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Many state legislators recently penned their support for Waukesha's application for Great Lakes water, and now everyone will get a final chance to voice their opinions locally and get a closer look at the proposal.

With the application in the hands of a regional body which will determine whether Waukesha is approved for Lake Michigan water, a public information meeting and hearing brings the issue back home as part of the process next week.

The information meeting before the Great Lakes Resources Regional Body and the Great Lakes Water Resources Council begins at 2 p.m., followed by the 3 p.m. public hearing, Thursday, Feb. 18, in Room 122 at the Shattuck Music Center at Carroll University, 218 N. East Ave.

In addition, the public can take a tour of selected sites in Waukesha and southeastern Wisconsin that pertains to the application. The tour begins at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, departing from Carroll University outside the Campus Center, 101 N. East Ave.

A briefing on the application — more or less in an information session during which the regional body and compact council members can ask questions of the applicant — is also open to the public. It begins at 1 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Carroll University Campus Center in Room 214.

Support from politicians

Leading up those meetings, Wisconsin state legislators have already voiced their support for Waukesha's water application. Eleven state representatives and senators sent a letter to the Great Lakes Regional Body and Water Resources Council on Wednesday, Feb. 3, to "help facilitate a successful" review through the regional process.

"We strongly support the conclusion of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' extensive five-year review — that using and returning Lake Michigan water is the only reasonable alternative for Waukesha," the legislators wrote in the letter. "This application needs to be thorough and technically sound to comply with the Great Lakes Compact and with the State of Wisconsin Compact implementation statute, and we are pleased the DNR has agreed it is."

State Reps. Adam Neylon, Jessie Rodriguez, Scott Allen, Ken Skowronski, Cindi Duchow, Joel Kleefisch, Rob Hutton and Mike Kuglitsch, and Senators Leah Vukmir, Mary Lazich and Chris Kapenga were co-authors of the letter.

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner also sent a letter of support on Waukesha's water diversion to the regional body.

"I support approval of Waukesha's application because it clearly complies with the requirements laid out in the Compact, and the city has proposed a reasonable and environmental responsible plan," he said. "The regional review process was designed to be unbiased and based on science and key criteria contained in the Compact."

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly testified before the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on Tuesday, Feb. 9, in support of Waukesha's application.

Waukesha's proposal

The Great Lakes Compact, approved in 2008, is a formal agreement between the Great Lake states and two Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. In essence, it says the states and provinces agree to manage the water in the Great Lakes watershed collectively.

The agreement bans Great Lakes water from being "diverted," or piped out of the basin with a few limited and strictly regulated exceptions. Specifically, water is prohibited from being pumped beyond counties that straddle the Great Lakes Basin divide.

However, the city of Waukesha is in a county that straddles the divide — the city is only 1.5 miles outside of the basin divide. Under the Compact, the city can borrow water with the consent of the Great Lakes governors and premiers under the Compact.

Under the proposal, the DNR would allow Waukesha to withdraw up to an average of 10.1 million gallons per day and return the same volume it withdraws to Lake Michigan.

The city would obtain lake water from the Oak Creek Water Utility and return it via the Root River, a tributary that flows to Lake Michigan.

Waukesha is also under a court-ordered 2018 deadline to have radium-compliant water and is seeking Lake Michigan water after an extensive review of various alternatives. Due to multiple delays in the review process, the city will request an extension for radium-compliance.

DNR's conclusion

The DNR concluded Waukesha has no reasonable water supply alternative in the Mississippi River Basin, even with conservation of existing water supplies. Studies have shown that continued use of the aquifer is unsustainable for the city.

"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."

The DNR forwarded its conclusions to the governors and premiers of the other Great Lakes states and provinces in early January.

Waukesha needs each governor to sign off on the application in order for it to be approved.

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