Less than two months after a historic vote granted Waukesha's request for Lake Michigan water as a replacement supply, a group of mayors from the Great Lakes states and Canada are challenging the findings that led to the vote.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative announced recently that it requested a hearing to challenge the decision, which was unanimously approved by the representatives of the governors of eight Great Lakes states in June.
The group is challenging the findings to ensure "the long term integrity of the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (is) preserved," according to a news release.
“For the (Great Lakes) Compact Council to grant an exception to the first application that does not meet the conditions of the compact sets a very bad precedent," said Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, chair of the Cities Initiative. "To make sure the compact and Great Lakes are not compromised in the future, this decision should be overturned.”
But Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said reconsideration of the council's approval is unfounded.
"There is nothing new in the request by the cities that hasn’t already been considered by the Great Lakes states and provinces," he said.
The city's application was reviewed and revised, more than once, at length earlier this year by the Great Lakes Regional Body. In May, the body approved the application with conditions, including a reduced service area and a draw of no more than 8.2 million gallons of water per day by mid-century. Under the application, 100 percent of the water would be returned to Lake Michigan through the Root River.
In its findings, the Compact Council determined that Waukesha has no reasonable water supply alternative to Lake Michigan and outlined the benefits of the city's plan to the Root River and the limited precedent of Waukesha’s approval.
The regional body's review of Waukesha's application is publicly available, and Reilly encouraged anyone interested in the findings to peruse the 16-page document.
“It is hard to understand why other cities – that certainly know the importance of safe drinking water – would choose to challenge a project that will provide safe, sustainable drinking water to our city’s citizens without causing harm to the Great Lakes,” Reilly added. “If there is a threat to the Compact’s protection of the Great Lakes, it would be forcing the Great Lakes states to needlessly defend against a legal challenge."
Waukesha filed its water diversion application in 2010 in an attempt to meet its long-term water needs and comply with radium restrictions. The Lake Michigan water supply will replace 10 wells, including seven deep wells drawing radium-contaminated water from a depleted sandstone aquifer.
Waukesha sought water under a "straddling county" exception of the Great Lakes Compact, a federal law that details how the Great Lakes states should work together to manage and protect the Great Lakes Basin.
The compact prohibits Great Lakes water from being pumped beyond counties straddling the lakes' drainage basins. The city is entirely outside the basin, but lies within a county that straddles the boundary of the basin.
As part of an at least $200 million plan, Waukesha will 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.