor. It has huge support from citizens of this state, whose economy, lifestyle and tourism are heavily dependent on Lake Michigan; polls show even more Republicans (83 percent) than Democrats (76 percent) favor the compact. The Wisconsin Senate approved the compact, 26-6.

In the Assembly, where four Republican representatives stood up with Gov. Jim Doyle in support of the compact, a bill on this would pass, but has never been brought to the floor by Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem). Huebsch has been working closely with Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), whose district includes communities like Mukwonago and East Troy. Half of Mukwonago and all of East Troy would be ineligible for a diversion of Lake Michigan water under the compact rules.

As for the city of Waukesha, under the compact it is considered a community in a county that straddles the Great Lakes basin and therefore could get access to lake water – but under tough conditions: It must replenish all water taken, so lake levels don’t decline. This raises huge ecological and engineering and financial issues: How would Waukesha purify and then ship the used water back to Lake Michigan and how much would it cost? If Waukesha can solve these problems and its citizens are willing to pay for it (and the cost of pipeline to Lake Michigan won’t be cheap), a diversion is possible.

But the issue of water for communities like Waukesha and Mukwonago is small potatoes to most legislators in Wisconsin. The foot-dragging on this bill exposes the degree to which the Republican-led assembly is and has been dominated by representatives from the western suburbs and Waukesha County. Doyle is now negotiating with Huebsch and other legislative leaders on the issue, while threatening to call a special session to approve the bill. Given the huge support for the bill statewide, the governor would seem to hold the upper hand.

Pouncing on Penis Puppets

Some stories are too good to make up. April 15-20, Milwaukee’s Miramar Theatre will be showing The Puppetry of the Penis, a touring show in which two guys behind a projection screen perform what its promoters call “the ancient art of Australian genital origami.” Oh, those randy Aussies.

Randy enough to manipulate their private parts and create many comic characters or situations, including “The Pelican, The Windsurfer, The Eiffel Tower, Loch Ness Monster, and the signature installation,” as the promoter puts it, “The Hamburger.” What, it’s better than the Loch Ness Monster?

Anyway, there’s nothing in this show about Easter, Jesus or religion of any kind, but somehow, talk radio’s Mark Belling and others decided this was an attack on Christianity.

That’s odd, because this is actually the third time the show has come to the Miramar. It previously ran in April 2004 and December 2005 without an incident, other than a mostly female audience yukking it up.

But this year, the return engagement is dubbed the “Res-erection Tour,” an obvious double entendre. And as he did for the first two bookings, Miramar producer Bill Stace once again advertised in the Journal Sentinel, and the paper once again ran it in the Friday weekend Cue section. The ad was scheduled to run four straight Fridays before the show opened.

Ah, but that meant the ad ran on March 21 – Good Friday. This got the attention of conservative Christians, Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association and Badger Blogger, not necessarily in that order, and finally provoked some on-air condemnation from Belling.

The result: lots of irate calls to the Journal Sentinel. “They said they got hundreds of calls,” Stace says, and as a result Stace was told the paper had decided to pull his ad for the other weeks booked. Stace went to the top, talking to JS Publisher Betsy Brenner, and even offered to run an ad with an apology for its running on Good Friday. Brenner refused. (She confirmed the story to me by e-mail.)

The irony, as Stace notes, is that the JS reviewed the show when it first came to town and Jackie Loohauis, who might be described as the soul of middle-class respectability, declared it “silly, not salacious.” She also got in some pretty good double entendres herself. But since the review didn’t run on Good Friday, I guess that was OK.

The Buzz

Do we need more business, more hotels, and a more bustling atmosphere around the airport? Ald. Terry Witkowski, whose district includes that area, thinks so, and has managed to get some officials concerned about the issue, as a story  last week reported. But the expert making the argument that we’re far behind other cities in this regard cited the airports in Memphis, Tenn., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Ontario, Calif., as the leaders. Hardly the gold standard for American tourism.

Aren’t visitors much more likely to be impressed by a vibrant downtown? I don’t recall ever visiting a city and wanting to spend time hanging out near the airport. Given limited resources and limited time of public officials, wouldn’t they be wiser to continue focusing on developing Downtown and its attractions and hotels?

Speaking of local attractions, the Sports Nut tells why the Brewers will finish ahead of the favored Cubs.