Twenty percent of the world’s fresh water in the world is in the Great Lakes. That water has drawn significant interstate controversies for over 100 years. States have had recourseto the Supreme Court seven times, testing what a state can or cannot do with the water of Lake Michigan. The most important of the cases, the one between Illinois and the other lake-bordering states, was filed in 1922 and is still open today. The central issue has been the withdrawal by Illinois of significant quantities of Lake Michigan water to use as flush water for Chicago’s human and industrial wastes, sending them westward into the Mississippi .Other issues evolved as well.
The Supreme Court has been the main decider.
In most instances of controversy the Supreme Court appointed a special master to gather the evidence and recommend resolution. The Court’s decision in each instance is readily available, but none of the underlying masters’ reports and related briefing are in the Court’s records today. For this library all the special masters’ reports, and much of the states’ briefing, has been recovered, along with significant evidentiary and background materials. It is hoped that scholars and members of the public will find this long story pertinent to contemporary discussions regarding water supply in an era of major droughts in many parts of the country.