Friday, March 30, 2007

Data Suggest Explosive Sprawl Will Occur: Will There Be An Inclusive Effort To Manage it?

There are eye-popping numbers included in a March 20th draft report by the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) about growth in the region.

For example, the projected increase from 2000-to-2035 in Waukesha County's population will exceed the entire 2000 population count in all of Ozaukee County.

The SEWRPC numbers make clear that there will be increased demands for water, roads, housing and other public spending and services for the next three decades in Waukesha County and across a multi-county region to which capital and employment will migrate from Milwaukee.

Will there be a corresponding regional response on water conservation, transit improvements, low-to-moderate income housing and workforce development so that more sprawl - - now predicted - - does not add to the economic and geographic segregation that continues to separate Milwaukee from its suburban and rural neighbors?

The data also illuminate the reasons why Wisconsin needs to adopt new rules governing use of Great Lakes water - - a process being held up in the Wisconsin legislature.

Without the new rules, growth could become more haphazard, while uncoordinated and unjustifiable diversions of water away from Lake Michigan - - already at a dangerously low level - - could accelerate, too.

The bold-facing in the admittedly lengthy and documented discussion about the SEWRPC report, below, is mine:

The number of square miles in Waukesha County served by municipal water utilities will grow from 82.3 in 2000 to an estimated 168.3 square miles in 2035 - - an increase of 104%.

Additionally, the number of people in the county served by municipal water systems will rise in Waukesha County from the 2000 figure of 218,400 to an estimated total by 2035 of 382,000, an increase of 75%.

Private well use will drop from 142,400 people to 64,800, a decline of 77,600 people, or -54%.

From 2000 to 2035, Waukesha County is expected to grow from 360,800 people in 2000 to 446,800 people in 2035, an addition of 86,000 people, the largest projected raw number increase among SEWRPC's seven counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth.

In fact, that increase for Waukesha of 86,000 people - - 24% of its 2000 total - - exceeds the 2000 population of Ozaukee County (82,300), according to the report.

(Other than for Milwaukee County, with a projected increase in population by 2035 of 66,900, or 7%), the other counties in the region will also have substantial growth and water issues to deal with if their population increases and percentages materialize: Kenosha County, +60,500, or 40%; Ozaukee County, +18,800, 23%; Racine County, 24,800, +13%; Walworth County, +48,000, +52%; Washington County, 39,800, +34%)

And how much water will these counties, especially Waukesha County need by 2035 when Waukesha essentially adds an Ozaukee County-full of people within its boundaries?

The total water use demand on an average daily basis for the 24 municipal water utilities in Waukesha County is estimated to increase from 23.1 mgd [million gallons daily] in 2000, to 41.4 mgd in 2035," says the report. (p. 55).

That’s an increase of 79%.

Bottom line: more people, more people on municipal water systems, more net water use county-wide even with conservation measures planned or in place.

Among the interesting nuggets in the report relate to projected usages of land for housing:

For the entire region, most of the land taken for housing development to the year 2035 from 2000 will be dedicated to units of lower densities, on relatively larger lots.

An estimated 3.8 square miles of land will be converted to so-called "high-density" residential development - - that housing units or more per acre.

On the other hand, 52.8 square miles - - sixteen times as much projected for high-density housing - - is predicted to be built as "medium-density" housing - - that is...2.3 to 6.9 units per acre.

And another 12 square miles is projected for new "low-density" housing that is...0.7 to 2.2 units per acre.

Throw out the fractions, and you can see that most of the growth in the housing market in the region through 2035 is ticketed for relatively larger, suburban, exurban lots - - the sort of housing that requires more lawn watering than city lots, and usually what is needed by urban multi-unit buildings, like apartments, even condos.

A related number: 103.9 square miles of agricultural land in the seven-county region, or 8.2% of the total, is slated to disappear from ag use, according to the report (county-by-county numbers for these land-use categories do not appear in the document.

The report sums it up this way:

" the year 2000, about 390 square miles, or 14% of the total area of the Region, and about 1.56 million persons, or 82% of the regional population, were served by municipal water supply facilities. In 2035, under the regional land use plan, about 628 square miles, or 23% of the total area of the Region, and about 2.09 million persons, or 92% of the regional population, would be served by municipal water systems." (p. 14)

Again, more people, dispersed across far larger municipal water system service territories - - 390 square miles in 2000 compared to 628 square miles in 2035 - - all looking for and expecting connections to potable water.

The 58-page water advisory committee report will undergo another month’s review by members of the commission staff, the 33-member water supply technical advisory committee, and the commission's consultants.

It will then be incorporated at the conclusion of an 18-month planning effort - - about half-completed - - into a set of commission policy recommendations to address water supply issues in the seven-county region.

Basics about the study can be found here, on the SEWRPC website.

Fair warning: The site does not have a simple search function.

And there is a lag of a month or two for the online posting of final, approved minutes, and other documents, that have not moved out of draft or preliminary form.

Case in point: The document - - "SEWRPC Planning Report No. 52: Chapter IV, Anticipated Growth and Change Affecting Water Supply in the Region" - - that is cited through this posting is not yet available on the SEWRPC website.

Also note: Most of the meetings of the water advisory committee have not been covered in the traditional news media. The meetings are, however, open to the public at the commission's City of Pewaukee headquarters basement conference room.

SEWRPC's understated release of these coordinated, significant data - - albeit at a public but under-promoted technical committee meeting - - continues a pattern of regional research and decision-making carried out on major policy issues by technical experts, public officials and favored consultants (read one Madison attorney's insightful commentary about that, here) with very little media coverage, or publicity by SEWRPC itself.
And this this planning is carried out by experts and advisors, many of them local and state officials, on SEWRPC committees from which minorities are nearly completely excluded even though the seven-county planning region group is 100% funded with property taxes and other with public dollars.

(The SEWRPC territory holds 36% of the state's population, including most of the state's minority residents; SEWRPC describes itself on its website as representing "the highly urbanized southeastern region of the State.")

The million-dollar water supply study was funded at the request of Waukesha County, and began over the objections of the City of Milwaukee, documented here.

Another report for the commission on water supply issues has been prepared by Attorney Lawrie Kobza, a water law specialist from the Boardman Law Firm, in Madison.

Kobza has submitted to SEWRPC a 24-page report on state and federal water law, and listed five possible regional water authority models that could address one or more of the region’s water supply issues.

With most of the region's growth in population and water demand projected to occur outside of Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee - - but with Milwaukee communities having more direct access to Lake Michigan - - the creation of a new regional water authority could increase the pressure on City of Milwaukee leaders or in other lakefront communities, like the City of Oak Creek, to supply water to the outlying counties.

A regional water authority, if drawn on the county-by-county model that created SEWRPC, could minimize the participation and interests of City of Milwaukee government and residents: The City of Milwaukee, with nearly 600,000 residents and a population exceeding that of several SEWRPC counties, has no seats on the SEWRPC board of commissioners.

Each county has three representatives.

SEWRPC’s lead consultant to the water supply advisory committee is Ruekert/Mielke, Inc., a Waukesha County engineering and consulting firm which also prepared the City of New Berlin’s still-pending, 2006 Lake Michigan diversion application.

That application, which sources report has been revised and resubmitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was roundly criticized as inadequate by several Great Lakes state and Canadian provincial officials after being sent around regionally for comment last year.

The existence of the 2006 New Berlin application was disclosed first by the State of Michigan, which had declined to approve it, though its preparation, and review by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at New Berlin's request, had gone on for months.

In addition, confidential efforts by the City of Waukesha to obtain a diversion from Lake Michigan were made twice in 2006 proposals by contract lawyers working for the city's water utility to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle; those efforts (ultimately unsuccessful at the time) were not acknowledged until their disclosure by a free-lance writer using the Open Records statute.

Efforts to implement new rules coordinating community conservation, diversions and return flow from the Great Lakes to communities like New Berlin and Waukesha are stalled in a state legislative study committee.

The logjam there is due in part to objections from Waukesha County business and political leaders who feel the rules give too much authority over water use in Wisconsin to the other seven Great Lakes states.

Unless the rules are adopted by all the states (the eight states and two Canadian provinces are already members of a joint, cooperative Great Lakes management Compact), diversions can be denied under a separate federal law, the US Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), by a single state's veto without any explanation, or the application of standards.

A simple summary of WRDA and matters related to the adoption of the news rules was provided to the state legislative study committee, here.

So where do we stand?

Clearly, intense development is headed for substantial portions or remaining open space and farmland in the region, even in areas with water supply problems, and away from urban centers where unemployed people are cut off from suburban job growth.

SEWRPC could genuinely take the regional lead with comprehensive recommendations, beginning with support for the Great Lakes Compact proposed rules and standards - - but its nearly all-white makeup, strong suburban biases and controversial advocacy for the $6.5 billion regional freeway expansion have eroded much of its leadership possibilities.

It's a profound lesson: All regional efforts, to be fair, and substantive, and effective, must reform themselves to reflect the world and region in which they operate.

That means assertively and intentionally reaching out to groups that have been and remain discounted and excluded.

The more that planning is exclusive and passive, the less effective will be the planners' recommendations.

And their results will be suspect, weak, and even counter-productive.

Given SEWRPC's data, rising fuel prices, probable climate change with warmer temperatures, and job losses to globalization, the stakes are too high to let business-as-usual rule the region

1 comment:

Dave said...

And to that I say no water for Waukesha. The city should fight sprawl and this is a great way to do it.