Potential challenge in federal court still a possibility
The Great Lakes Compact Council on Thursday, April 20 denied a potential legal challenge to its historic decision last June granting Waukesha access to Lake Michigan water as a replacement to the city's current radium-contaminated water supply.
The potential challenge came from a binational coalition of 129 U.S. and Canadian mayors and local officials, some from Great Lakes states, who formed an organization called the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The group announced they requested a hearing to challenge the decision last August – about two months after the Compact Council unanimously approved Waukesha's water diversion application.
The council unanimously affirmed that decision Thursday, effectively rejecting the petition for a challenge.
The Cities Initiative had attempted to challenge the council's original decision, it said, to ensure "the long term integrity of the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (is) preserved."
"Although we are not surprised at the decision, we are disappointed," said Cities Initiative Executive Director David Ullrich. "As soon as a written decision is released, we will be reviewing all of our options for how best to proceed to ensure the long term integrity of the Compact and the Great Lakes."
One option, he added, is a challenge in federal district court, which would need to be filed within 90 days. "We will undertake that review promptly," Ullrich said.
In a statement, Mayor Shawn Reilly called the decision "the right call."
“Today was a tremendous day for the citizens of Waukesha and the future of our city,” Reilly said. "Today’s decision is another step toward providing the 71,000 residents of Waukesha with a clean, reliable and sustainable drinking water source."
The city has already begun installing the necessary infrastructure to facilitate a Lake Michigan water supply, officials have said, and is going through a permitting process with the state Department of Natural Resources. That process is expected to continue into summer 2018.
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.
The city 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. Waukesha 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.