Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Milwaukee Reiterates Its Water Sale Conditions

When it comes to Lake Michigan water and whether it can be shipped to Waukesha, and by whom, it's a matter of dollars and sense, not just dollars and cents.

Waukesha's concern about buying Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee is all about costs.

Milwaukee, in the form of a Common Council committee meeting Wednesday morning, says its about money and common sense:

Milwaukee cannot and should not make a deal for water to enhance development in Waukesha unless Waukesha includes in the deal a real commitment to affordable housing and transit for the region.

Since Waukesha has yet to finish and file its application, the entire discussion is premature.

But down the road - - and I'd predict in 18-24 months - - serious negotiations with outcomes might be underway.

That would allow for Waukesha to file its application, have the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources apply its rubber stamp approval, and have the seven other Great Lakes states review and force some inevitable changes.

And some of those changes could be consequential if one or more states believe that Waukesha has other options, or had not solved the return flow question (is dumping treated wastewater into Underwood Creek a real or sustainable solution?), or is otherwise ineligible for the diversion.

But should Waukesha get all these approvals, it can then decide if it wants a water sales deal with Racine or Oak Creek that requires greater infrastructure payments in exchange for water treated and purified without Milwaukee's top-shelf, cryptosporidium-busting ozonation system, or if it wants Milwaukee's better water that comes with the mandatory commitment in exchange for regional development of meaningrful housing and transit.

Either way, Waukesha is going to pay a premium for Lake Michigan water because the city is not in the Lake Michigan basin, so rules and geography will dictate high costs for the new supply.

A final option: let go of the diversion alternative, and bring online new, shallow wells to the south and west of Waukesha that have high-quality water - - and also then take on developers in those areas that want to manage land development there without Waukesha's eminent domain power coming into play.

So we'll see where Waukesha elects to go.

But fair warning to tax and water-rate payers there.

There's no cheap or free ride away from the supply and usage conundrum.

It comes literally with your territory - - which means also that "wet" industries and others may want to leave all the dilemmas behind and move into the Lake Michigan basin, which includes shoreline communities from the state line all the way to Green Bay.


Anonymous said...

The shallow wells option isn't a solution, it is the shifting of a problem from the deep aquifer to the shallow dolomite. Therefore, the City of Waukesha will probably end up getting the water, whether good or bad. Assuming they get it, a new question then must be asked: what about the other growing communities in Waukesha County?

Many people paint Waukesha as a big sprawling cul-de-sac, but they forget that the city of Waukesha has a lot of low income housing and other big city problems. Is it realistic to think businesses will abandon Milwaukee for the city of Waukesha?

The discharge problem during floods could be resolved by diverting water to western flowing rivers temporarily, this couldn't be a great loss to Lake Michigan with the already much higher volume flowing via the Root River or Underwood Creek. The DNR could provide emergency exemptions.

The water deal benefits both cities. Milwaukee makes money, expands its political influence, and raises the dwindling water demand at the water works. Waukesha gets safe water and finally eases the squeeze its placed on the deep sandstone aquifer.

It is interesting that you mention ozone. Ozone is not needed and has a very high cost. A very large amount of (coal-produced) electricity is needed to generate ozone. It is also toxic to breathe and Milwaukee may have to consider eventually phasing out ozone due to cost. The source of Cryptosporidium was never actually identified and ozone was a necessary political reaction move by the city.

It is also interesting, with Waukesha water talks going on, that work is underway in Oak Creek to expand their water works. Oak Creek has no reason to even have a water plant. It's hard to believe they can make more money expanding their plants and treating their own water than to hook up to Milwaukee's higher quality water. One thing they do well is produce revenue by selling bottled water. I hear no complaints about that loss of Great Lakes water.

James Rowen said...

To Anon:

So is shifting from the deep aquifer to Lake Michigan also shifting the problem from one supply to another?

Including the notion of returning Waukesha's wastewater to the Lake via Underwood Creek.

I disagree that Waukesha has a lot of low-income housing and urban problems. Some, but not a lot. Let's be accurate.

And the Great Lakes Compact will not allow the diversion to the West, away from the Lake, of diverted, treated water during storm events.

Waukesha will try and convince the other states that they should be allowed such an exemption, but I doubt that will happen. You open that door and others will follow: the precedent of taking water away from the basin permanently just won't fly.

Oak Creek bottles municipal water? So does Milwaukee, but it isn't clear that it leaves the basin.

And the Compact allows it through a gaping loophole, which is why Nestle and its Ice Mountain (sic) brand remove massive volumes of water that does leave the basin.

Back to the first point: Waukesha has ample water and options without resorting to the diversion.

I expect to see Michigan point to this if the Wisconsin DNR can't or won't.

James Rowen said...

Also to Anon: you may be right about Ozone and its ultimate costs and future in treating water. And yes, the source was never pinpointed, but the crypto contamination has not returned, so Ozone probably stays.

Anonymous said...

It is true they have plenty of water, but that water doesn't meet health standards. The compact bans sending water outside the basin, true. But why would the GLC disallow sending water outside the basin during a rain event, if the amount returned to the basin still equals the amount withdrawn? During a large scale rain event, the amount of water being returned to the basin would exceed the amount withdrawn.

Waukesha County communities have mismanaged water. Getting Lake Michigan water shifts the "burden" to Lake Michigan. But if all the water returns to the lake, how is it harm Lake Michigan? It would actually benefit the Lake. Prior to development, groundwater flowed east from Waukesha to the Lake until pumping caused the direction to reverse to the west.

If they transfer the burden to the shallow aquifer, the water quality issue remains and furthermore reduced base flow lowers river and lake water levels. I think the main concern is, as you previously mentioned, problems with the Underwood Creek. Waukesha would have to agree to be liable for problems related to sending the water back.

James Rowen said...

The shallow aquifer well water does not have the same health issues as does the deep.

So when I say they have access to plenty of water, that's what I mean.

They can also draw water close to the Fox River and return it in a closed, Fox loop, either on its own or in conjunction with shallow well water, or perhaps with some deep well water, cleaned and blended.

I don't think the states want, however, blending of water from outside the basin with in-basin water, and I don't think they will allow sending GL water to the Mississippi River basin under any circumstances.

The Compact was not written to open more exceptions for Waukesha.

I agree that return flow is a huge problem for Waukesha, in part because the entire notion that a community would add wastewater pollutants both to the lake and the Meonomonee River watershed after decades of cleanup is repugnant.