Thursday, September 18, 2008

SEWRPC Study Will Recommend Lake Michigan Water Meet Waukesha's Needs

As I predicted on this blog Monday, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's staff and consultants will recommend to its water supply advisory committee, after nearly three years of work, that much of the region's water needs to the year 2035 be met with a major shift from well water to Lake Michigan water, including a diversion out of the Great Lakes basin to the City of Waukesha.

While never really in doubt, the initial recommendation is a big political victory for Waukesha, which has said it wants 24 million gallons of Lake Michigan water daily - - more than double its current peak daily usage - - as it is the nerve center of a county whose Executive has predicted nearly 150,000 new residents by mid-century.

Waukesha County's population in the 2000 census was 360,800: Dan Vrakas has said it could hit 509,000 by 2050.

The staff and consultant's preliminary recommendation for major new Lake Michigan water usage is found on page 46 of a lengthy document, Chapter IX of the study-in-progress, "A Regional Water Supply Plan For Southeastern Wisconsin."

The consultant is Ruekert-Mielke, the ubiquitous Waukesha consulting and engineering firm that also has produced the pending Lake Michigan diversion application for the City of New Berlin.

The document and recommendation is to be presented to the water advisory committee at its meeting on Tuesday, September 23, at 9:00 a.m. at the SEWRPC Pewaukee headquarters about a mile north of the intersection of state highway 164 and I-94, at W239 N1812 Rockwood Drive, Pewaukee.

Because materials for the committee meeting were mailed to the 32 members- - committee papers are mailed in hard copy, not emailed or sent on-line - - I simply picked up a packet at SEWRPC's office and read through them Wednesday afternoon.

This posting is based on a first, quick read.

The recommendation technically supports what is called "subalternative 2 to the Composite Plan" - - that is, an amalgam of water conservation plans and techniques, proposed rainfall capture areas on open land to recharge underground supplies, and use of the City of Milwaukee's water works pumping and treatment capacity by up to 13 communities for obtaining Lake Michigan water, including the City of Waukesha - - the biggest of the southeastern Wisconsin communities seeking, and recommended for, Lake Michigan water.

The plan's total estimated capital costs are $326.5 million.

The recommended alternative achieves significant recovery to overused groundwater supplies by substituting Lake Michigan water for a number of communities' wells.

Milwaukee, as the presumed seller, would obtain a new revenue stream, though it would presumably have to bear significant capital costs, too.

The report notes that Waukesha, which has yet to formally apply for a Lake Michigan diversion - - and that application would require approval by all eight Great Lakes states under the new Great Lakes Compact - - has yet to say how it would return diverted water to Lake Michigan, as is required by the Compact.

This is a key point.

Possible solutions include wastewater discharges into the Root River and the Menomonee River's Underwood Creek tributary, or in pipe connections to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, or in even more potentially-controversial scenarios that include allowing Waukesha to continue its current practice of discharging wastewater to the Fox River.

That is a flow away from the Great Lakes, and thus perhaps also from easy approval by the other states, given that the Compact has tight return flow procedures. requirements and expectations.

The document suggests Waukesha might be able to get away with 85% return flow, annually. I'm not sure if that will fly.

Sending any Great Lakes water to the Mississippi River watershed via the Fox River might not pass muster in Michigan, and elsewhere.

The staff and consultants say the overall supply alternative they are initially recommending to the committee is cost-effective and "more fully meets the plan objectives" than other options.

Therefore it is the one they suggest the committee move along to a series of public meetings, additional review and final approval SEWRPC approval.

The alternative is also said to match up with SEWRPC's guiding land-use plan, though from the beginning, the three-year water supply study came with parameters limited primarily to engineering and capacity cost-benefits analyses and comparative conservation methodologies.

Specific implications such as the impact of water transfers on regional housing patterns, business development, employment opportunities, transportation options and economic justice were not considered.

After the public meetings and additional reviews, the full SEWRPC 21-member board, made up of representatives from each of its seven counties, would adopt a final recommendation and the region's municipalities would then be free to cite and use it.

SEWRPC's final recommendations carry weight in the region: Waukesha would certainly incorporate it into a Lake Michigan diversion application to the other Great Lakes states, as would other communities.

Given the scope of the recommendations, and because SEWRPC has also studied the possibility, a regional water authority might be created to facilitate multi-community diversion applications and even funding for new infrastructure.

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