Friday, May 8, 2009

Waukesha Should Consider Using Fox River Water

The conversation about Waukesha's water supply issue is constantly framed around two choices:

Well water.

Lake Michigan water.

Here is another example of that frame, though there is an internal logic there often absent from most of the debate.

There is a third option that should be brought into the discussion, especially since Waukesha has been given until 2018 to implement its solution.

That option is using the Fox River, which runs right through Waukesha, and which Waukesha currently uses as the discharge point for treated wastewater it sends down river to other communities that use it and discharge it again.

Wells placed at or near the river could provide Waukesha with everything it needs without the huge financial and environmental costs associated with diverting water 15-20 miles from Lake Michigan, and then discharging it into Underwood Creek - - and perhaps into nearby basements during heavy rain events - - for eventual return to Lake Michigan.

And the question of whether the Vernon Marsh could stay properly hydrated would be off the table, as Waukesha would continue its current discharge regime, thus keeping all its water supply issues within the context of the Mississippi River watershed where the city is, and not transfer Waukesha issues, troubles and needs to the Lake Michigan watershed.

This is not a matter of either or - - well water or Lake Michigan water.

Let's stop pretending that there are only scenarios to resolve Waukesha's long-term water supply issues.


Jim Bouman said...

Thanks, James.

This post--as well as the previous one--simply galvanize the perception that your analytical, observational, politiical, rhetorical and bullshit-detectional skills are at the top of the heap.

Keep it up.

James Rowen said...

Hey, Jim; Thanks for all that.

And for dealing with these matters first-hand in Waukesha.

The River Otter said...

Brilliant!! I wonder if it is actualy feasible? I always thought of the Fox as extremely toxic (went to Carroll for two years and that seemed to be the conventional Waukesha wisdom) so there would definitely be some mindset-changing to do if it were indeed found to be clean enough to consider drinking.

Joshua Skolnick said...

What about proscribing water-wasting activities, such as sprinkler systems for turf grass, and mandating rainwater-capture systems for new construction in Waukesha, like they do in on Caribbean islands where fresh water is scarce, in addition to using the local water source, the Fox River. Part of the water issue is demand-side management. And for the drinkability of the water, don't we have technologically sophisticated filtration systems that can clean up Fox River water to drinking water standards.

Anonymous said...

Using Fox River water in this way would drain the river. The water table is too low to provide adequate base flow. This isn't a solution at all. They would also have to build an expensive treatment plant to treat river water. This is a problem with blog reporting. You have people just blabbering on without seeking expert opinions. Check these links:

James Rowen said...

To the last Anon;

Let's include the concept in formal study and planning.

The other options on the table have considerable costs to them.

Anonymous said...

James you are missing the point. It's not a viable concept. The river can't support it because there is no baseflow.

James Rowen said...

To Anon:

Let me direct you to a piece in the Waukesha Freeman from 2005 in which a leading regional hydrologist discussed how the Fox River could be used to resolve Waukesha's water supply needs:

Anonymous said...

With respect to the Fox — and base flow - what do these folks think the Illinois communities do — in fact, Aurora, which has grown considerably in the past several years uses the Fox as the heart of it revitalization and growth.

Two other things: it's not that the water will have to be treated –it will - it is a question of how intensive the treatment needs to be, and that will be looked at under one alternativ.

But 2nd - Waukesha is already doing this, albeit on a smaller scale: the question - can they do it on a larger scale and make it sustainable?

But a large number of communities all over the US and the world already recycle their water along the way that we are talking – and what the hell do some of these folks think happens to the water from Lake Michigan?

Wvery bit of it gets treated before it is distributed.

Anonymous said...

In the last comment, the first word of the last sentence should read "Every."

Todd F said...

Didn't the CH2M Hill report "Waukesha Water Utility:
Future Water Supply" back in 2002 suggest that the Fox river would "comprise a suitable water
source, or supplemental contributing source to the Utility,
so long as a reservoir such as a large lake, quarry, or
aquifer storage is constructed to bridge the dry weather
period and related seasonal variations in flow."

One could wonder why this hasn't been further explored, however I suspect that the camel knows (ahem).

James Rowen said...

To Todd F: Interesting. I haven't read that study in years. I will do so.

Anonymous said...

The difference with Aurora is in existance there is a water table high enough to supply the river with flow. They also use part well water/part river water, which maybe could work with Waukesha and the shallow aquifers. The posted CH2M Hill report was released before Cherkauer's current base flow separation work. This is an issue so complex that it should be left up to scientists to decide.

If you look at it this way: Chicago uses something like 600 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water every day which flows to the Chicago River and then down the Mississippi. The Lake has been losing water since Chicago reversed the flow of the river in 1900. Is it going to make a huge difference to allow Waukesha to tap into Milwaukee?

rich said...

" .. Chicago reversed the flow of the river in 1900. Is it going to make a huge difference to allow Waukesha to tap into Milwaukee?"

It's not a matter of degree, Todd. If everyone thought the way you & Chicago do, there wouldn't be a Lake Michigan.

The question is,

What's stopping us from re-reversing the flow of the Chicago River?

Cost of waste treatment?

Economic value of barge traffic?

What would it take to deal with those issues in a scheme to revert the river to its original direction?

Here's a proposition: that water's more valuable coming into Lake Michigan than it is being dumped into the Mississippi drainage basin.

Todd F said...


You got me wrong on this.