Monday, May 12, 2008

Get Him A Map And A Briefing: Rep. Gunderson Thought Waukesha Was New Berlin

Does a key state legislator who represents part of Waukesha County know the difference between New Berlin and Waukesha?

You'd hope so, but apparently he has gotten them confused when it comes to a very basic difference in water policy and Great Lakes water diversion procedures that differentiate those neighboring - - but separate and stand-alone - - cities.

And if that legislator is one of the key figures behind-the-scenes drafting statewide water legislation, isn't this yet another reason for that legislation to be disclosed prior to the quick, hearing-free process that legislators have said is going to be how that legislation gets adopted?

Read on...

State Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), has a portion of Waukesha County in his district, and also serves as Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.

It's an important position from which Gunderson has helped table Great Lakes water legislation until it was rewritten to make Lake Michigan water more readily available in Southeast Wisconsin.

But both communities are in different stages of application for diversions of Lake Michigan water, and have to meet different rules, and follow different procedures, to apply for and obtain Great Lakes water.

Sort of like the differences between slow-pitch sandlot softball (New Berlin) and Major League baseball (Waukesha): yes, both are played with bats and balls, but the game and rules are verrrrrry different, and an umpire who is also teaching them to other umpires needs to know the differences.

On Monday, I posted the text of an email exchange between Gunderson and Kurt Barikmo, a Muskego resident, who asked for an explanation about legislation Gunderson was helping craft to implement the pending Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin.

Gunderson told Barikmo that he was comfortable helping line up Waukesha as a likely recipient of diverted Lake Michigan water - - the most controversial issue in the legislation and lengthy Compact debate - - because Waukesha intended to return 102% of diverted water to the lake.

His words were:

"The City of Waukesha has already started a water conservation plan that will be the model for the United States, while at the same time projecting a return of 102% of the water used back to the basin if a transfer is necessary."

I opined that Waukesha had not ever indicated such a commitment, but, in fact, for a variety of reasons, New Berlin already had.

I wrote that despite all the publicity about the two communities differing circumstances, Gunderson was confusing them.

So I asked Gunderson twice Monday by email for an explanation, and got no reply.

I asked Waukesha Water Utility general manager Dan Duchniak for an explanation, and Monday night, Duchniak, who knows which city's water planning he directs, sent this response:

"I believe Representative Gunderson is referring to New Berlin . Waukesha is still investigating return flow and has not evaluated to that level of detail yet.

"Waukesha intends to meet the compact which I believe states that “All water withdrawn shall be returned, either naturally or after use, to the source watershed less an allowance for consumptive use.'”

So there you have it: Gunderson is confusing its community, and its water policy planning, with New Berlin, according to Duchniak. As I said, Duchniak is in charge of Waukesha's water planning.

Here is what Gunderson needs to get straight:

If and when the Compact is approved, New Berlin's application will only need the approval of the State of Wisconsin because it straddles the Great Lakes basin boundary.

And the state has already essentially given its approval.

Waukesha, on the other hand, is farther to the west and is entirely outside the Great Lakes basin.

So its eventual diversion application has to meet a different, and more rigorous review standard. It will need the approval of all eight Great States.

That application could get hung up on the very return flow total that Gunderson has wildly overstated - - because Waukesha is farther from Lake Michigan and currently sends its waste water to the Fox River, which does not flow to Lake Michigan.

And the Fox River, by Waukesha's repeated assessment, needs that waste water flow to maintain the Fox River and Vernon Marsh. So it's a dilemma, not yet resolved, despite Gunderson's assurance to Barikmo, a constituent.

Additionally, the Waukesha application could be for as much as 24 million gallons a day, or more if other communities sign on as co-applicants - - a total that could dwarf New Berlin's total by ten or 15 times.

It's important that Gunderson understand that the two different cities fall under different diversion application review standards, and while New Berlin has an application pending, Waukesha does not.

Gunderson is helping write behind closed doors the bill that will implement the Compact in Wisconsin, and he chairs the Assembly committee that will be pivotal in the bill's creation and approval.

Certainly in the GOP Assembly majority caucus, Gunderson is a key voice and influential communicator.

Making sure that there is an accurate basis for the bill is among the many reasons why it needs a public vetting and hearing - - to let the public see what is being prepared, and to let media and the public ask questions of legislators who are preparing it.

If Gunderson doesn't know the difference between New Berlin and Waukesha's diversion plans, what else is he getting wrong?

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