Mayor Shawn Reilly wants the decision on Waukesha's Great Lakes water diversion application to be based on science and not politics.
And he, along with a review from the Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, says the science backs up the city's proposal to tap into Lake Michigan for its future water source.
"It is hard to imagine a water supply decision that has received more investigation than this one," Reilly said in his remarks to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body and Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council during a public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 18, inside the Shattuck Music Center on the Carroll University campus.
Reilly was one of more than 100 people who spoke during a five-hour hearing before the two panels following an informational meeting on the application.
Waukesha is in need of a new water source to comply with federal radium reduction requirements. Studies showing continued use of its current deep well water supply is unsustainable for the city.
Under the proposal, 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, through Franklin, Oak Creek, Caledonia and Racine. If the application is approved, Waukesha's water rates with lake water would double at the minimum and likely triple in the coming years, Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said.
Above: Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.
For and against proposal
Elected officials from various communities and states as well as environmental groups spoke for and against the city's request to divert up to 10.1 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan. (The city's current use is 6.7 million gallons a day, all from area wells.)
Representatives from Oak Creek and Racine had opposite opinions on the city's diversion request.
Oak Creek's representatives — including Mayor Steve Scaffidi — supported the application. According to the letter of intent signed by the two cities in 2012, the city of Oak Creek would receive payments in lieu of taxes from the Oak Creek Water and Sewer Utility on the additional infrastructure that will be built in Oak Creek. Initial payments of $300,000 per year are projected to reach $1.2 million per year by 2030.
Two Racine elected officials voiced their opposition. Racine was one of three cities Waukesha initially negotiated with (Milwaukee was the other) for the sale of lake water, before Waukesha chose Oak Creek.
In urging the regional body to deny Waukesha's application, Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) said Waukesha's application is "setting a precedent" for future requests. Racine Mayor John Dickert pointed to environmental concerns in the discharge of the water.
The city of Waukesha is the first community entirely outside of the Great Lakes Basin to seek lake water under the terms of the Great Lakes Compact signed into federal law in 2008.
"If you crack this egg of the compact you can't put it back," Dickert said. "We are very concerned and somewhat terrified of cracking the egg of the (Great Lakes) Compact."
Following the Compact
Supporters of the proposal, however, say the diversion wouldn't set a precedent because of the strict guidelines the compact has set.
The compact, which details how the Great Lakes states should work together to manage and protect the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, bans diversions to cities outside of the Great Lakes Basin Divide. But Waukesha can tap into lake water under one provision.
The compact allows for municipalities in straddling counties (Waukesha County straddles the divide) to request lake water as a way to address local public health or environmental problems.
Under the terms of the compact, the city must get the consent of the Great Lakes governors. After the regional body reviews the application, it will be forwarded to the governors. Any vote against the application will result in a denial.
Also, in its application, Waukesha would return 100 percent of the water it uses back to the Great Lakes after treating it.
Duchniak said these provisions are why Waukesha's proposal wouldn't set a precedent for water to be illegally pumped beyond straddling counties. He said under the compact, 99 percent of the U.S. population outside of the basin is ineligible to even apply for Great Lakes water.
"The decision on Waukesha's application is not a choice between protecting the Great Lakes and providing safe drinking water for Waukesha," Reilly said. "By establishing a clear wall at the borders of straddling counties, and by requiring return flow, the compact ensures that both goals can be met."
The DNR, after more than five years of analyzing the application, said in its review last summer that Waukesha has no reasonable water supply alternative in the Mississippi River Basin, even with conservation of existing water supplies. The DNR said other water supply alternatives would have greater adverse environmental impacts due to the projected impacts on wetlands and lakes.
The DNR added none of the alternatives studied are as environmentally sustainable or as protective of public health as the Lake Michigan option.
Service area concerns
Another area of contention voiced by opponents during the hearing was Waukesha's projected service area. It encompasses multiple municipalities, including a part of the town of Genesee and sections of the towns of Waukesha and Delafield and city of Pewaukee.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said his city would still be interesting in selling Waukesha water and that it is best equipped to, but only if Waukesha modifies its service area. (Milwaukee sells lake water to New Berlin under terms of the compact. However, unlike Waukesha, New Berlin only needed approval from Wisconsin officials because it is a straddling community of the divide.)
However, Waukesha didn't create its own service area. That decision came in 2008 from the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission, something Duchniak says Wisconsin law required in order to be consistent with wastewater service areas.
Other groups at the public hearing believe Waukesha has a water service area to develop for future growth, but Duchniak said that isn't the case.
Duchniak said 70 percent of Waukesha's service area is already developed and another 15 percent is protected as environmental corridors, leaving just 15 percent available for future development. Even more to the point, he added only 0.5 percent of the land outside of city limits is undeveloped industrial land and 0.2 percent is undeveloped commercial land.
Also, population growth in the service area is expected to be minimal — only 0.5 percent per year — until build-out in about 2050, Duchniak said.
"Our application is not about future growth, it's about continuing to provide service to existing residents," Duchniak said. "Waukesha already serves customers beyond city limits, and the creation of a state-approved service area definitely sets the limits of where Waukesha can provide drinking water."
Other elected officials who voiced support for the application included County Executive Paul Farrow, County Chairman Paul Decker, Town of Waukesha Chairman John Marek and City of Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto, along with many other Waukesha aldermen.
The city is under a court-ordered deadline to have radium-compliant water by 2018. Duchniak said in an interview with Waukesha Now any request on an extension would come after a decision is made on the city's application.
·Public comment period goes through March 14
·Written comments on Waukesha's application for Great Lakes water can be emailed to email@example.com or posted on the website: www.waukeshadiversion.org.
·Mailed comments should be sent to Waukesha Diversion Comments c/o Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 2700, Chicago, Illinois 60606
·Regional Body will hold meeting in Chicago to consider findings on April 21
·Compact Council will hold meeting in Chicago to make decision on proposal (open to the public) at least 30 days after April 21