Waukesha's application for Great Lakes water is finally in the hands of the regional body that needs to sign off on the proposal.
After indicating it meets the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact and giving the application its blessing, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources submitted the city's proposal to borrow Lake Michigan water to the governors and premiers of the other Great Lakes states and provinces on Thursday, Jan. 7.
The review is expected to take six months and will include six public meetings. A public information meeting and public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 18 at the Shattuck Music Center at Carroll University, 218 N. East Ave.
The Regional Body and Compact Council has set the budget for the entire review process at $261,668. Each state must approve of the application for it to move forward.
If the application is approved by the Compact Council following the regional review process, the city of Waukesha would begin the necessary steps to obtain the required state permits for diverting Lake Michigan water.
Mayor hopes for approval
The DNR, after a five-year review, has concluded that Waukesha has no reasonable water supply alternative and qualifies for water under the Great Lakes Compact.
"We are pleased that the DNR — after an exhaustive independent analysis — has concluded that borrowing Lake Michigan water is our only sustainable, healthy and cost-effective alternative," said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly. "We are confident that the governors and premiers, after reviewing the years of comprehensive studies, will agree."
Under the proposal, the DNR could allow Waukesha to withdraw up to an average of 10.1 million gallons per day and will return 100 percent of it to Lake Michigan.
The city would obtain Lake Michigan water from the Oak Creek Water Utility and return it via the Root River, a tributary that flows to Lake Michigan.
"The amount Waukesha would withdraw is equivalent to one one-millionth of 1 percent of Great Lakes water and we will return the same amount," Reilly said. "There will be no impact on the Great Lakes."
Waukesha is under a court-ordered deadline to have radium compliant water by 2018, and studies have shown that continued use of the aquifer is unsustainable for the city.
Not the first
Waukesha is the second community to seek to borrow Great Lakes water since the Great Lakes Compact became law in 2008. The first, New Berlin, straddles the Great Lakes Basin Divide and only needed approval from Wisconsin.
Since Waukesha does not straddle the divide, but is in a county that does (the city is only 1.5 miles outside of the basin divide), it can borrow water with the consent of the Great Lakes governors under the Compact.
"This is not a matter of choosing between protection of the Great Lakes and safe drinking water for Waukesha," Reilly said. "The Compact agreement provides for both."
The DNR said in its review that Waukesha has no reasonable water supply alternative in the Mississippi River Basin, even with conservation of existing water supplies.
"The water supply alternatives are likely to have greater adverse environmental impacts due to projected impacts on wetlands and lakes than the proposed Lake Michigan alternative," the DNR wrote. "The department determined that all the proposed water supply alternatives are similar in cost to the Lake Michigan alternative, yet none is as environmentally sustainable or as protective of public health as the proposed Lake Michigan water source."