Thursday, September 3, 2009

Waukesha Wants The Ability To Flush Some Diverted Lake Michigan Water Away From Lake Michigan

Although the Great Lakes Compact says diverted water must be returned to the source - - minus a reasonable amount for so-called consumptive uses - - the City of Waukesha, should it receive a Lake Michigan diversion, says its "official position" will be to state in advance that it would send some Lake Michigan water down the Fox River and away from Lake Michigan.

The reason: to alleviate flooding concerns along a stream it wants to use as the return route to the Lake.

Other documents identify that preferred stream as Underwood Creek, with a discharge point in Wauwatosa.

This is a perfect example of why it is a fundamental mistake for the State of Wisconsin and its Department of Natural Resources to be on the verge of accepting an application for the diversion from Waukesha without having used the 15 months since the approval of the Great Lakes Compact to lapse without having begun, let alone completing, the drafting of administrative rules to assist with the implementation of the Compact in Wisconsin.

The information comes in a 9/2/2009 email from Daniel Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, in response to questions I emailed him that same day.

My questions to him were based on a a copy of a May 15, 2009 email that the utility had provided in documents to me, upon request, in which Bill McClenahan, a Waukesha public relations consultant, suggested that Waukesha make certain "significant changes" in language describing the city's return flow and a reduced need for water.

The language changes were proposed for a then-upcoming Waukesha document.

In his proposed language changes, McClenahan said Waukesha should say that return flow of diverted water be continuous to Lake Michigan during certain rain storms.

Waukesha had earlier indicated that the return flow would, at times, be directed into the Mississippi River watershed via the Fox River, thus away from the Great Lakes basin and Lake Michigan.

Below was a paragraph from McClenahan's email that I asked Duchniak to clarify:

"Another example of the evolving nature of Waukesha's potential application for Great Lakes water is a change in its preferred option for return of water to Lake Michigan after use. The utility proposes to return water to Lake Michigan via a tributary, setting an innovative precedent of using treated wastewater as a resource that can potentially improve the flow and quality of a stream. Previously, the utility had proposed cutting off the return flow when the stream reached a certain level, roughly corresponding to levels reached during a two-year storm event. The utility's new preferred option, however, is to return the estimated daily withdrawal of Great Lakes water, minus the Compact's allowance for consumptive use, during such rain events. Water can be returned under such conditions without causing concerns of flooding."

In his clarifying answers, Duchniak said discharge cut-offs to the stream and their redirection down the Fox River would occur if "concerns of flooding" arose.

I have below italicized Duchniak's answers, which he had inserted at the end of each of my questions:

"Were these [McClenahan] changes proposed for the draft application, or for another document, such as the answers to the environmental groups, or for the Mayor's remarks at the Public Policy Forum luncheon later in May?

"These changes were for the answers to the environmental group questions.

"Secondly, is the continuous daily return flow during two-year storms now the official position of the city?

"The official city position is to return the estimated daily withdrawal of Great Lakes water minus the Compact’s allowance for consumptive use, during such rain events as the water can be returned under such conditions without causing concerns of flooding.

"What about continuous flow in rain events heavier than the two-year storm level? Would the return flow at those levels be directed to the Fox?

"Our intent remains as stated above, to return the estimated daily withdrawal of Great Lakes water minus the Compact’s allowance for consumptive use, during such rain events as the water can be returned under such conditions without causing concerns of flooding. The volume of water above that amount would be directed to the Fox."

Waukesha has said it intends to launch its application before the end of the year, and even though Milwaukee's official position is that it should not be accepted by the DNR before rule-making, additional documents obtained from the Waukesha Water Utility indicate Waukesha expects Milwaukee to sign onto the application to help complete it - - something that Common Council resolutions and other Milwaukee actions appear to block.

This all may appear as inside baseball to some, or confusing, or repetitious - - but my opinion is that if Waukesha's "official position" is to state its intention to send an unspecified amount of Lake Michigan water away from the Great Lakes basin - - thus defeating a key, Great Lakes water preservation concept embedded in the Great Lakes Compact - - Waukesha will have to explain somehow, some way hoe its application for a diversion isn't looking for an exemption or exception to the return flow expectation that simply isn't there.


Anonymous said...

Give them the water and force them to return it, Milwaukee needs the money. The one justification for not providing water is that industries will overlook the city and grow in Waukesha County. Although, they currently can go to one of the other cities that gets Milwaukee water right now. The other justification might be it will create more sprawl. But sprawl will inevitably occur anyway as long as the inner city keeps spreading out towards city limits. Milwaukee is aging and needs to start thinking about how it can prevent losing the remaining residents from moving out because they usually move permanently.

James Rowen said...

To Anon:

A few things.

Right now there is certainly sprawl - - and I would argue that it is enabled, in part, by government programs: tax breaks, TIF, highway expansion, etc.

And there is also movement into the City of Milwaukee; census data show city growth, too.

So what Milwaukee needs to do is to strategically use all its resources - - water included - - to maximize this internal growth, since it cannot expand via annexation (hy state law).

Milwaukee needs to work closely with municipalities that are within the Lake Michigan watershed to coordinate growth, with water as a tool, as opposed to merely selling it for pennies a gallon to communities outside the basin.

Anonymous said...

I wish I was wrong but the city is becoming poorer. Do you live on the east side? If so that area is an urban glimmer of hope, but the other 75% of the city is not faring as well. Even resurging riverwest is now losing momentum. Milwaukee is undeniably getting worse, more run-down, less attractive to middle class homeowners, and for a small amount of growth you have a middle class exodus of neighborhoods. Fifteen years ago S. Layton Blvd was very good, now take a look at it. You can name many neighborhoods which people live now that they wouldn't look there if buying again. Sell the water to Waukesha, make more money for police and neighborhood services, do something to preserve the city from becoming a shelter for the poor.

The promise of water technology will be another east side gift. But what technologies are city leaders thinking will generate the financial boom? Meters? Salt water filters? Efficient toilets? New treatment chemicals and pumps? I'm just not positive how the world water shortage means we become the water Silicon Valley.