Monday, June 18, 2007

Wisconsin Water Decisions Could Precipitate GOP Gains

Western Waukesha County is the major growth area in southeastern Wisconsin lying outside of the Great Lakes basin boundary.

It's also the exact suburban/semi-rural region that would be the major beneficiary were Lake Michigan water to be diverted into developments on agricultural land and other open space west of Brookfield to the Jefferson County line.

Water will be a key determinant of business expansion in the region, according to a must-read June 15th analysis about water issues published in The Milwaukee Business Journal.

Said the authoritative report:

"Water policy and supply will dictate if and where billions of dollars in new residential, commercial and industrial development will appear in southeastern Wisconsin."

This fact is central to statewide water policy negotiations at the State Capitol - - negotiations that for more than a year have barely been reported in the traditional statewide media.

The State Capitol discussions on water policy have been taking place in a special state committee established to draft legislation guiding Wisconsin's implementation of amendments to an international water management agreement known as the Great Lakes Compact.

Established in 1985, the amended Compact would, for the first time, require water conservation from communities seeking diversions.

That makes the 22-year-old Compact more overtly a conservation-based agreement, with withdrawals from the Great Lakes made difficult (but not impossible) if the diversion is sought by a community outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.

Chaired by State Sen. Neal Kedzie, (R-Elkhorn), the legislative study committee has stalled, without meeting, since December, 2006, because politicians and business leaders from Waukesha County want to be able to access Lake Michigan water from the Great Lakes with few restraints.


To continue the rapid growth in Waukesha County - - most of which is outside of the Great Lakes basin boundary.

The Waukesha County community of New Berlin has a Lake Michigan diversion proposal before the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the City of Waukesha has indicated it wants a supply of Lake Michigan water, too - - up to six times as much as New Berlin.

So Waukesha County is ground-zero for the state water supply debate, and will set precedents across the entire, eight-state Great Lakes region, too.

Waukesha's Growth Will Be Substantial. The Only Question Is How Much?

SEWRPC projects for Waukesha County an increase of about 80,000 new residents by 2035 (that's almost like injecting the current population of Ozaukee County into Waukesha County).

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas said during an April, WUWM-FM radio interview that the eventual increase could be 140,000 people, bringing Waukesha County's population - - now at 380,000 - - to 520,000.

How Will Those New Residents Vote?

Waukesha County already votes overwhelmingly Republican, according to official state figures compiled and published by the Wisconsin Elections Board.

The ratio of Republican votes to Democratic votes in recent elections in Waukesha County is usually in the range of 2:1 in favor of Republicans, making it the GOP's statewide base.

Here are some key statistics:

In 2004 Presidential election voting in Waukesha County, the Bush-Cheney GOP ticket out polled the Kerry-Edwards Democratic ticket 154,926 to 73,626, records show - - a winning margin of more than 2:1.

In the 2000 Presidential election, the totals for both parties' tickets were somewhat lower, but the margin for Bush-Cheney over Gore-Lieberman exceeded the 2:1 ratio.

Similarly, in the 2006 Wisconsin gubernatorial election, the Green- Hundertmark GOP ticket out polled the Doyle-Lawton Democratic ticket 112,243 to 61,402, records show. That margin was 64%-35% - - virtually 2:1 Republican.

In the 2002 Wisconsin gubernatorial election, the totals for both parties' tickets were lower, but the GOP victorious ratio was again more than 2:1.

The eight Great Lakes states are having similar debates (Michigan has already passed a bill).

And the states must adopt very similar versions of implementing legislation, or the Compact will evaporate and an uncontrolled rush for Great Lakes water will soak up this finite and priceless resource with little real management.


Dave said...

Agreed! No Water for Waukesha!

Steve Branca said...

The Business Journal article is interesting in a lot of ways. I give them credit for being pretty balanced and seeming to getting their facts straight. Maybe it’s my paranoia, but reading between the lines reveals what we’re up against.

Item: “Water policy and supply will dictate if and where billions of dollars in new residential, commercial and industrial development will appear in southeastern Wisconsin. Whether it's Fiduciary Real Estate's proposed Waukesha subdivision or Abbott Laboratories Inc.'s proposed $1.2 billion corporate park in Pleasant Prairie, water supply will have a huge impact on economic development.”

You mean we’re going to let a silly thing like water keep us from reaping Billions (and Billions) of Dollars of new development?? The Abbott Labs suburban business park has got to have Kenosha people salivating. I wonder if they have any idea what it will cost to service it? And how can they tell their constituents that it can’t be done because a few environmentalists say they can’t? Especially if it’s a signature project of the Milwaukee 7.

Item: “The city of Waukesha is a prime example. The city has been pumping more water out of its deep wells than the wells can recharge, and the declining water table has led to rising levels of possibly cancer-causing radium. The city faces an order from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to reduce radium to acceptable levels.”…. “and blend that water with the existing supply to reduce radium levels….”

Note the inference that radium is an insurmountable problem. It not only isn’t so, it should and could have been remedied by Waukesha long ago. Someone needs to point out that Waukesha has been extremely irresponsible for not doing so.

Item: “About 62 percent of the land in southeast Wisconsin is west of the sub-continental divide, according to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The situation is most acute in two fast-growing counties: Waukesha, where only the eastern tier falls within the Lake Michigan water zone; and Kenosha, where about 80 percent of land is west of the divide.”

The 62% figure implies inequity if water is denied them. “[T]he situation is most acute” suggests that God made a mistake in putting all that land outside the basin, so something has to be done to give it the water it deserves.

Item: “SEWRPC officials project that demand for municipal water will increase by 91.6 percent in Kenosha County by 2035 and by 80.7 percent in Waukesha County.”

No questions asked.

Item: “Thus, if Abbott Laboratories is to proceed with plans for a $1.2 billion complex in the Kenosha County community of Pleasant Prairie, it will need Pleasant Prairie to get an additional water supply.”

No thought as to whether Abbott should go there at all.

Item: “Another possible answer is to tap the shallow aquifer in counties such as Waukesha, where groundwater is abundant, he said. Those ecosystems can be fragile, however, so they would require careful management, possibly by a regional water authority, he [Mielke] said.”

Something’s got to give and isn’t going to be my engineering business. (Hey Bill, there’s a lot of money in environmental engineering – the restoration kind.)

Item: “The guidelines, scheduled for completion by the end of this year, may suggest that some areas of the region cannot sustain development due to lack of water supply.”

MAY suggest…

Item: “Miller said he doesn't know what his firm's next move will be. It's unlikely to drop the proposal after spending $4.15 million to acquire the farmland and a section of marsh land in June 2006. Fiduciary has proposed donating the undevelopable marsh property to the state DNR.”

Kudos to Miller for considering the donation. We can all agree that’s a good thing. Obviously it would increase the value of his site. But the spending of $4.15 million may suggest that he has already bought the right to do his project.

Item: “Third, metro Milwaukee can become a mecca for expertise on water supply issues and water-related industries.

Economic developers will be economic developers. If we had a nickel for every industry that someone claims Milwaukee could become a “Mecca” for we wouldn’t need any economic development. Folks, we’re 100 years behind in this field. You just have to look at the Southwestern US and California, Louisiana, and the Middle East where “water issues” have been Job One forever. I’m sorry, I know we’re supposed to politely credit these ideas, but let’s recognize them for their boosterism value alone.

One thing about this issue, it’s entertaining.

Thanks for the good work, Jim.

Steve Branca