Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Milwaukee Aldermen Seek To Bar Certain Water Sale Negotiations

Four City of Milwaukee Common Council members have introduced a resolution to prohibit city negotiations with any community outside of the Great Lakes basin for the sale of city water until the Great Lakes Compact is adopted by all eight Great Lakes states and approved by the US Congress.

The text of the resolution, which indicates the resolution reinforces existing city policy, is here, and is sponsored by Alds. Michael Murphy, Michael D'Amato, Joseph Dudzik and Robert Bauman.

The impact of the resolution is unclear.

Adoption of the resolution could further slow the efforts of New Berlin to obtain a diversion of Lake Michigan water, and push New Berlin to find fresher sources of water either from another lakefront city, or by installing equipment on its existing wells that would remove naturally-occuring radium.

Ideally, however, it could serve as a wake-up call to state legislators whom, to date, have not moved with any urgency to consider and adopt a strong bill that will ensure what is the Compact's goal: sustainable water supplies in the entire Great Lakes region in perpetuity.

Rejection of the resolution would essentially enforce the status quo, which is that legal hurdles that existed in federal law since 1986 remain in place, barring any community's movement of Great Lakes water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin without the unanimous approval of all eight Great Lakes governors.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources gave the go-ahead to discussions between Milwaukee and the City of New Berlin for a potential water sale by Milwaukee to that portion of New Berlin that is west of, and outside of, the Great Lakes basin.

Observers said at the time that the DNR did not need to authorize such discussions, and did so to satisfy New Berlin that progress was being made on its quest for Lake Michigan water without actually granting that permission - - something that would surely rile both the City of Milwaukee and the other Great Lakes states, or scuttle the pending Compact altogether.

New Berlin has completed an application for such a diversion, but the DNR has not approved it (reviewed it, yes: approved it, no), in part because the Compact, which establishes first-ever rules and standards for such diversions, has not been approved by the Wisconsin legislature, and only the states of Illinois and Minnesota.

Approval by the Congress would come after all the Great Lakes states had approved versions of the Compact that were very similar, and did not have substantial changes from the draft Compact signed by all the Great Lakes Governors, and Canadian provincial premiers, at a Milwaukee ceremony in December, 2005.

Approval is going slowly in most of the states, including Wisconsin.

A year of discussions by a blue-ribbon panel in Madison to draft a bill to approve and implement the Compact for Wisconsin collapsed late this summer over objections from some Waukesha County legislators and business representatives.

They were led by State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) and others who feel that the Compact's regional rule-and-decision-making gave other states too much power over Wisconsin communities' ability to easily tap into the Great Lakes.

Last year, the DNR sent New Berlin's first application for a diversion to the other Great Lakes states, where there was substantial, written opposition to the application's thoroughness and accuracy.

A subsequent and revised application got a favorable review by the DNR; the agency indicated that the application also had met the other states' earlier objections.

DNR officials said those other states' approvals were verbal; an Open Records request for the other states' reviews of the revised New Berlin application produced no documentation.

A Wisconsin Attorney General's opinion from December, 2006, indicated that the DNR did not have the authority to approve a diversion for a Wisconsin community outside of the Great Lakes basin without the approval of all the other states.

That is because such approvals are required by existing federal law and the spirit of the Compact, which was designed after years of multi-state and national negotiations to refine and replace the current federal legal standards.

Curiously, the Attorney General opinion has not been reported on by the traditional media.

It is unclear whether the review the DNR has said that the application has received would meet the Attorney General guidelines.

No public hearing has been held on the New Berlin application.

The Milwaukee resolution has been referred to a committee for initial consideration.

New Berlin has indicated its preference for purchasing Milwaukee water over installing radium-removal filtration or buying water from another lakefront community.

Any community agreeing to move Lake Michigan water to New Berlin would have to receive approvals from the DNR.

And until the Compact is approved, the Attorney General's opinion says approval from the other states is needed under the federal WRDA process.

All the more reason why New Berlin should be leading the charge in the legislature to get the Compact approved if it wants Lake Michigan water - - and why Sen. Lazich's obstructionism, at odds with the wishes of Jack Chiovatero, New Berlin's Mayor, is so bafflingly counter-productive.


Alex said...

Great post. Very informative. It's curious, as you note, that media outlets have not picked up on the AG decision...

Dave said...

Finally the city taking a stand. The fact is New Berlin (as can Waukesha I believe) can install better equipment and not drain more water out of the basin.

Anonymous said...

The issue is sustainability. Isn't the use of surface water with return flow more sustainable than the use of groundwater, which is lost forever? Your opposition to sensible solutions does not help pass the Compact.

James Rowen said...

I think for Milwaukee the issues are also the uses of the water in applicant communities.

For the region, the Compact spells out very important conservation measures and other thresholds that have to be met prior to diversion approval.

That's why a rush to divert water without the Compact or the city of Milwaukee's interests being addressed should not happen.

Anonymous said...

Why are the New Berlin WI Police pulling over motorists without cause? I have now encountered dozens of others who have been stopped, questioned, sometimes detained etc in New Berlin Wisconsin. The Police here continuously cross the line and are defying the Constitution. If they pull someone over rightfully the embellish the ticket and trump up the charges. If they pull someone over without cause and find out they are not doing anything wrong then they usually let them go. These people are generally happy to not get a ticket and go on with their lives. Its time for those folks to fight back and stop the NBPD from turning this area into more of an East Berlin area rather than a high-tax US suburb.

James Rowen said...

Sounds to me that you need to contact the ACLU, and travel through New Berlin with video and audio recorders running.

These strategies have worked in other jurisdictions, nationally.