It won't be easy, or cheap, to get Lake Michigan water flowing through Waukesha's water mains and into residents' homes, state and local officials have said.

But that water will come.

Speaking at a press conference June 22, Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp and County Executive Paul Farrow addressed the next steps in the water diversion process and what residents can expect.

The conference was held one day after an unprecedented vote that granted the city what it has been seeking for more than a decade: a new water supply.

In short, officials said it will be years before residents are drinking Lake Michigan water out of their faucets. And Waukesha's at least $200 million plan to buy water from the city of Oak Creek, build one set of pipelines and pumping stations to divert the water to Waukesha and a second set to return an equal volume of water as fully treated wastewater will result in substantial rate hikes for local water utility customers.

What's next?

Waukesha will not meet its court-ordered deadline of June 2018 to obtain radium-compliant water, because it will take longer than two years to build the lake water diversion system, Reilly said.

As a result the city will have to seek an extension of that deadline.

However, the first step for Waukesha will be obtaining relevant state permits to build and operate the system, officials said. After that, Reilly said, the city can develop a more complete timeline and present that information to the DNR and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Walker promised the state would offer any support it could on the project, including seeking grants for state and federal funding.

He also repeatedly described the approval of Waukesha's water application as a 'triumph of science over politics.'

Ongoing construction

Reilly said the city has already begun installing new water mains to accommodate the lake water system, and pointed specifically to the work on the West Waukesha Bypass as being a precursor to the diversion system.

'We're going to continue that construction work,' Reilly said. 'The mains that will be going from here to Oak Creek will be built probably starting in one to two, two-and-a-half years.'

He added that residents don't need to worry about the city digging up neighborhoods to install new mains.

'We already have the mains in our neighborhoods,' he said. 'We don't have to tear up the streets to put in all new mains. We have a constant process where we're always replacing mains as they get old enough.

The mains that are in the ground, unless they have a problem with them, (are) going to stay in the ground.'

Cost to residents

Lake Michigan water will not come cheaply.

Water utility customers should expect their rates to at least double, and possibly triple, when new water system kicks in, Reilly said.

He emphasized though that that would have been the case under any plan the city considered when it began searching for a new water supply.

'Under any option that we had, we would need to raise our rates,' he said.

The city filed its water diversion application in 2010 in an attempt to meet its long-term water needs and comply with radium restrictions. A lake water supply would replace 10 wells, including seven deep wells drawing radium-contaminated water from a depleted sandstone aquifer.

Reilly said the average home pays about $320 a year for water, and, in the worst-case scenario, could end up paying up to around $900 a year.

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