Thursday, April 9, 2009

More Information About New Berlin Diversion Application, DNR Position

The article I wrote for Isthmus about New Berlin's Great Lakes diversion application makes reference to an email exchange I had with Todd Ambs, the DNR's water division administrator.

I wanted to post the content of that email exchange, as I think it further illuminates the DNR's thinking on the application and the agency's review procedures:

From: James Rowen
Sent: Thursday, April 02, 2009 3:58 PM
Subject: New Berlin procedural question

As I read the DNR comments in [a Journal Sentinel story] - - the DNR is saying it is not necessarily required to approve New Berlin's application before rule-making is completed. Is that a correct interpretation? Thanks.

Jim Rowen
Daily commentary and news at:

Todd L. Ambs
Water Division
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Thursday, April 2, 2009 5:00 PM

There is no statutory timeline for acting on this request but there is a clear public health threat right now that the citizens of New Berlin are facing.

We act on laws all the time prior to the rules being in place.

We can place additional restrictions in the permit itself and/or include language in any approval that makes it clear that the permittee will be subject to any additional rules that may be adopted that pertain to the type of permit that we are issuing.

Fundamentally the question here is, has New Berlin provided adequate justification to gain an exemption from the ban on diversions?

We haven't answered that question yet and will need to carefully review all of the public comments before deciding how to proceed.

Whatever we decide to do though, I want to make two key points:

We are confident that we have ample legal authority to make that decision without rules.

We are equally confident that any decision that we make will be specific to the New Berlin application and will have no precedential value for any other request for an exemption from the ban on diversions.

Remember: New Berlin is a straddling community.

It has a problem with radium in its water. They are proposing to return all of the water they use every day back to Lake Michigan.

No consumptive use.

No evaporative loss.

Every drop comes back to the Basin.

Every day.

New Berlin's wastewater treatment system discharges all of its wastewater (both from the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin) into Lake Michigan through MMSD every day right now.

Because of the properties in the groundwater in New Berlin, every day they discharge sodium, chlorides, total suspended solids and when they are using the wells, radium, into Lake Michigan.

None of those substances are in the Lake Michigan water that they are proposing to use.

So, the "precedent" that the DNR will set with any decision that we make could only be even loosely applied to:

A straddling community.

With a public health water quality threat.

That already has an existing wastewater system that discharges all of its water back to the Basin.

That can demonstrate that it will return every drop of water back to the Basin in the same day.

With better water quality than the water that the system brings into the Basin now. And actually reduce the drawdown in the aquifer by reducing pumping.

And all of that before we even get to the question of what is the appropriate water conservation plan for a community in this situation.

Hope that helps, Happy to discuss further if you would like before you file your story. I am on the road tomorrow but can give you a call on my cell.

Just drop me an email.


Anonymous said...

Will this allow New Berlin to grow without restrain due to demand for water? Will new subdivisions just keep popping up until they literally straddle the continental divide?

James Rowen said...

When Milwaukee agreed to sell the water to New Berlin, it was estimated that the area to which the water was targeted will see an estimated 6,000 new jobs and more than 1,000 new homes.

I have heard the figure of $1 billion in added value; regrettably, Milwaukee chose not to tie water sales to sharing of development gains, and settled for a one-time payment of $1.5 million for the 20-year deal, plus water gallonage charges determined by the state Public Service Commission.