Thursday, February 11, 2010

Much Ado About Social Justice, Sprawl At UWM Water Meeting

The final focus group run by UWM faculty serving as consultants on social justice issues to the regional planning commission's (SEWRPC) water supply study ran overtime Thursday afternoon at the UWM Memorial Union, but the discussion among about a dozen people produced plenty of comments for the consultants to digest.

Best news: the consultants - - even though SEWRPC brought them into the regional water supply study at the 11th hour - - will take written comments through late March, so if you missed the focus group meetings, copy and paste this website into your address bar: - - and email opinion, citations, data, etc.

Most enlightening/surprising/disappointing event:

The observation twice made to the group by Bob Biebel, former SEWRPC water policy manager and current water supply study consultant, that concern about the City of Waukesha sending Lake Michigan water to new areas west and south of the City - - based on a revised water service territory map SEWRPC supplied to Waukesha for the city's draft Lake Michigan diversion application - - was "much ado about nothing."

Biebel thinks that there won't be much new development there - - though by SEWRPC's calculations, the new water service territory is increased in size for the Waukesha Water Utility from about 22 square miles to 39 - - and it's reasonable to assume there could be there a spate of annexations, demands for more city services, roads, housing, and business development.

The map is below.

This is classic SEWRPC-think: Biebel is a water specialist, a long-time SEWRPC staffer and technical expert in his field, but like most SEWRPC senior officials and influences there, Biebel is not a social scientist attuned to the very socio-economic questions and regional needs and realities being raised for inclusion into the water supply.

Which helps explain why and how SEWRPC could have begun this regional water supply study in 2005 without a socio-economic perspective as a lead priority in the first place, and why this independent-of-SEWRPC perspective was forced on the agency late last year by SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force - - itself forced on a reluctant SEWRPC, but implemented in 2007 after federal officials found the agency woefully disconnected from low-income and minority residents.

What "much ado about nothing" does is re-affirm that SEWRPC is tone-deaf to the very socio-economic distortions that underscore and undermine the region, and which SEWRPC has consistently avoided in its plans.

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