Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Data Throws Waukesha's Lake Michigan Diversion Plan, Need, Into Doubt

Very recent information sent by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) to the Waukesha Water Utility - - which is looking for a huge diversion of Lake Michigan water - - suggests that the City of Waukesha is in line for modest growth only.

That raises serious and fundamental questions about Waukesha's plan for a 24-million-gallon-per-day diversion of Lake Michigan water because its current daily usage is 9.8 million gallons daily.

And Waukesha's much-touted water conservation plan throws a 24-million-gallons-a-day Lake Michigan water plan into greater doubt.

Here is the data and documentation that has not been published in other media:

Then-SEWRPC Executive Director Philip Evenson sent to Waukesha Water Utility general manager Daniel Duchniak on December 23, 2008 a memorandum and map to meet Duchniak's August 13th, 2008 request for coordinated information about SEWRPC's proposed water study, Waukesha's water utility service area boundaries and the Great Lakes Compact, SEWRPC records show.

Duchniak needed that information to help it complete an eventual application for a Great Lakes diversion as permitted under the newly-adopted Compact, records show.

The map of the utility's water service area that Evenson included in his response to Duchniak also shows land bordering Waukesha and that city's water service territory that included environmentally-sensitive land, wetlands and surface waters as well as land in the vicinity that might be connected to the service area.

Key data in the memorandum:

* 84% of SEWRPC's existing 21.7 square miles of water service area is currently developed, and by 2028, the population there could increase by 8,800 persons, or 13%.

* There are 17.4 square miles near the existing service area - - 9.9 square miles of which are developed.

There is also a smaller portion, of 7.5 square miles, "considered as potentially developable land. This area has been included in the planned water supply service supply area primarily to support the resolution of potential water supply problems associated with existing development, rather than to support new development. Under the regional land use plan, a very limited portion of this area is proposed to be developed...," (emphasis added) with SEWRPC projecting a population increase in that area by 2028 of only 1,500 persons.

In other words, the City of Waukesha, and the area its utility could hook up, is in line for modest, limited growth projected over a 20-year-period, according to SEWRPC - - which under the Great Lakes Compact is the agency that must provide to a diversion applicant the projected water service area to which that diverted water would go.

So the SEWRPC memorandum is nothing to sneeze at, under the law.

The memorandum does underscore SEWRPC's interest in keeping growth out of the environmental corridors and other common spaces with this language:

"The adopted regional water quality management plan places great emphasis on protection of the environmentally sensitive land," so there wouldn't be any need to plan to send Lake Michigan water to new homes to those acres that border the proposed water service area and that are also abundant within it, the map shows.

So I ask again, why is the City of Waukesha, which is constantly touting its water conservation planning, and which could meet its water needs with existing deep and shallow well supply combinations, embarking on a 24-million-gallons a day Lake Michigan supply plan that a) increases its daily water budget by 150%, b) might cost its ratepayers $60 million, and c) could add unsustainable volumes of wastewater discharge to Underwood Creek on the return trek back to Lake Michigan?

Does Waukesha plan to go into the wholesale water selling business to other communities, or to lead the charge for a regional water authority - - a subject studied by SEWRPC, but not recommended for the region, so far, in the draft regional water supply study proposal about which public review began Monday night at a public session in Milwaukee?

Waukesha rolls out more about its plan at a city hall meeting tonight at 7 p.m. A good place to ask some questions of its Mayor, water utility personnel and consultants.

Great Lakes book author Peter Annin is also in Waukesha tonight, courtesy of the Waukesha Environmental Action league, signing books from 5-6:30 at Martha's, the bookstore, at 231 W. Main St.

Maybe he has some anwers?

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