With the City of Waukesha's application for a Lake Michigan diversion on a continuing hold (the water utility there told me today by email they'd let me know when it's posted online), it's worth noting how often this journey to the Great Lakes has hit potholes, detours and roadblocks.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
After the city stopped a long, costly and failed battle fighting a national radium standard laid down by the US government, former Waukesha Mayor Carol Lombardi asked Gov. Jim Doyle by letter in 2003 to help send the water Waukesha's way - - an effort simply turned aside by Doyle without a formal review because there were too many legal barriers in the way.
I wrote that up, along with an accounting of some of the early Waukesha water consulting work, for WisPolitics.com in 2006.
Here is the same story re-posted at OnMilwaukee.com.
Then there were the confidential Waukesha missives twice sent by a Waukesha contract attorney to Doyle in 2006 seeking 24 millions of Lake Michigan water daily - - documents I found and posted on WisPolitics.com after an Open Records request to the Waukesha Water Utility.
Those documents and some history, including Waukesha's claim at the time that the city was connected underground to Lake Michigan, are here.
Doyle sent those requests to the DNR, which set them aside, because at the time the Great Lakes states were moving towards a regional Compact to handle such applications and there was no way he could have circumvented that process by awarding Waukesha the water.
But Waukesha took the shot. Sought a short-cut. And failed.
And the DNR said it would only accept for review what it called a formal application - - which is interesting because even now, long after the Great Lakes Compact was created, and won approval by the state legislature, the DNR has yet to write the administrative rules that would guide an applicant like Waukesha in the construction of an application.
Has the DNR offered advice?
But rules written in the light of day, and creating an unambiguous road map?
Also remember that when the DNR forwarded New Berlin's so-called comprehensive and complete diversion application to the other states - - a courtesy referral only for an in-basin diversion plan - - several states turned it back with harsh criticism.
And organizations across the Great Lakes were not impressed. Details here.
My assumption all along has been that Doyle or his office told the DNR not to start rule-making because it would be interpreted as a political barrier from Madison in front of Waukesha - - and Waukesha has said repeatedly that time is of the essence.
Though it cannot seem to actually get that application to the DNR.
Waukesha's Common Council approved a draft application for forwarding to the DNR on April 8th, but city officials are editing it at the behest of city lawyers, according to Waukeshs Water Utility General Manager Daniel Duchniak.
This is part of a pattern:
You will remember that at the end of 2009, the utility changed its technical consultants, and brought in CH2M Hill to finish putting the application together, replacing the consultants it had been using as lead technical advisers since 2004.
CH2M Hill had been involved in Waukesha water studies since at least 2002.
The 2009 delays raise the possibility that the process of actually launching the application was influenced by the need for then-mayor Larry Nelson, the application's biggest booster, to at least declare prior to the April 6th election that the application was near completion and would be scheduled for a Common Council vote.
That scheduling was announced by Nelson in late March (the application vote was a success on April 8th)- - but by then Nelson had lost the election in an upset to newcomer Jeff Scrima.
He was an early opponent of the Lake Michigan option, but then Scrima became a convert of sorts by saying he would let the application proceed - - a process that is still hung up somewhere between the Water Utility and City Hall.
It is fair to say that the long-term impact of Scrima's surprise election on the water issue is unclear.
Add that unknown factor to unpredictable outcomes and responses to the application, when it gets finished and mailed, at both the DNR and the other seven Great Lakes states that must all approve it.
And we haven't even begun to see if Waukesha and Milwaukee can reach a financial and political deal on a water sale - - should all eight states give their mandatory OK.
You can see why Waukesha may have been ill-advised all these years to choose the Lake Michigan option over other less-problematic solutions closer to home.
Some people think that this is all part of a grand strategy in Waukesha to delay, delay, delay until the 2018 legal deadline for finding and implementing a new source of water becomes so pressing that local, state and regional reviewers will all feel pressured to say "yes."
It may come to that - - though I'd say the opposite is true because Waukesha is the first out-of-basin diversion applicant, and as the precedent-setter will get the toughest examination possible.
I think the delays are caused by the inherent legal and technical hurdles that this application has to address, then survive over many years - - some of which have been presaged by and raised in written detail prior to the Waukesha Common Council approving a draft application on April 8th.
The big issues include whether Waukesha has adequately looked at other water sources, and whether the return flow regime that uses Underwood Creek is a smart, sustainable and viable option.
There are at least two problems with the return flow proposal: the potential effect on the Creek and properties downstream, and the discharge of some diverted wastewater during storm events to the Fox River and thus away from the Great Lakes basin.
Waukesha has defended itself against these and other criticisms. History here.
But here's the bottom line:
All these matters could have been better assessed a) if the Nelson regime in Waukesha between 2006 and 2010 hadn't gone with 'Lake Michigan or bust,' and b) if the DNR had cast clear rules for Waukesha to follow when creating an application.
Science, not politics, was supposed to govern this process.
So far, that gets an incomplete grade, too.