Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting It Right: New Challenge Filed With SEWRPC Over Its Water Study Plan

Nine environmental, conservation and community organizations, an attorney for the law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates, and State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), have sent the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission a detailed critique of the agency's water supply study recommendations.

The heart of those recommendations: Lake Michigan water should be diverted to Waukesha, and several other communities.

The heart of the comments: the study and recommendations areincomplete, were based on an outdated regional land-use plan, and should be held, improved and considered only after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources establishes administrative rules that implement the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin.

The comments echo a document filed several days ago about the plan by the American Civil Liberties Union and other Wisconsin groups.

Taken together, the comments by these organizations and individuals indicate deep scientific and legal concern about the study; Over the years, Gov. Jim Doyle and others have emphasized that water diversion policy needs to be governed by science, which is another reason that SEWRPC needs to slow this process to get it right.

SEWRPC officials have said there is no water crisis in the region, and since a Lake Michigan diversion to Waukesha would create a precedent under the just-approved Compact, the onus is on the agency to be prudent, cautious, and complete - - and to take seriously the comment period, honoring the work that these groups have done in the public interest.

I am posting the comments below in text, rather than send you to another website's URL:

March 12, 2009

Robert Biebel
Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
W239 N1812 Rockwood Drive
P.O. Box 1607
Waukesha, Wisconsin 53187-1607

RE: Comments on SEWRPC’s Preliminary Regional Water Supply Plan for Southeastern Wisconsin

Dear Mr. Biebel:

We are submitting public comments to identify three major failings of the SEWRPC Preliminary Regional Water Supply Plan for Southeastern Wisconsin (“Water Supply Plan”), which we are confident further study, evaluation and revisions could rectify.

I. The Water Supply Plan is Premised Upon an Outdated and Questionable Land Use Plan.

First of all, we must raise our continuing objection to the underlying premise of SEWRPC’s Water Supply Plan, which is based upon the SEWRPC 2035 Regional Land Use Plan (“Land Use Plan”). The Land Use Plan is outdated both in its approach and in its projections.

From the outset, it was clear that the analysis and findings of the Regional Water Supply Study should have been directed by a science-based assessment of the nature and extent of the region’s water resources. Instead, SEWRPC’s Land Use Plan emerged as the driver of the Water Supply Study and, ultimately, the Water Supply Plan, notwithstanding the record’s demonstration of repeated objections by Advisory Committee members, including University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor and hydrogeologist, Doug Cherkauer, and Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent, Carrie Lewis. Of the many assumptions underlying the Land Use Plan and, thereby, the Water Supply Plan, perhaps the most questionable, and most at odds with water resource constraints, is the high increase in growth projected for Waukesha County over the next twenty-five years. Indeed, as reflected in the May 15, 2007 Water Supply Study Advisory Committee meeting minutes, the growth in Waukesha County’s population and housing is projected precisely where water supply sources may least be able to accommodate that growth. At this same meeting, Mr. Biebel, you drew attention to several places in the report, including Chapter IV, where it was noted that water supply conditions identified by the Water Supply Plan may identify a need to refine or revise the 2035 Land Use Plan. We say the time to revise the Land Use Plan is now.

Moreover, this projected growth, dependent as it will be on heavy automobile transit and expanded infrastructure costs, is exactly the kind of sprawl and its attendant costs that national planning experts, intent on reducing our oil dependency and carbon emissions, counsel against. Indeed, this sprawl is already a major contributor to Waukesha’s and Southeastern Wisconsin’s non-compliance with federal ozone and fine particulate air quality standards. Following the existing Land Use Plan will only make this non-compliance situation worse. The result will be significant adverse health impacts on our region’s citizens, including higher rates of asthma and respiratory illness, as well as the prospect of severe economic growth restrictions for our region overall.

While outdated land use planning of this type may not be surprising given that SEWRPC’s Land Use Plan unapologetically rests upon planning principles and plan concepts heralding back to 1966, the citizens and communities in our Southeast Wisconsin region deserve a better—more progressive, intelligent and current—
template for growth and development than what SEWRPC is relying upon and, worse, has predicated its Water Supply Plan upon.

The Water Supply Plan’s reliance on the Land Use Plan as its driver, rather than vice versa, also has resulted in Plan recommendations with little or no relevance to the sustainability of the region’s water resources. For example, whereas the Water Supply Plan asserts that there will be enough water resources to implement the Land Use Plan, at the September 23, 2008 Water Supply Study Advisory Committee meeting, committee member, Doug Cherkauer, pointed to critical areas within the region where this will not be the case, notably, in Oconomowoc and Hartford, where existing problems with base-flow reductions will place Western Waukesha County lakes at risk of being drawn down—promising adverse impacts both to the ecology of the lakes and to the assessed value of the lake properties.

Other examples pointing to the fallibility of the Water Supply Plan’s assumptions regarding sustainability include the Plan’s failure to specifically address or develop plans for the growing population pressures and ongoing environmental concerns in the East Troy/Lake Beulah area. Likewise, the Water Supply Plan fails to take into account the potential cumulative impact of multiple high capacity wells in the region, an omission that is especially concerning given the region’s hydrogeology. Moreover, it is our understanding that more sophisticated models exist, including one recently developed by the USGS and other scientists involved in the SEWRPC Water Supply Study, and would assist considerably in predicting impacts to lakes, streams and wetlands under different development scenarios. It is regrettable that SEWRPC has not taken the time and afforded itself the opportunity to take full advantage of these more sophisticated tools.

Yet another critical assumption on the part of the Water Supply Plan, which pertains both to the Plan’s sustainability findings and the Plan’s recommendation that the City of Waukesha obtain Lake Michigan water, regards its “Strategic Conversion to Lake Michigan as a Source of Water Supply” element. This element assumes that nine communities currently part of MMSD sewage system—including a portion of the City of Brookfield, the City of Cedarburg, the Village of Elm Grove, the Village of Germantown, the Village of Grafton, the Village of Saukville, and the Town of Yorkville, the central portion of the City of New Berlin and the City of Muskego—will convert from wells to Lake Michigan for their water supply. However, this underlying assumption is, at best, unsupported in terms of whether, when and to what extent these other communities, in fact, will agree to move off the deep aquifer for their water supply, especially in view of the present cost differential between Lake Michigan water and existing groundwater supplies.

Recommendation: Given the foregoing, we recommend that the Water Supply Plan’s recommendations concerning the region’s water resources be put on hold until further study is undertaken to provide a complete picture of the region’s water resources in terms of their sustainability in the face of future demands. After this analysis is completed, more realistic findings could be developed and in turn be used to begin the process of revising the Land Use Plan.

II. The Water Supply Plan Fails to Evaluate or to Call For Further Study of Critical Environmental Impacts to Receiving Lake Michigan Tributary Waters Identified as Recommended Alternatives.

Despite the Water Supply Plan’s description and recommendations concerning the three outlined return-flow alternatives enabling a diversion of Lake Michigan water to Waukesha, the Plan plainly fails to assess a wide array of important questions relating to potential water quality and ecosystem impacts that could result from implementation of the recommended alternatives. Contrary to the meaning suggested by the title of the Plan’s Chapter IX, “Alternative Plan Comparative Evaluation and Selection of Initially Preferred Plan,” the evaluation of alternatives is sorely lacking in terms of return-flow impacts on receiving tributaries.

Recommendation: Any proper “comparative evaluation” as intended by the Great Lakes Compact would, at the very least, compare return flow impacts to the tributary streams being contemplated as potential recipients of return flow discharges, including both Underwood Creek and the Root River. At the very least, a proper comparative evaluation would also examine the relative impacts of developing a separate pipe and treatment system for direct discharge to Lake Michigan or of hooking up to the current MMSD system. Taking just one of these scenarios—the alternative of returning water back to Lake Michigan through Underwood Creek—would at a minimum require SEWRPC to examine the following areas of inquiry bearing upon water quality, water quantity and cost considerations before reaching any specific recommendations as part of the Water Supply Plan:

1. Are total loading of nutrients and other pollutants to Underwood Creek and Lake Michigan being considered in the permitting process?

2. What effluent limits would Waukesha need to meet to discharge to a restored Underwood Creek that fully meets the fishable and swimmable goals of the Clean Water Act? Who will be monitoring the effects of this effluent on downstream waterways?

3. What impacts might increased flows of Waukesha wastewater in Underwood Creek have on creek restoration efforts underway now or being planned by MMSD, the city of Wauwatosa, Milwaukee County Parks, and others? How would returning flow to Underwood Creek affect the ability of parties to remove concrete channelization in the future?

4. Do the assumptions used about Underwood Creek’s capacity to absorb more flow take into consideration extreme run-off events of the kind seen in recent years?

5. What are the impacts of the treated wastewater on water quality of Underwood Creek, which is currently a variance water? Will monitoring be conducted to ensure that this effluent is not having a negative effect on downstream receiving waters?

6. Does Underwood Creek, as a receiving water, contain the same base flow available in the Fox River to dilute pollutants to acceptable levels that ensure compliance with water quality standards?

7. What data exists showing the concentration or loading of each regulated pollutant in the receiving stream prior to addition of the Waukesha effluent?

8. How would the proposed discharge of wastewater impact existing efforts to create a Watershed Restoration Plan for the Menomonee River?

9. Given Underwood Creek’s status as one of the flashiest streams in Wisconsin, what are the impacts of the return flow on the safety of local residents and fishermen, especially during high flow events?

10. It is estimated that returning Waukesha’s diversion water would increase the daily flow of Underwood Creek by 39%.

a. What steps will need to be undertaken to prevent erosion?
b. Who will pay for inevitable erosion damage/repair work?

III. The Water Supply Plan Recommendations Fail to Comply with Key Provisions of the Great Lakes Compact in the Absence of Act 227 Rule-Making

For like reasons, the Water Supply Plan fails to address, much less satisfy, key provisions of the recently enacted Great Lakes Compact or those of Act 227, Wisconsin’s statutory implementation of the Compact. Specifically, SEWRPC’s Water Supply Plan’s recommendations concerning water conservation and the three outlined return-flow alternatives regarding a diversion of Lake Michigan water to Waukesha raise critical issues pertaining to the Great Lakes Compact and Act 227 implementation in the absence of DNR rule-making, including the following:

• How does a return flow alternative that is not continuous but, rather, sporadic and spaced over the course of many months, even years, conform with the legal requirements for the Great Lakes Compact?

• With respect to the return flow alternative described immediately above, how would return flow to Lake Michigan be monitored? Over what interval? Daily? Monthly? Yearly? A five-year average? How will this be regulated to conform with the Great Lakes Compact?

• How does a return flow alternative that includes the option of discharging Lake Michigan water into the Fox River and thereby the Mississippi River basin (during a two-year storm event or greater and during low flow in the Fox River) conform with the legal requirements of the Great Lakes Compact?

• How does a return flow alternative that will, according to Waukesha Water Utility officials, include substantial quantities (20%) of infiltration and inflow (I & I) water from the Mississippi River basin in its calculations of return flow volume back to Lake Michigan conform with the legal requirements of the Great Lakes Compact?

• How does the conservation program of the City of Waukesha, referenced and relied upon in the Water Supply Study’s recommendations, conform with the legal requirements of the Great Lakes Compact? Where in the Study is there an examination of the following pertinent questions:

a. What water savings have been documented from the start of the City’s water conservation program?
b. What water savings can be tied directly to the City’s conservation measures as opposed, for example, to an increase in precipitation?
c. How does I & I water factor into the City’s conservation program?
d. What additional measures are committed to?
e. What conservation measures have been rejected and on what basis?
f. If a diversion is approved to Waukesha, will the city’s water conservation programs be continued? If so, how will its compliance be monitored?

• In view of the Water Supply Plan’s failure to examine critical water quantity and water quality considerations as described in Section II above, how do any of the return flow alternatives outlined in the SEWRPC Water Supply Plan conform with the legal requirements of the Great Lakes Compact and Act 227, specifically the latter’s provision that the applicant, in returning water to the source watershed, must document that “[t]he returned water will be treated to protect and sustain the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the receiving waters, including consideration of the impacts of temperature, nutrient loading and flow regimes” ?

Recommendation: It is in view of the above questions—which go to the heart of the Great Lake Compact’s regional review process and whose resolution is absolutely dependent upon the Wisconsin DNR’s rule-making responsibility—we recommend SEWRPC hold off completion of its Water Supply Plan until Wisconsin has rules in place to guide SEWRPC’s recommended alternatives in keeping with the legal requirements of the Compact and Act 227.

Thank you for your attention to the foregoing matters of concern relating to the Preliminary Regional Water Supply Plan for Southeastern Wisconsin. We are hopeful that SEWRPC will commit to undertake the additional studies and efforts, identified above, as required to fulfill the Plan’s necessary scope and purpose.


Jodi Habush Sinykin, Of Counsel
Midwest Environmental Advocates

Submitted on behalf of the following people and organizations:

Ecology Association of New Berlin
Milwaukee Riverkeeper
New Berlin Land Conservancy
1000 Friends of Wisconsin
State Representative Cory Mason
Sixteenth Street Community Health Center
The Great Waters Group Sierra Club
Waukesha County Environmental Action League
Wisconsin Great Lakes Coalition
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this.