Waukesha's water application trickles ahead at DNR

Christopher Kuhagen
Shawn Reilly gets sworn in as the City of Waukesha’s new mayor by Clerk-Treasurer Gina Kozlik on April 15 at the Waukesha Common Council meeting. Reilly’s No. 1 goal as mayor is the approval of the city’s application for Lake Michigan water.
Published on: 4/23/2014

It's no secret about what is Shawn Reilly's No. 1 goal as the new mayor of Waukesha.

"I want that (Lake Michigan) water," Reilly said shortly after his election April 1. "If you want a specific goal it's to get approval of the compact and to have Lake Michigan water coming out of your tap."

He again let the rest of the city know that objective when he took his seat for the first time in the front of the Council Chambers last week.

"I have said this many times, obtaining Lake Michigan water for the city of Waukesha is the most important issue facing our city," Reilly said in his state of the city address. "Waukesha is at a crossroads. My position has always been that the path we need to follow is that our permanent water source needs to be Lake Michigan water."

The city, which agreed to purchase Lake Michigan water from the city of Oak Creek in late 2012, submitted its application for Great Lakes water to the Department of Natural Resources in October.

The city is under a court-ordered deadline to have radium-compliant water by June 2018.

"A large part of Waukesha's future success is tied to and dependent upon whether we are successful in this endeavor and the Water Utility, Common Council and numerous city employees and consultants have done outstanding work that should soon result in the application moving forward," Reilly said. "While much has been completed much remains to be completed. As mayor, I will provide that unwavering support."

Slower-than-ideal process

But the city continues to wait for the necessary approvals.

Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said Friday the city is still waiting for the DNR to publish a draft environmental impact statement. According to a timeline Duchniak provided last summer, he forecast the DNR issuing their draft last October.

After realizing that wasn't attainable, he sent out an updated timeline in October saying he believed the DNR would be finished in January.

"The timeline continues to shift on the review and its analysis right now," Duchniak said. "We're working with the DNR to answer any final questions that they have and getting the information complete."

Duchniak, who also said back in 2012 that he wanted all the approvals in place by last summer, wasn't sure when the DNR will issue their draft.

"They're just working on more of the details and making sure all the I's are dotted and T's are crossed," Duchniak said.

Once the DNR issues the draft EIS, a 45-day public comment period will follow. A final EIS statement will then be issued and forwarded to the eight Great Lakes states for approval.

After the city's application is distributed to the Great Lakes states, Duchniak said it could take between three and six months for a decision to be made.

Compliance extension?

It takes three years to build the necessary infrastructure, and while the city is well behind Duchniak's timeline from last year, he doesn't expect to ask for an extension.

"We don't anticipate to have to ask for one and I don't even know if one would be granted," he said. "We're analyzing all our methods to try to reduce and compress the schedule as much as we can. It's an extensive project and takes a lot of time, but we're looking at ways to meet our goal."

The deadline for the city to have radium-compliant water was signed in 2009, Duchniak said.

Reilly, a longtime municipal attorney, acknowledged the steps that still have to be taken won't be easy.

"I recognize the process to obtain approval and to then build the necessary infrastructure will be difficult, time-consuming, complex and contentious," Reilly said. "This will not be easy. That means there will be good days and days that are not so good. I am confident, however, that the end result will be that our permanent water source will be Lake Michigan water."