Local environmental groups are understandably concerned about the water needs of Foxconn, given that an additional 7 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day may be withdrawn to supply the massive manufacturing campus under construction in Mount Pleasant.
Representatives from the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network, the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for the Great Lakes discussed the issue Oct. 25 with Keith Haas, general manager for the Racine Water and Wastewater Utility, who has talked with Foxconn officials about wastewater and diverting water to the Foxconn development.
“There are more questions than answers right now,” said Haas. “Right now, if they don’t even know what they want to make … they don’t really know what to tell me.”
Foxconn initially said it planned to build a Generation 10.5 factory manufacturing panels for 75-inch televisions in Mount Pleasant; it now says it will build a Generation 6 factory that produces considerably smaller glass panels, and in August Foxconn spokesperson Louis Woo told The Journal Times that Foxconn is not “really interested in television,” and that workers here will be focused on figuring out new ways to use Foxconn’s display, cellular, and AI technology, building out an “ecosystem” Woo calls “AI 8K+5G.”
The state Department of Natural Resources last April approved the City of Racine’s request to divert 7 million gallons of water per day outside the Great Lakes Basin. For the sake of comparison, the Water Utility’s daily draw in 2016, before Foxconn was even on Racine County’s radar, was 16.9 million gallons per day.
The Midwest Environmental Advocates organization quickly challenged the DNR’s decision, saying the decision goes against The Great Lakes Compact.
The Compact, a 2008 agreement intended to safeguard the Great Lakes, stated that a water diversion for a lakefront community like Mount Pleasant must largely serve residential customers — something the MEA and other environmental groups are taking issue with.
In a news release, the DNR said that Racine’s requested 7 million gallons per day withdrawal would only amount to a 0.07 percent increase in the total surface water withdrawals from Lake Michigan. The news release also stated that Foxconn will need to work with the City of Racine to meet pretreatment requirements for wastewater.
Shortly after the MEA filed a legal action, Foxconn officials said they had plans to install a $30 million zero-liquid discharge system in order to reduce the facility’s water intake requirements. A ZLD system is a wastewater treatment process which has as its goal to reduce the volume of wastewater that requires further treatment, economically process wastewater and produce a clean stream suitable for reuse. The system “will go beyond any local, state and federal requirements relating to industrial water discharge,” Foxconn told TheVerge.com, a Vox Media website, in an Oct. 29 report.
We appreciate the commitments Foxconn has made with regard to handling Lake Michigan water with care. But we also want both government and private groups to maintain vigilance in holding Foxconn to those commitments.
Because Foxconn will be withdrawing and returning from the lake, and that’s where we get our drinking water.