DNR Steps in on Waukesha Water Sale
WDNR Secretary Cathy Stepp has weighed in on the proposed sale of Great Lakes water to Waukesha, saying that any water sale must supply not only the City of Waukesha, but also its entire proposed future water service area. The City of Milwaukee has approved negotiations for a water sale only to Waukesha’s existing water supply area, fearing that selling water to the larger service area would fuel suburban sprawl at the expense of Milwaukee.
The Great Lakes Compact states that applicants for a Great Lakes diversion need to demonstrate that they have “no feasible water supply alternative” and this bar has arguably not been met for Waukesha or even discussed for portions of the municipalities included in the larger service area.
[excerpted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
by Don Behm
The state Department of Natural Resources will require any municipality, including Milwaukee, selling Lake Michigan water to the City of Waukesha to supply its entire future water service area and not just the city, Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said Thursday in a letter to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Willie Hines.
Stepp's declaration appears to be a setback for Barrett's strategy to contain Waukesha's development by limiting lake water distribution to its existing service area encompassing the city and 112 or so residences and businesses in the Town of Waukesha.
The refusal of Milwaukee officials to discuss distribution of water to the larger future service area has created an impasse: Milwaukee has not opened talks with Waukesha over a possible sale of Lake Michigan water.
Waukesha has been negotiating a possible water purchase with Oak Creek and Racine for a full year. It is estimated Milwaukee would reap at least $3 million a year in revenue from Waukesha under a water purchase agreement.
Draft agreements with both of those potential suppliers likely will be discussed at a Waukesha Common Council meeting in late August, Waukesha Water Utility general manager Dan Duchniak said Thursday.
In a July 18 letter to Stepp, Barrett and Hines questioned whether a supplier of lake water to Waukesha would be required to allow distribution of the water to a future service area extending into portions of four municipalities.
They got their reply Thursday with Stepp spelling out her decision: "The Department cannot allow a diversion application to proceed with a water supplier that categorically refuses to serve jurisdictions within the service area."
Barrett was not impressed and said Thursday that Waukesha ultimately would revise its application for lake water in line with Milwaukee's demands.
"It would behoove the City of Waukesha to put itself in a position to make its strongest case to the other Great Lakes states," he said. The strongest application, in his view, would be for Waukesha to ask for water only for its existing service area.
The Barrett and Hines letter followed the Milwaukee Common Council's July 6 approval of negotiations for distributing water only to Waukesha's current service area.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission designated a future water supply service area for Waukesha that encompasses portions of the City of Pewaukee and Towns of Delafield, Genesee and Waukesha. A map of the future service area is included in Waukesha's Great Lakes water diversion application.
Mayor sees growth plans
Barrett has said the map reveals Waukesha's intention to double in size. Selling water to Waukesha would fuel unbridled suburban growth at Milwaukee's expense, according to Barrett. He also has suggested that Waukesha has an undisclosed annexation strategy to take land from adjacent towns if it gets all the water it is seeking.
Under terms of a 2008 Great Lakes protection compact, this first-ever application to divert water to a community fully outside the basin would need the approval of Wisconsin and each of the seven other Great Lakes states.
Waukesha is seeking approval to divert up to an average of 10.9 million gallons of lake water a day by 2050 to be distributed within the future service area. Water must be returned to the lake as treated wastewater.
Barrett said he acknowledges that Waukesha faces a challenge in providing a potable supply for its residents because it depends on deep wells drawing radium-contaminated water from sandstone.
Barrett and Hines questioned whether the outlying communities in Waukesha's future service area must pass the same potable water supply test as Waukesha under terms of the compact.
For purposes of the application, the DNR interprets the future water supply service area as the community making the request for a diversion, Stepp said in the letter.
The Great Lakes compact requires that an "approvable diversion proposal must be consistent with an approved water supply service area plan," Stepp said.
Waukesha faces a deadline of June 2018 to provide water that meets federal drinking water standards for radium. If the diversion is approved by the eight states, Waukesha would stop using deep wells drawing radium-contaminated water from the sandstone aquifer.
For more information on the Waukesha water sale issue, read our Riverkeeper scoop here.