Friday, April 6, 2007

Going For Lake Michigan Water, New Berlin Tries Again

The City of New Berlin sent a revised application for Lake Michigan water to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on March 7th, after its preliminary application last year was rejected for consideration by the State of Michigan and roundly condemned as inadequate by officials from several other Great Lakes states, Canadian provinces and numerous Wisconsin and regional conservation organizations.

The application is the first to be made under new rules, still pending approval by the eight US states that border the Great Lakes.

Because those new rules have not yet been implemented by Wisconsin and six of the other seven Great Lakes states, many acvitists feel all such diversion applications are premature.

As with the previous New Berlin application, the DNR did not disclose that it had received the application, and denied a request I made for a copy of New Berlin’s updated proposal.

The City of New Berlin immediately did provide a copy upon request yesterday, and the three-inch thick proposal has these interesting highlights, based on an initial reading:

• It contains stronger arguments and greater documentation of New Berlin water conservation and water quality history and goals than provided in the first application, but…

• Also contains the same arguably contentious phrase: “Conservation can only postpone the eventual need for Lake Michigan water for a few years,” that was cited in a negative analysis of the original application by eighteen Wisconsin and regional groups, on November 22, 2006.

* And after documenting its downward per capita pumping reduction in recent years, make this statement - - actually an assumption: "If we assume that just one-half the total a result of conservation efforts, then the utility has already reduced pumpage per capita by over 2 percent."

Will assumptions like that cut it with the other Great Lakes governors, who would need to unanimously approve New Berlin's request?

• The new application disagrees with critics who had included in comments last year their fear that diverting Lake Michigan water to New Berlin acreage beyond the Lake Michigan basin would contribute to “urban sprawl,” but…

• Also says that there are “2,650 residential customers in the area to be provided Lake Michigan water. By 2020, there will be an additional 718 residential homes in the area.”

The application says there won't be more sprawl because the undeveloped land ticketed for new Lake Michigan water is just over 1% of the city's total. Critics may argue that a 27% increase in residences in that targeted area sounds like urban sprawl to them.

• The revised application notes twice that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Commission (SEWRPC) is working on a regional water supply plan that would include water recommendations relevant to New Berlin, but…

• In neither reference does it mention that the same consulting firm, Ruekert/Mielke, has been hired by both SEWRPC and New Berlin to manage the SEWRPC water supply study and New Berlin’s diversion applications and related supply matters.

• Nor does the application mention that the same R/M official, Steven Schultz, is the principal doing the work, according to New Berlin and SEWRPC records.

So the statement in the revised application - - “Without presupposing the results of the planning study, one option for the management of the groundwater resources both in and out of the Great Lakes basin, would be to use Lake Michigan resources, where allowed by current law, in a conservative manner” might require being taken with a grain or salt:

Fuller disclosure might suggest that in fact SEWRPC is heading towards proposing that what is good for New Berlin (a diversion recommended by Ruekert/Mielke) is also good for the region, too.

This is precisely why the entire process surrounding SEWRPC's study, Waukesha County communities' maneuvering and the frequent intersections of governments, study committees and consultants continues to generate controversy.

A lengthy, annotated posting expands on that observation.

Final note: New Berlin is seeking a diversion for the out-of-basin portion of its city of 1.875 million gallons of water daily, rising to 2.480 million gallons daily by 2050. It also pledges to return diverted water to Lake Michigan through the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission for treatment.

By contrast, The City of Waukesha has told the DNR it wants up to 24 million gallons a day of diverted Lake Michigan water over the sub-continental divide - - almost 10 times larger than New Berlin's eventual over-the-divide maximum.

And while it has not formally applied for a diversion, Waukesha has announced whether or how it planned to achieve the return flow such applications require.


Jim Bouman said...

Thanks, Rowen:

The energy, commitment and intelligence evident in your research and writing--posted daily, often several times a day--on this blog are an inspiration to those of us with good intentions and flagging energy/ commitment.

James Rowen said...

Thanks, Jim. I admire your willingness to organize daily on these matters in Waukesha. That cannot be a cakewalk.