Conservation coalition contests Waukesha's revised Great Lakes water application

Published on: 11/6/2013

One day before the first informational meeting on Waukesha’s revised water application, a conservation and environmental coalition is questioning it.

The Compact Implementation Coalition, which includes the organizations Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Waukesha County Environmental Action League and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, contends the City of Waukesha’s plan to divert an average of 10.1 million gallons daily from Lake Michigan does not meet the standards of the Compact designed to protect the Great Lakes.

Waukesha adjusted its water demand forecasts from the original application first sent out in 2010. The estimated 10.1 million gallons per day (mgd), and 16.7 mgd on a peak demand day are lower than previous estimates of 10.9 and 18.5 mgd, respectively.

Ezra Meyer, water resources specialist for Clean Wisconsin, has more questions regarding the application.

“While we believe that all people deserve a clean, sustainable water supply, the big question that remains is whether Waukesha has a reasonable local water supply option to meet its needs including a whole-hearted effort to conserve all the water it can," Meyer said.

Cheryl Nenn, with Milwaukee Riverkeeper, added: "Our Coalition has worked with Waukesha for years and offered constructive suggestions on their application again and again, yet the revised application fails to meet some of the basic requirements of the Great Lakes Compact."

Among the main concerns the CIC has is that Waukesha has not made a compelling case that it is without a reasonable local water supply alternative; the city seeks water for a greatly expanded service area that includes areas that have adequate supplies of water; that while the city has a detailed water conservation plan, it has not been implemented to the level required by the Compact and Wisconsin law. It also questions the city discharging treated wastewater into the Root River.

Waukesha is under a court-ordered deadline to have radium-compliant water by 2018.

It is eligible for Great Lakes water because the Great Lakes Compact provides limited exceptions for communities that are within the counties that straddle the Great Lakes Basin divide. Waukesha is just 1.5 miles outside of the Great Lakes Basin.

But under the Great Lakes Compact, its request for Lake Michigan water requires the approval of the governors of the eight Great Lakes states.

Despite the coalition questioning the city's conservation plan, Waukesha will return 100 percent of the water through the Root River in Franklin, which flows into Lake Michigan.

"We will recycle water back to the lake and have no impact on lake levels," Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said.

He added the Root River, which had been a previous alternative, is now the preferred return flow because of the environmental benefits.

Waukesha needs a new water supply because the deep aquifer, its primary source, is down 400 to 600 feet, which Duchniak says creates problems with both water quantity and quality.

While the CIC says Waukesha has not made a compelling case that it is without a reasonable local water supply alternative, Duchniak has repeatedly said all the studies show the Great Lakes water is the most reliable and sustainable than any other alternative.

Waukesha’s meeting is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Carroll University Center for Graduate Studies auditorium, 2140 Davidson Road, Waukesha. There are three more meetings in the cities that had been part of the application process.

The next one is Nov. 13 at the Oak Creek Community Center, 8580 S. Howell Ave., Oak Creek; the third is Nov. 14 at the Racine Campus Conference Center, Great Lakes Room, Gateway Technical College, 1001 S. Main St., Racine, and the final meeting is Nov. 18 at the Zilber School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, rooms 109, 119 and 129, 1240 N. 10th St., Milwaukee.

Waukesha entered into an agreement to connect with Oak Creek for the purchase of Great Lakes water last year. Milwaukee was originally the preferred source in its application in 2010 but no negotiations ever materialized.

Waukesha negotiated with Racine but determined it was more cost-effective to work with Oak Creek.

While this coalition has questions about the application, Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi praises it.

"Waukesha has gone to great lengths to create a model application that promotes the environment, promotes public health and returns every drop of water back to the lake," Scaffidi said. "In working with Waukesha, Oak Creek has created a win-win scenario that is great for our region and promotes efficiency in local government, goals that can be supported by taxpayers regardless of what state they live in."