Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson was clear at a Thursday water policy conference hosted by the Public Policy Forum that the city's application for a Lake Michigan diversion will be forthcoming before the end of the year.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Since we're about to roll into June, that means Waukesha's application is a matter of weeks or months away.
And while Nelson and others in Waukesha would like fast action on the application, the process will move slowly for a host of solid reasons.
Here are a few:
* All eight Great Lakes states must approve the application, with differing internal procedures and external political pressures that will influence their reviews.
These other states can, and some almost certainly will turn back an application for clarification regardless of whether their eventual finding is "yes," or "no," in large measure because Waukesha's will be the first application under the new Great Lakes Compact full eight-state review and everyone will want the precedent-setting process done right.
Let's remember that first and foremost, the Compact is a US-Canadian conservation plan designed to preserve Great Lakes water and manage a unique planetary resource responsibly and sustainably.
That's why the Compacy was crafted over five long years of negotiation and debate.
The Compact is secondarily a diversion-permission document.
The permissions are written in as last-resort exceptions, and it's important that in addressing Waukesha's eagerness, Wisconsin and other Great Lakes officials not get overly diverted by diversions.
* In fact, Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources has yet to write administrative rules that will define what a diversion application, and a Wisconsin review, should include to be considered legal and complete.
* The DNR, and perhaps the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, will have to review scientifically whether Waukesha's probable method of returning Lake Michigan water back to the lake - - into either the Root River or Underwood Creek - - can be achieved without causing flooding or dimunition of water quality in the tributary Waukesha chooses for its discharge.
^ The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has not completed its regional water supply study: the incomplete draft does recommend a Waukesha diversion, but also indicates that Waukesha has sufficient alternative well water, so a diversion is not the only possible long-term source.
A completed SEWRPC study could shed light on the full ramifications for the region of a diversion, and add weight, for or against, an eventual diversion application.
* The City of Milwaukee is the most likely seller of Lake Michigan water to Waukesha; after months of drafting, Milwaukee is releasing Friday a request for proposals to consultants to answer a profoundly relevant question heretofore not addressed:
What is the real cost of water?
The proposal request seeks ways to quantify the true overall value of a finite resource like water to an eager buyer like Waukesha with development and other long-term needs.
So here's the bottom line:
Waukesha has to have a cleaner water supply in place by 2018.
Even if it gets its application to the Great Lakes states for review this year the process will take a long time because there are many important questions to be answered first, accurately, and completely.