DNR approves pulling Lake Michigan water for Foxconn plant

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Department of Natural Resources has approved the city of Racine's request to pull 7 million gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan for a Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing plant.

The agency approved the request Wednesday.

The Taiwanese company expects to break ground by next month on a $10 billion flat-screen plant in Mount Pleasant. The City of Racine asked the DNR permission to divert lake water to serve the facility.

Under the Great Lakes Compact, all water diverted from Lake Michigan must be returned minus what's lost to evaporation or what's incorporated into Foxconn's manufacturing processes. The city's application estimated about 2.7 million gallons daily will be consumed and won't return to the lake.

But some environmental groups are scrutinizing the DNR's decision, saying Foxconn's water use will actually violate the Great Lakes Compact. 

"I do think they're kind of inventing a new scenario," said Cheryl Nenn, who works for Milwaukee Riverkeeper, one of several non-profits that work to ensure the Great Lakes Compact is implemented correctly. 

The compact actually bans diversion of water from the Great Lakes, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is that the water is used for public water supply purposes in a "straddling community" or communities that straddle the Great Lakes basin boundary. 

"It's pretty clear that the water being diverted from Lake Michigan is solely to serve Foxconn," said Nenn. "The harm wouldn't be from 7 million gallons a day going to Foxconn, the harm could potentially be from cumulative impact of all the future diversions that could be standing in line behind Foxconn." 

The DNR said in a statement that it approved the request "because Racine's public water system will continue to serve a group of largely residential customers, including the straddling community of Mount Pleasant, the DNR determined that Racine's proposed diversion is for 'public water supply purposes.'"

"It is a public use that's being provided by a utility like Racine that is largely residential and has an industrial mix just as the compact envisions," said Racine Mayor Cory Mason. 

He also said they plan to make sure Foxconn follows all state and federal standards. 

"We're not going to allow anything to jeopardize Lake Michigan," said Mason. 

A spokesperson for Foxconn responded to the approval in a statement saying in part: 

"Environmental sustainability is a priority for Foxconn, and that includes compliance with all appropriate laws, rules and regulations relating to water use, water quality and wastewater treatment that apply to our operations. As a global leader in sustainable manufacturing practices, Foxconn firmly believes that we have a responsibility to help protect the environment. All aspects of Foxconn’s business and operations are guided by our Social and Environmental Responsibility Code of Conduct, which sets out Foxconn’s environmental management standards.

We take a systematic approach towards integrating green and sustainable practices into our global operations. This is the approach and philosophy that we will bring to our Wisconsin operations, and it includes reducing water consumption, optimizing water usage and actively promoting the reuse of wastewater and the use of reclaimed water in our manufacturing processes and for daily consumption in our operations. Additionally, we also will invest in leading technologies for waste treatment and disposal in compliance with environmental laws and regulations."

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