Saturday, August 18, 2007

What Are Waukesha's Real Water Needs And Goals?

The City of Waukesha touts new data on water conservation, telling the Journal Sentinel the city's lawn-sprinkling restrictions are producing savings.

That's good news, though the data does show usage by some measurements actually increasing.

But Waukesha deserves credit for its ordinance, and a new rate structure that will require some large users to pay a higher rate.

Critics rightly have said the new rate should kick in at a much lower level to have more than symbolic meaning, but the trend is good, especially if the ordinances and rate reforms are given real teeth.

The problem is that while Waukesha says it is embarking on conservation, the volume of diverted water it has eyed from Lake Michigan has grown over the years.

Not long ago, Dan Duchniak, the city's water utility manager, told The New York Times that a diversion of 20 million gallons a day would suffice.

Soon thereafter, attorneys hired by the water utility, using materials prepared by another set of consultants also hired by the water utility, twice confidentially asked Gov. Jim Doyle to approve a diversion of 24 million gallons a day - - 20% more.

(To his credit, Doyle did not act on the request, and its existence was only discovered through a 2006 Open Records request).

So which is it:

Is Waukesha committed to water conservation, or is it committed to obtaining water from Lake Michigan in amounts that seem only to expand?

Or is the water diversion planning serving related goals: saving water, but using the savings politically to achieve eligibility for a much-larger supply of water from the Great Lakes - - access currently blocked by federal law because Waukesha is outside of the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin?

Waukesha could clear up the confusion by addressing these questions:

1. Will Waukesha reduce the 24 million gallon-per-day target to reflect its conservation successes? If its peak demand has fallen to just below 10 million gallons a day, why is it proposing diversions in the 20-24-million gallon-per-day range?

2. Will Waukesha pledge that diverted water will not flow to acreage beyond its current borders, since expansion will only add to the water need?

3. Will the city substantially lower the threshold at which its conservation rate kicks in, and wait an effective period of time to discern if that rate change produces more measurable water savings?

Put together with its sprinkling restrictions, and paired with additional water reuse and recycling techniques, it is conceivable that Waukesha may not need to access Lake Michigan, thus saving the region from a precedent-setting battle over Great Lakes access that could open them to far wider withdrawals.

4. Will Waukesha agree not to participate in regional acquisition or distribution of Lake Michigan water, either on its own as the acquirer and/or supplier, or through a new regional water authority or board similar to those described by a legal consultant to the regional planning commission (SEWRPC)?

(Battles between and among communities in Waukesha and Walworth Counties over surface and ground water have recently provoked what could be a precedent-setting claim for stronger DNR regulations.

A further legal wrinkle: The Attorney General has already ruled, in a little-noticed December, 2006 opinion, that the DNR cannot approve a diversion of Great Lakes water to New Berlin or Waukesha without the prior approval of all the Great Lakes governors.)

This blog is available for a response.

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