Milwaukee Officials Wise to be Cautious
Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn recently had an editorial published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding Waukesha's Water issues. The comments are in relation to a letter sent from the Mayors of Milwaukee, Racine and Oak Creek which was also published in the Journal Sentinel. To view that letter click here.
[excerpted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
by Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper
An April 22 article detailed how Milwaukee officials are getting closer to negotiating with Waukesha to sell Lake Michigan water if Waukesha's application for a Great Lakes diversion is approved by Wisconsin and seven other Great Lakes states.
Milwaukee is right to proceed cautiously when making a decision to sell water to Waukesha. The decision affects not only our waterways but also our economy. This is why Milwaukee passed a resolution in 2008 that requires consideration of housing, transportation and other socioeconomic factors when making decisions about water sales and the true "costs" of selling water.
In its correspondence to the mayors of Milwaukee, Racine and Oak Creek, as quoted in the article, Waukesha emphasizes that the water sought is not to "spur unbridled growth" or give Waukesha a "competitive advantage" in attracting new employers.
Then why is Waukesha seeking an average of 10.9 million gallons a day of water (with a peak request of up to 18 million gallons a day) when its current use is only 6.7 million gallons a day (based on 2010 data)?
In order to justify this large water request and obtain a precedent-setting exception to the Great Lakes compact, Waukesha needs to make its case that the city will need the amount of water requested and that it has no other "reasonable" alternatives. To justify the 10.9 million gallons a day, Waukesha included the Town of Waukesha and several other communities, claiming they are included in the Regional Water Supply Plan developed by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. Using this plan to justify including these communities is disingenuous at best when one considers that Waukesha has not followed SEWRPC's plans for regional transportation, mass transit, affordable housing, farmland protection or preservation of open space.
It's true that Waukesha has a problem with radium contamination in some of its deep wells. However, it does have other safe, local and "reasonable" water supply alternatives. Waukesha should push ahead with some of the alternatives it already has employed, including possibly adding a few more shallow wells.
A sustainable, "closed loop" type system, known as riverbank inducement or filtration, which uses shallow groundwater filtered naturally by the riverbed and returns this water back to the river after use and treatment, should be seriously considered. It is currently being used to provide public water supplies in cities such as Louisville and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
While Waukesha should be commended for having a conservation program, it could be far more aggressive in reducing its need by eliminating the amount of drinking water currently used for watering lawns and boulevards and tackling widespread water loss from old and failing water pipes. In short, Waukesha could become a city of the future, a model for other cities. Or it could build a long straw to Lake Michigan.
Milwaukee is right to take this decision seriously as it has a responsibility to protect its citizens as well as a resource that provides drinking water to more than 40 million people throughout the Great Lakes and is held in public trust for current and future generations.