Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Diversion Rules Needed Before Water Sale Approval, Milwaukee Official Reiterates

The Milwaukee Mayor's office is strongly emphasizing to the Journal Sentinel the difficulties posed by an application for a Lake Michigan water sale to Waukesha should it be submitted before the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources first writes rules establishing what constitutes a complete application and review procedure.

Though authority for Great Lakes diversions was codified last year in an eight-state Compact that included Wisconsin, the DNR has yet to draft or issue the administrative rules that would lay out an application's format, content and review/approval process.

Several days ago, a leading DNR official said having rules in place prior to an application's receipt was not a necessity; Waukesha has indicated it would forward an application to the DNR before the end of this year.

That application, if it passes the DNR's muster, then goes on to the other states for a so-called regional (Great Lakes region) review.

I posted some context and history about the issue, here: it appears that Patrick Curley, chief of staff to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, was explaining to the Journal Sentinel that Milwaukee saw an orderly, sequential process to the diversion and water reviews and approvals as a perquisite, not an option:

First - - the Compact and state legislative approval, which establishes the eight-state review for an out-of-basin application by a city like Waukesha;

Second - - the DNR's crafting of the administrative rules - - a step called for last year when the legislature, in addition to passing the Compact, also approved a so-called implementing bill that laid out the need for the rules;

Third - - running Waukesha's application, and others' subsequently, through the review process as defined by the rules;

So that when the DNR moves an application to the other states for their approval - - and all eight states must OK the application to move water - - Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York - - can be assured that Wisconsin had a reasonable, lawful and comprehensive method for determining that an application was worthy of their consideration.

Said Curley, sending an unmistakable signal:

"It'll be very very difficult for the Common Council to approve
it," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's Chief of Staff Pat Curley
said. "I can't stress the word 'difficult' enough."

Remember, too, that an orderly process helps everyone, establishing an expectation that Wisconsin would also invoke should an application come here from another state.

Wisconsin has as much interest in solid diversion, conservation planning and water return flow regimes in the other states as they have in Wisconsin's - - because the Great Lakes are a shared resource, held in trust for all the region's residents, and the Great Lakes Compact was written to maximize watershed preservation and not to expand diversion loopholes and or rubber-stamp inadequate planning.

Barrett is right to ask for a comprehensive and step-by-step process: he's an attorney, former state legislator and US Congressman, and no doubt has seen from different angles any number of regulatory requests coming down the pike that carry with them a certain, no-brainer logic:

Step A precedes B precedes C.

I have several times predicted that Waukesha will find its application rejected or tabled by one or more of the other states if the city and the DNR try to move the application forward without having the state administrative rules in place.

Why they would self-sabotage their chances for something Waukesha says it wants to achieve in a so-called model application, is, well - - mystifying.


Anonymous said...

I agree that this seems like a foolish gamble for Waukesha. It probably increases the prospect that any attempt to get approval will fail.

However .... they just might be playing to push forward for rapid action any way they can. That DNR deadline that seems so far off to most folks. Probably doesn't leave much time for inaction... not when you start working back from the date and consider all the work, planning, approvals, contingencies, etc. they would need to make such a massive operational switch.

Jim Bouman said...

Much of this "To boldly go where none have gone before..." stuff out of Waukesha probably has a lot to do with the fact that Mayor Larry Nelson has to stand for election in the Spring.

He has alienated a huge number of the supporters who backed him four years ago--particularly environmentalists--and cannot count on their money or votes, much less campaign work, for the next election.

Nelson is scared--and he ought to be. The death throes of Waukesha's sprawl-fed boom in expanding tax base will come home to bite Nelson big-time when he has to raise taxes in the next budget.

For years he and his Water Utility Commission crew have been counting on a big build-out in subdivisions that Waukesha has wanted to annex on the west and south borders of the City of Waukesha. That plan--based on anticipated infusions of new tax revenue--looks pretty moribund these days. And all the needed 2010 tax revenue will have to be wrung out of the existing tax base.

So...looking like a hero by getting Lake Michigan Water seems to be his re-election scheme. The people of Waukesha will ignore this stunt, distracted by looking at a huge new tax bite.

And, making it a double whammy, Dan Warren, Water Utility Commission President and Nelson pal, is in a worse position: He is simultaneously serving as President of the Waukesha School Board. Because of stupid, venal decisions he recommended several years ago to get Waukesha Schools invested in wildly speculative investments that have gone sour, he looks less and less like a reasonable and rational person to be pushing for a costly boondoggle to spend scores of millions of dollars (borrowed money) to start bringing Lake Michigan water to Waukesha.