Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lake Michigan Diversion Planning Moves Forward

Suburban and state leaders continue to press for the eventual piping of Lake Michigan water where it currently cannot legally be pumped - - across the subcontinental divide at Sunny Slope Road and elsewhere in Western Waukesha County - - while legislators in Wisconsin and seven other US Great Lakes consider under what conditions such diversions might be approved.

At a public meeting in the City of Waukesha Monday night, city leaders said that after long study, a diversion was the best way to meet the city's water needs.

No surprise there, but at least the shadow-boxing is over.

And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has advised the City of New Berlin that its 2006 application for a diversion - - touted last year by the DNR as "complete and comprehensive - - must be clarified and expanded.

In at least 26 categories of "efficient water use," "water supply alternatives." and "environmental impacts," according to a letter received last month by New Berlin officials and consultants.

Heckuva complete and comprehensive application, I guess.

The DNR wasn't ready to admit that its earlier characterization for the application it moved to seven other Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces for review was, what, premature, or that the application itself was faulty?

"The application could benefit from additional information and restructuring to ensure a clear understanding of the project" is the way the agency letter put it - - and it also agreed to help New Berlin make the necessary "modifications."

Well, that's nice, don't you think?

Both cities are under a federal order - - to which they consented - - to provide better water to their customers.

Through blending with water from both deep and higher-standard shallow wells, New Berlin and Waukesha can in the interim meet the federal standards.

But the issues for both cities are about more than providing good water for their customers.

New Berlin and Waukesha have assertive development agendas that fuel their need for more water.

Waukesha has regularly approved annexations brought to it by developers even as its water table was declining dramatically.

New Berlin recently gave the preliminary go-ahead for a massive conference center, hotel and water park complex on acreage that is west of the subcontinental divide.

The project will require 1.1 million gallons of water a month, and that number will grow as the complex triggers growth nearby.

Add to this trend the recent statement by a group of the region's water utility managers about how easily a water pipeline from Lake Michigan could accompany the coming expansion of I-94 through Waukesha County.

The winners here: Developers in Waukesha County, where the Chamber of Commerce is on record opposing Wisconsin approving amendments to a US-Canada, eight-state agreement to conserve Great Lakes water as a shared resource with a logical, cooperative process.

The losers: Residents of Waukesha County trying to preserve a relatively rural, small-town, open-space lifestyle.

And the City of Milwaukee's economy, as it is continually pulled to the west by the winners and their allies - - a) the road-builders and their partners in state government and at the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission, and b) local government officials and consultants, and their partners at the DNR.

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