Saturday, November 15, 2008

Water Questions Need More Answers, Broader Analyses

So the City of Waukesha has rolled out a key element of its Lake Michigan water diversion plan by announcing that it intends to return water to Lake Michigan via wastewater discharges into Underwood Creek.

The wastewater will be treated to such a high degree that the extra discharge will be good for the creek, Waukesha representatives say, and the entire arrangement is a boon to the regional ecosystem.

You can see the momentum building for Waukesha's diversion application: The Great Lakes Compact has been approved, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's water supply study endorses a diversion to Waukesha, and Waukesha follows through with an announcement about how to return the water to the lake.

After a few perfunctory hearings, the deal is done, right?

Well - - not so fast.

Though the Compact has been approved, an application has yet to be received, and since Waukesha's effort will be the first to go through the formal, eight-state review, expect close scrutiny across the region that could easily take a year or more.

Then there is the matter of the SEWRPC study, which gives cover to the Waukesha application. The SEWRPC plan needs hearings of its own. More about that in a minute.

Then Waukesha has to explain to its taxpayers and ratepayers how it will find the more than $50 million to build the series of infrastructure improvements it will need to purchase, deliver, treat and discharge the water and the waste.

So everyone can take a breath, and while we're coming back to earth, let's ask these questions:

If Waukesha wins permission to get the Lake Michigan water supply, what are the impacts on the region's housing, transportation, and development sectors?

Will new jobs follow a guaranteed supply of fresh water to Waukesha? A housing need? More roads? Bus lines? Public spending at many levels?

Ah, you say, surely the SEWRPC water supply study included these elementary questions, right?


These questions need to be raised during the study's hearings, and then the study committee and its consultants should get busy with the answers.

Add that planning deficit and fix to the long list of shortcomings at the agency, as well as to the list of procedural changes that need to be inserted into all SEWRPC studies, and to the agency mindset as well.

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