Friday, February 27, 2009

Wisconsin DNR Has Raised Substantial Issues About Waukesha's Lake Michigan Diversion Plannning

Waukesha's effort to obtain a diversion of Lake Michigan water is not on a fast track.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, doing its statutory duty under Wisconsin law and the newly-established, multi-state Great Lakes Compact water management agreement, has told the City of Waukesha that its plans to divert Lake Michigan water out of the Great Lakes basin must meet substantial and substantive water quantity, quality and procedural thresholds, according to documents sent me by the DNR.

I will post their entire content when I get the records converted from hard copy, though this is not the first indication that Waukesha has a tough row to hoe, and it won't be the last.

At the heart of the discussion are two October, 2008 letters from DNR officials answering questions raised in April by Daniel Duchniak, manager of the Waukesha Water Utility.

In the first letter, dated October 14th, DNR Water Use Section Chief Eric Ebersberger makes these points:

"Final state administrative rules" have not been promulgated, so the DNR will work with a previously-issued procedural, interim outline that lines up with the requirements of state law and the Compact.

The letter makes clear that Waukesha is invited to make proposals to the DNR, given the absence of final administrative rules and the existence of the interim procedures.

One key issue for Waukesha - - the calculations of what constitutes acceptable return flow of diverted water back to the lake - - is still awaiting the writing of administrative rules. Ebersberger tells Duchniak that "the discussions with the other states on this issue were based on the assumptions of an immediate and continuous return flow. If you choose to propose something different than an immediate and continuous return flow, then you will have to make the argument for doing so and describe the impact your proposal will have on the water resources of the Great Lakes."

This is a major issue because Waukesha has said it would like to achieve return flow through discharge to Underwood Creek - - but wants to retain the right to discharge some diverted water after treatment into the Fox River, and thus away from the Great Lakes basin.

And that will probably not sit well with other states, such as Michigan, which would want strict adherence to the Compact's return flow requirements, especially since Waukesha's application would be the regional precedent, and the Compact does not spell out an exception for discharging diverted water away from the Great Lakes basin.

Ebersberger also tells Duchniak that a similar issue exists with respect to defining what the term "consumptive use" will mean until final administrative rules are written, and urges Waukesha to present detailed information in its application about water conservation and water loss prevention.

Another requirement is included in the letter to Duchniak..."the application must evaluate the alternative of connecting wastewater discharges to other nearby systems, including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District," including cost-effective analyses.

That's some big-ticket consulting and staff time requirements, for sure.

Two days later, Duchniak receives a separate letter about water quality issues from DNR Bureau of Watershed Management chief Duane Schuettpelz.

He tells Duchniak, among other things, that Waukesha's application must include "an analysis of impacts of the wastewater flows in the tributaries on river stage, flood flows and storage and associated impacts. Similarly, as assessment of the effects associated with the diversion of the wastewater discharge out of the Fox River must be included. Finally, it must also, as identified in [the earlier letter from Ebersberger] demonstrate that the amount of return flow is equal to that withdrawn as described in the "Great Lakes Compact" legislation."

Schuettpelz tells Duchniak discharged wastewater must meet existing standards, notes that Underwood Creek has "the most stringent effluent limitations," and that there cannot be "lowering of water quality unless allowed and appropriately justified and then only if the uses in the receiving water are maintained."

So Waukesha, the state, the Cities of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee through which Underwood Creek flows and empties, the MMSD and the seven other Great Lakes states certainly have their work cut out for them.

No wonder Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson said the other day that Waukesha's application will not proceed quickly, though some of these hurdles were referenced in January at a public meeting in Waukesha run by Nelson - - about which I blogged, here.

The records indicate that meetings and communications about the application process among Waukesha and DNR officials are ongoing.

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