Saturday, July 14, 2007

New Berlin Water Diversion May Conflict With City Of Milwaukee Adopted Policies

Among the things that the City of Milwaukee will bring to the negotiating table if and when it meets with New Berlin officials over a possible diversion of Lake Michigan water is an existing city policy that says water sales to suburbs across the subcontinental divide must meet many criteria beyond a negotiated per-gallon water price.

When DNR-sponsored hearings took place in 2004 about diversion language to be included in the proposed Great Lakes Compact, a unanimous Common Council resolution #040646, signed by Mayor Tom Barrett, was presented by Council President Willie Hines and Ald. Michael Murphy, now chairman of the Council's powerful finance committee.

The resolution says that any suburb beyond the divide - - and this would cover the possible diversion to western New Berlin - - would be required to adopt plans that promote affordable housing, water conservation, sprawl limitations and other socio-economic goals.

The thinking behind the Council resolution was obvious: without such agreements in advance, Milwaukee would be promoting development far from its borders that would exacerbate the constellation of inequities that already have placed the land-locked City of Milwaukee at a disadvantage in comparison with more exclusionary, but faster-growing suburbs.

The Council could rescind its policy, but that is unlikely, especially since the state has essentially off-loaded the political problems associated with a diversion to Milwaukee and told it to go solve these problems with New Berlin.

The same dynamic is at work with regard to the return of diverted water for treatment by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District: the state is creating a financial and policy problem for another unit of government while saying, 'you all get together and hammer this out.'

And New Berlin has added to these tensions by saying that it would only pay an unstated portion of the cost of upgrading Milwaukee's water works' pipes and pumps to get the water that New Berlin wants.

Selling Milwaukee water to New Berlin is not a done deal because it is an uphill struggle, and it's not just because the water has to get up and over Sunny Slope Rd. for delivery and return.

It's because the state has basically assigned the problem-solving to Milwaukee, New Berlin and the MMSD without much, if any, prior consultation.

I posted the DNR's decisions about the potential diversion on this blog yesterday, the first airing of the documents.

The DNR also demonstrated a lack of awareness of, or indifference to, the millions in infrastructure improvements that are needed, along with the existence of the city policy statement about criteria that have to be before the city would agree to the water sale.

What the DNR and the state have done is set a process in motion with disorganization and prematurity.

However...however...the fact that water cannot flow promptly, for a host of legal, physical, fiscal, political and other reasons means one good thing: that attention now can be focused on getting a strong Great Lakes Compact adopted so Wisconsin has a coherent process that will make the entire New Berlin experience, regardless of its outcome, a one-time event.

All in all, not a great process, and one that is bound to spin-off more problems, and one that is sure to aggravate those who think that now it's simply a matter of turning a few valves so the water can flow.

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