Friday, April 30, 2010

Fata Morgana Seen On Lake Michigan There, From Here

I just wanted to write "fata morgana" in my quest to promote all cool things about the Great Lakes.

On The Death Of Nan Cheney, Madison Activist

I saw several emails and Facebook posts today about the passing of Nan Cheney, the noted Madison environmental and civic activist. Nan was dedicated, relentless, selfless, witty. A real loss for Madison and Wisconsin. My condolences to her family, and her many friends.

Florida Senate Campaign With Two Conservatives Running Could Help Dems

The decision by the sitting GOP Governor of Florida to run for the US Senate as an Independent because a righty candidate is the new GOP/Tea Party/libertarian/fringy favorite could give the Democratic nominee an advantage.

Both Bill Clinton and Jim Doyle won elections when third-party candidates (
Ross Perot and Ed Thompson, respectively) and Republicans divided the more conservative vote: so maybe the more Tea Partiers in the race, the better?

Drilling, Mining Disasters Validate Move Towards Renewables

It's been a grim few weeks for traditional fossil fuel industries, their workers and the country:

Forty-two miners and oil rig employees killed in Gulf of Mexico, Kentucky and West Virginia disasters, and now a massive oil slick said to be larger than the horrendous Exxon Valdez spill is moving from the sunken British Petroleum off-shore rig towards the Louisiana coast over a sensitive ecosystem and its rich fishing waters.

These have always been dangerous professions, but as the thirst for fuel grows, so do the risks, and the consequences.

And thus another reason to look to conservation ,and alternative technologies and fuels as sources of energy.

Let's face it: wind turbines, solar collectors, ethanol production and tidal power generation do not put human beings and the landscape at as much risk.

Some, yes, but nowhere near equivalent to what is on the line through oil, coal and natural gas extraction.

Politicians have to face up to this dilemma, as does the public.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Michlig On Drexel Interchange

Typically smart post on the Michlig blog.

Which is where you can learn a lot about smart growth, and where it ain't.

Will Allen Named To Time's Top 100 List: When Will M-7 Step Up?

Another accolade for Will Allen and Growing Power.

I wonder when the M-7 will realize that Allen is the perfect face for the re-branded Milwaukee?

Wisconsin Water Administrator Ambs Resigns At Crucial Juncture

Todd Ambs, the Administrator of the state Department of Natural Resources' Water Division, has left his position after more than seven years to lead River Network, a national conservation group.

I certainly wish Todd well. (I will post the text of Todd's email announcement at the end of this item.)

Regrettably, he has been replaced by Bruce Baker, a long-time DNR staffer, whose last bit of high-profile publicity came when Indiana had agreed to let British Petroleum dump ammonia into Lake Michigan at its Whiting refinery.

BP and Indiana quickly changed their minds, as here was an uproar across the Great Lakes - - except in Wisconsin - - with Baker saying it was no big deal.

Wisconsin's Attorney General a few years ago also reminded the DNR (see her opinion, and citations, here) that it could not unilaterally approve diversions of Great Lakes water, as Baker had suggested.

The AG opinion was an important document and study of Wisconsin water law and history, but received no mention in the traditional media, as I recall. I blogged about it several times. One example, here.

We'll be interested to see what happens with Waukesha's diversion application as it is about to land on Baker's desk.

From Ambs by email last week:

Dear DNR Colleagues:

It is with a great mix of emotions that I am announcing today that I will be resigning as Water Division Administrator to accept a position as President of River Network, a national river conservation organization. I can’t begin to express how much I have valued every moment of my seven and a half years here in the DNR. I leave awed by the great work done across this department for all of our natural resources. We are truly blessed with great talent throughout this agency.

I want to start by thanking Governor Doyle, Scott Hassett and Matt Frank for giving me this tremendous opportunity to serve the citizens of Wisconsin. I have tried my best to do all that I can to meet the responsibilities of this job to the best of my ability.

I have been witness to tremendous accomplishments for the waters of Wisconsin during my time here. These successes all came during a decade of difficult economic circumstances both for the state and the DNR as an agency. A few achievements really stand out:

Passage of Act 310 in 2004, the Groundwater Quantity Legislation. This legislation was an important first step in our efforts to address significant groundwater drawdown challenges in some parts of the state. While just a first step, the law set the stage for an adaptive management approach that will hopefully produce more protections of these precious resources in the next few years.

We updated or enacted a number of new rules critical to our waters. The rules include chapter 30 permits, shoreland zoning, large animal feeding operations, commercial fishing, groundwater quality, thermal rules, and dam safety, to name several of the most significant.

We are well on our way to cleaning up the PCB’s on the Fox River – the largest such cleanup ever undertaken in our country.

We celebrated the more than two decades of success restoring habitat to the Mississippi River with the Environmental Management Program and saw the authorization of a much more comprehensive federal effort through the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program.

We added 44 river segments to the state’s list of Outstanding and Exceptional Resource Waters, came out smelling like a rose following a Legislative Audit of our wetlands program and updated another rose, the Wild Rose Fish Hatchery to a 21st century state-of-the-art facility.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was approved at the federal level and nearly $500 million in new money began flowing into the Great Lakes Region to protect and restore these magnificent bodies of water.

Perhaps most notably, we passed the Great Lakes Compact. This achievement may be the only item on this list that people will still talk about 50 years from now. The Compact is a world class covenant between the states, provinces and our federal government to manage the Water Belt of North America – our Great Lakes -- in a sustainable manner. It is a proud achievement for all of us.

I leave as we are in the midst of perhaps the greatest challenge – an effort to comprehensively tackle our number one water quality problem – polluted runoff from a variety of urban and rural sources.

And we achieved all of this working from a foundation built from four main objectives. We said that we wanted to:

  • Protect drinking water and groundwater resources for both human and ecosystem health;
  • Enhance and restore outstanding fisheries in Wisconsin’s waters;
  • Fully implement the Clean Water Act in order to achieve the goal of fishable and swimmable waters throughout Wisconsin, and;
  • Protect the waters of Wisconsin that are held in trust for all people of the state through the Public Trust Doctrine.

We struggled with tight resources and lean budgets to develop priorities, establish measurable outcomes and then tracked our work. We developed a statewide water monitoring strategy because you can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you are and then did out best to integrate all of our work as well as the work of many of our volunteer partners into that strategy.

It wasn’t easy, we didn’t always succeed but we had more than our share of success while I was here and it was entirely due to all of you.

There is no way to say this that doesn’t come across sounding like a cliché but it is so true – the thing that I will miss the most and that is without question the greatest attribute of the WDNR is the people who work here. I can’t speak for any other agency out there but you embody the best of what a public servant is supposed to be. The taxpayers, license and permit holders of Wisconsin get their monies worth out of you.

I will forever be damn proud to say that I worked for the Wisconsin DNR.

My last full day here will be May 14 although I will be around from time to time through the end of June. Bruce Baker will be taking over as Water Division Administrator and I am sure that he will do a tremendous job.

Thanks again for all that you have shared with me over the years. I have learned much and was given so much more than I could ever give back during my time here.

I look forward to staying in touch with many of you in the months and years ahead as I turn my focus toward working to protect and restore the flowing waters of our nation. While River Network is based in Portland, Oregon, my home base will remain here in Wisconsin so I know that I will still see many of you regularly in the future.

All the best, Todd

Wauwatosa Wise To Get Independent Water Advice

The City of Wauwatosa would indeed be wise to get an independent assessment of the impacts on Underwood Creek created by Waukesha's intention to dump its treated Great Lakes diverted waste water into Underwood Creek.

Wauwatosa is possibly in line for the waste water because for Waukesha, it's a cheap solution. And Racine wasn't interested.

The Creek runs through Wauwatosa before connecting to the Menomonee River, which empties into Lake Michigan.

Up to this point, Waukesha's position is that the average 11 million gallons of waste water daily it intends to return to the lake in this fashion will be good for the Creek and won't cause flooding downstream - - a problem that has plagued Wauwatosa.

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources will have to issue Waukesha a permit for the discharge, and that will mean a careful look at the Waukesha treatment plan and also whether the Creek can handle the new volume of water.

But regardless of the DNR's review, and Waukesha's beliefs, Wauwatosa would be smart to get its own scientific, legal and financial experts involved.

The same holds true for the further downstream City of Milwaukee; Milwaukee County's Board of Supervisors, fearing damage to County parks and residents' quality of life, voted recently 13-3 to formally oppose the Waukesha scheme.

New Tosa Blog Reports On County Grounds Plan

Urban Wilderness, great job.

We need more grassroots blogging.

Obama, Dems Getting Their Sea Legs

Looks like financial reform legislation will be adopted in Congress after the GOP dropped its stupidly pro-banker and politically-suicidal filibuster.

Strategically and substantively - - a big win for the public and the White House, too.

This comes on the heels of the student loan reform act - - a big plus, and also the health care bill, which has already had a positive impact nationally, as insurance companies have begun to stop canceling insureds with certain major illnesses.

More benefits will kick in this year.

So the Dems have momentum, and progressives need to get cracking on other initiatives - - namely an energy bill.

Wildlife Refuge Could Enhance Wisconsin-Illinois Border

This would be a boon to an area already being subdivided and paved to oblivion.

OWI Homicide Nets Eight Years

Wisconsin is getting there.

No leniency for OWI killers.

Turbines Approved Off Cape Cod: Windy Win

Finally, though I'm sure there will be delays.

I drove across Nebraska and Iowa the last two days, and the wind turbines were cranking!

All I could think was - - there were dollars staying right here in the US of A, not flowing for fuels and resources to regimes that hate us.

And keeping the air clean, too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Major League Baseball Should Avoid Arizona

Until Arizona repeals its idiotic "papers, please" law, Major League Baseball, given its close ties to Mexico and the rest of Latin America, should move as many spring training games as possible to California, New Mexico or Florida.

Midwest Airlines Demise Not An Image Killer For Milwaukee

Thea's been talk that the folding of Midwest Airlines into Frontier by Republic hurts Milwaukee's image.

I disagree.

For one thing, the Midwest brand had been on fumes for a while, with some signature perks long gone.

For another, Air Tran and Frontier will bring more people here, including plenty of folks who never knew the former Midwest was founded and had hubbed in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee can be home to green energy generation by Johnson Controls, a center of US high-speed rail manufacturing, wind-turbine and urban ag, thanks to Will Allen and Growing Power.

Businesses come and go; Milwaukee will survive the grounding of Midwest Airlines.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Waiting On Key Water Documents - - And Policy Coordination

Man, oh man: is there a lot of unfinished business in Southeast Wisconsin on the water front.

No - - I'm not referring to Waukesha's Great Lakes diversion application - - it goes to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this week.


If you are keeping score, there are also these documents and reports still being drafted:

The DNR's definition - - the scoping document - - indicating what will be included in its review of the Waukesha application. Key elements will be a side-by-side comparison of all relevant water supply alternatives, along with crucial environmental analyses.

Then there is the socio-economic analysis being conducted on the regional planning commission's water supply study. That study preliminarily recommended the Waukesha diversion, but didn't take a look at the diversion's socio-economic impacts.

So a UWM think tank was brought in to study that aspect - - which may influence both the final regional water supply study and how Milwaukee and Waukesha might make a deal for water - - if the diversion gets the approval of all eight Great Lakes states.

And speaking of studies, another group of UWM experts at the WATER Institute is taking a look at whether water can be pulled from the Fox River's bank to help Waukesha reduce its need for Lake Michigan or new shallow well water.

So here's a question: what would things look like in these parts if everyone paid as much attention to housing, or transit - - or looked at all these elements of planning and infrastructure and public policy in a coordinated way?

Yeah, I know; that's nuts.

Water Utility Manager Explains Changes To Diversion Application

Daniel Duchniak, the General Manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, has sent by email an explanation of changes to the city's Lake Michigan diversion application that can be made without the approval of the Common Council.

"There are no substantive changes that were made" Duchniak wrote Monday.

"The City Attorney thought that taking parts of section 6, which is the compact compliance section, and repeating them throughout the relative sections in the application would be beneficial. So he went through and inserted/copied those sections where applicable. The common council agreed with him and made a motion that allows him to do that."

I raised this issue Monday; Duchniak said the Council's resolution allows for changes to the city's application without Council approval, and quoted the criteria allowing the procedure. It's all in this posting.

This is not a matter of personalities, as I see it.

Rather, it's about transparent process, and I can't understand why Waukesha's Council, and certainly its new Mayor, wouldn't want to build more guarantees of open policy-making into this extremely important matter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Transformational Park Event Kickoff Today On Milwaukee East Side

Show up at the former Wheelhouse restaurant site on the Milwaukee River this afternoon as a terrific restoration partnership gets launched.

Details below:


River Revitalization Foundation Purchases Milwaukee River Property

Site to be Transformed into an Urban Waterfront Park

DNR Secretary Matt Frank to join Earth Day Kick-off!

April 26, 2010 --

Who: River Revitalization Foundation

What: Wheelhouse campaign kick-off and reception with DNR Secretary Matt Frank

When: Monday, April 26th 2:45 PM

Where: 2176 N. Riverboat Rd. and reception to follow at Bayou Cajun Restaurant

Why: Celebrate Earth Day and Conservation in the City!

River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee’s urban rivers land trust, will celebrate Earth Day with a press conference and reception at the site of their most recent land conservation purchase:

The Melanec’s Wheelhouse is a 2.8 acre river front parcel with nearly 650 feet of shoreline, adjacent to the 800-acre Milwaukee River Greenway upstream from the former North Avenue dam. A transition between the estuary, the RiverWalk downtown and the natural river valley, this blighted site will be transformed into a riverfront park, becoming the 4th within a 2.5 mile loop of parks and trails including Caesar's, Riverside and Gordon.

With restoration, the site will provide public access to additional greenspace in the city, bank stabilization and floodplain protection, habitat for endangered species and increased recreational opportunities.

The project will serve all the residents of the City and County of Milwaukee, specifically 200,000 residing within 1 mile of the site. Neighborhoods on both sides of the river will have better access to the Beerline Loop of trails on the East and West banks connected to this site at the North Avenue dam pedestrian bridge and to the Rotary Arboretum.

We will also recruit and employ urban youth as ecological restoration interns through the City's Earn & Learn program to assist with ecological restoration.

Waukesha Common Council Cedes Power In Water Diversion Process

It came as a bit of a surprise to learn last week that Waukesha had not yet submitted its application to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for a diversion of Lake Michigan water despite repeated claims of a tight timeline that includes DNR review, Great Lakes regional reviews, perhaps negotiations with potential sellers, and a construction schedule calling for pipeline and other improvements totaling at least $164 million.

Daniel Duchniak is the General Manager of the Waukesha Water Utility and point person for the city's water supply studies, Lake Michigan diversion application and overall city water system operations.

In answer to a question, he told me by email late last week that there were some minor modifications being made at the suggestion of the City Attorney to the application approved by the Waukesha Common Council on April 8th, but there was no need to resubmit the application to the Council before the document was sent this week to the DNR.

Duchniak said no new approval was needed because the Council resolution contained this phrase:

" approve submission of the draft Great Lakes Water Application to the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as provided under 2007 Act 227 of the Great Lakes Compact Implementation Law, subject to non-substantive and/or organizational changes and with the understanding that modifications or additional information may also be required and are an anticipated part of the application process." [the emphasis is mine.]

What I see in that language is an awful lot of public-policy making permission ceded by the Council that can allow non-elected Water Utility staff and/or the eelected City Attorney to change the diversion application without the Waukesha Common Council, city residents, utility rate payers or interested parties seeing the fine print.

[An earlier version of this posting said the City Attorney was non-elected. That was an error.]

I'm not saying that these officials should come back to the Council for permission to change a semi-colon to a comma, but with a diversion plan this costly, and precedent-setting, and controversial, wouldn't it make sense for Waukesha's Common Council to take a truly final look at the application before it is transmitted, and then to spell out what constitutes "modifications?"

And require that subsequent changes be regularly posted in an easily-accessible format on the city's website, with notice also released that changes have been made?

There is a history of complaints about the way the Waukesha Water Utility Commission has viewed the state Open Meetings law. In fact, a formal complaint against the Commission on this issue - had been dismisssed in March - - was brought by Waukesha blogger and activist Jim Bouman.

I will review and post the settlement later today.

And right now the Town of Waukesha is battling with the city over well siting issues.

Waukesha can help address these issues and head off another struggle over transparency by making sure that it finishes and continues its Lake Michigan diversion application process in the brightest sunlight.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

RTA Failure Shows Weakness Of Milwaukee Legislative Delegation

It remains the most stunning of the Legislature's stumbles and fumbles this session:

Killing transit in Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee County has the state's largest transit system: it is failing due to the lack of a dedicated, non-property tax funding source.

Everyone knows this - - from riders facing service cutbacks and rising fares to regional planners and civic groups that have run the numbers - - and even though county voters approved through referendum a sales tax increase to rescue the system, the legislature failed to establish the Authority and laws to put the pieces in place.

Milwaukee County is close to insolvency and its major services are imperiled, with transit "Exhibit A."

Truth is that Milwaukee's legislators lack the muscle and stamina and focus to move colleagues so that transit was a must-have priority.

The same leaders and legislators let the energy/jobs bill die, too - - another victory for incompetence and indifference.

That this collapse of commitment all took place while the ink was drying on Earth Day proclamations shows irony and shame abound at the Capitol, but no common sense.

I'm not sure how, or on what issues, Milwaukee's Democrats will run for re-election, but it will be interesting to watch.

And, yes, Scott Walker is running for Governor from a failed County.

For political insiders, it's more irony and laughs.

For Milwaukee's transit users and supporters of jobs and alternative energy - - an outrage.

Water Deal With Milwaukee Requires More Than Money From Waukesha

Of course, a meeting between Milwaukee aldermen and new Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima is needed, as the Journal Sentinel notes editorially, to sort out Scrima's campaign statements at Milwaukee's expense.

And, yes, if a water contract is negotiated, and that would mean the Great Lakes states approved Waukesha's diversion application, then Waukesha should pay a fee to Milwaukee - - as has New Berlin (paltry as it was).

But as has been noted on this blog a number of times, Milwaukee's official city policy, approved by a unanimous vote of the Common Council, requires a community buying diverted water to meet regional transit, housing, development and other goals and processes.

Here is a link to a posting with the actual Milwaukee policy.

Waukesha aldermen were aware of the policy because as they were considering their city's diversion application they made it clear they wanted none of it.

They said they feared a loss of control, independence, and sovereignty.

They did not want this entangling alliance.

If Waukesha continues down this self-defeating road, Milwaukee will balk at selling water; Waukesha can buy lower quality drinking water from more distant Racine or Oak Creek - - adding to the estimated $164 million Lake Michigan option based on Milwaukee water access, and perhaps having also to help Oak Creek and/or Racine expand their treatment and piping infrastructure.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Another Blow To Bi-Partisanship: Lindsey Graham Wimps Out On Cimate/Energy Bill

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham breaks his word and abandons a compromise on climate protection and energy conservation

So much for bi-partisanship, and Republicans who can stand up to the Tea Party fringe that the GOP is wooing.

Wisconsin: The First Shall Be Last

Wisconsin once had a reputation - - deserved - - as the public policy laboratory, where progressive ideas were born, took hold and exported to the country.

And now:

We struggle to become the last state to regulate so-called payday loans, with usurious rates that trap the poor and make organized crime envious.

And with the exception of a few circumstances, Wisconsin is still the only state in the country to treat first-offense drunken driving as a mere civil ticket.

Our education achievement by minority children is a national disgrace, with poor performance so low that schools in the Jim crow south now surpass Wisconsin averages.

And a public commitment to transit: The Governor and legislative leaders, Democrats all, managed through a veto, then inaction, to send Milwaukee County's bus system i- - the state's largest and once a national leader - - nto an unfunded death spiral.

During Earth Week.

You hear the Tea Partiers demanding their country back.

How about we start with our own state, and reclaim a progressive and healthy mantle that we had claimed, and earned, but have sacrificed through bi-partisan disinterest and policy sloth.

Waukesha's Diversion Plan Spawning Recall In Neighboring Town

I have posted information about the unfolding ramifications of the city of Waukesha's Lake Michigan diversion plan: in the comment section of a recent post there is an update on a recall effort in the neighboring Town of Waukesha related to the City's water supply plans.

Check it out.

Scott Walker Will Live Up To His Moniker

Some years ago, a wag in City Hall (not me: I wasn't that funny) dubbed Scott Walker "Scott Walkersha" because Milwaukee County's Executive did such a good job representing the 'burbs, not the city.

So it's not surprising to see that Walkersha says he will veto the Milwaukee County Board's 13-3 (veto-proof) approval of a resolution objecting to the City of Waukesha's plan to discharge treated waste water from a possible Lake Michigan diversion into Underwood Creek on its route back to the lake.

Waukesha County supplies the largest number of Republican voters on a statewide election - - surely another factor in Walkersha's calculus.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Detour With Me Into The Right's Wacky World

A GOP candidate for statewide office released a breathless disclosure: Gov. Jim Doyle used taxpayer money to fly in a radical environmental extremist to push the Clean Energy Jobs Act - - a bill that died in the legislature this week.

The politician - - State Rep. Brett Davis (R-Oregon), running for Lt. Governor - - says righty squawkers Vicki McKenna (1130 WISN) and Charlie Sykes (AM 620 WTMJ) jumped on the story.

Oh, thank God!

And who is this so-called extremist whom Davis says had the temerity to undercut General Motors' efforts to "educate" the public about environmental issues?

Someone in a tree house up in the Redwood forests?


A California state official with a background in clean air.

And you wonder why the public discourse and its content are so degraded these days.

Here are a few graphs from Davis's postings; I left out the fund-raising appeal...

"Environmental Extremist Flown to Wisconsin on Taxpayers' Dime

I recently uncovered a series of troubling e-mails using Wisconsin's Open Records Law showing Governor Jim Doyle's Administration used taxpayer money to fly in a radical "environmental rights advocate" from California to promote a job-killing, tax-raising global warming bill. A bill that is so extreme, that most Democrats are refusing to back it now.

"It is outrageous that an environmental extremist was flown to Wisconsin, paid for by the taxpayers, to specifically refute General Motor’s effort to educate lawmakers and the public about the impact a “global warming bill” would have on our state’s manufacturing-dependent economy. This all took place before GM made the decision to shut down major Wisconsin operations.

"If you are interested in learning more about this wasteful use of taxpayer funds, I encourage you to click here to read the full email exchange. I also discussed this issue with radio show hosts Vicki McKenna and Charlie Sykes, who also featured this story on his blog. "

More Fallout Over Waukesha's Great Lakes Diversion Plan

Another day, another backlash against the City of Waukesha's plan to seek permission to divert water from Lake Michigan.

This week alone, there has been:

* A demand from a majority of City of Milwaukee alderman that the new Mayor Waukesha explain rather volatile campaign remarks suggesting Waukesha should avoid Milwaukee as a potential water supplier, and not meet Milwaukee's financial and policy conditions for such a sale.

*The 13-3 vote by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors objecting to Waukesha's proposed diversion scheme because Waukesha intends to return its diversion, as treated waste water, through Milwaukee waterways. The Board was echoing the infamous remark by State Rep. Cory Mason, (R-Caledonia), when he said the Root River through Racine County should not become "Waukesha's toilet."

*The Town of Waukesha, the less-populated and more-rural City of Waukesha neighbor, is moving towards a tough set of regulations designed to limit the larger City's access to new wells in the Town should the Lake Michigan diversion plan get shot down by one or more of the Great Lakes states.

Has the City of Waukesha become The Village of the Damned?

Why are so many other units of government so down on the diversion plan?

Could it be that Waukesha's approach to its neighbors has been over-bearing, and that its approach to Great Lakes water is laden with misplaced entitlement?

Let's not forget a basic rul of governance: Officials, like Milwaukee County supervisors, don't want to be left out of the process, or, like their constituents, be taken for granted.

Milwaukee County communities and residents have put a lot of effort and money into river and stream clean-up: being asked to absorb, on average, about 11 million gallons of another community's waste water, without any say in writing the plan or choosing the outcome, will get you a 13-3 spanking.

And its an action sure to catch the eye of regulators in Madison, and the other Great Lakes states, too.

As for Milwaukee's aldermen: they can read the papers, and didn't like the rhetoric coming out of the Waukesha mayor's race. If Waukesha really wants to buy Milwaukee water - - a key premise of Waukesha's diversion planning - - it's a bad strategy to kick around that potential business partner, especially if they have the best and least expensive product around.

And the border and well-drilling war with the Town of Waukesha?

More Bad Politics 101, as the City is in the midst a condemnation of land within the Town for a new well field.

Additionally, the City intends to expand the reach of its water utility's service territory into the Town if the diversion is won - - imperiously extending City influence into the Town.

And perhaps, through fresh annexations, transferring property wealth and political power from the Town to the bigger City.

It's an extension of service and influence by the same City water utility whose staff and consultants put together the diversion plan - - under the recently-defeated Mayor, to be fair.

So should anyone be surprised that the Town is striking back by using what public powers it still command?

The City is committed to its diversion plan, though it has yet to transmit it to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for the first in a long series of environmental and legal reviews.

You have to wonder, however, whether the pitfalls were minimized at Waukesha's City Hall before the Lake Michigan diversion course was chosen.

And whether the City will be open to options, or has it closed them all off and dug in for the fight, come what may?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Legislative Leaders Fail Milwaukee

No Regional Transit Authority legislation.

No Energy and jobs bill.

Why do we elect Democrats to run things if they have no agenda, let alone spine?

Wild Card: Milwaukee County Objects To Waukesha Diversion

Another problem crops up for Waukesha's diversion application - - and, remember: as I disclosed earlier on this blog, the application hasn't been sent to the DNR yet for the beginning of a long series of reviews.

Waukesha will have jurisdictional issues with Wauwatosa, where Waukesha wants to release its wastewater. Problems with municipalities when it comes to easements for both the intake and wastewater flow pipes.

And certainly problems with one or more of the other Great Lakes states, all of which must approve the application.

And then you have a water sale contract to negotiate - - should all eight Great Lakes states approve the diversion, leaving Waukesha to find a willing seller.

Maybe some of those non-diversion options look a little better?

EPA Midwest Region Gets High-Profile Chief, Wisconsin Connections

This interesting news from the US Environmental Protection Agency:

I am pleased to share the good news that our new Regional Administrator, Susan Hedman, will soon be joining us. Dr. Hedman has extensive experience in the environmental protection field dating back to the early 1980's when she taught environmental policy courses at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. Since 2005, she has served as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Environmental Counsel and Senior Assistant Attorney General, playing a role as chief negotiator for litigation and legislation relating to environmental protection, energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon capture technology and associated consumer issues.

Prior to that, she held numerous positions in environmental law and policy including senior policy advisor on energy and recycling at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center with cases focused on facilities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.; First Legal Officer for the United Nations Security Council team charged with analyzing environmental damage from oil fires in Kuwait; and as research director for the Center for Global Change at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Hedman earned her B.A. in Politics and Government from Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin before earning her M.A. from the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1979. She obtained her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1987 before earning a Ph.D. from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies in Madison, Wisconsin two years later.

I am confident that this Region will give Dr. Hedman our usual warm welcome.

Bharat Mathur
Acting Regional Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Region 5

Diversion Politics Driven By Image, Money

Milwaukee wants clarification from new Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima about his campaign remarks that suggested no eagerness to buy Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee, or to meet Milwaukee conditions.

The issue is larger than what Scrima thinks; at more than one recent meeting, several Waukeska aldermen expressed the same reservations: no willingness to add money beyond the cost of water to a deal, or to cooperate with Milwaukee on regional issues, like transit, affordable housing or jobs.

Part of this is economic: at $164 million - - and I have my doubts that the estimated cost of the Lake Michigan diversion will hold over time - - it's a pricey project for a city the size of Waukesha.

Then there is the image issue: Wauesha does not want to be seen as a Milwaukee bedroom community, or a suburb.

It sees itself as the historically-established seat of a separate county - - and not coincidentally, the Waukesha County Board has made that clear by disassociating itself from any regional transit authority that includes Milwaukee, and made sure there were limitrd transit connections by killing Milwaukee's light rail planning more than ten years ago.

When it comes down to it, the water deal problem is Waukesha's, not Milwaukee's.

Waukesha wants the water, having set aside other alternatives involving more shallow wells, or the Fox River, or more conservation and recycling, so Lake Michigan is its choice.

Milwaukee has laid out its conditions for a sale, and if Waukesha balks, it is free to go to Racine and or Oak Creek, which are more expensive because of distance and offer water not up to Milwaukee standards.

If Waukesha remains wedded to the Lake Michigan option, it will have to resolve the contradiction between its financial situation and attitude towards Milwaukee.

Waukesha's Lake Michigan Diversion Application - - Hurry Up, And Wait

Though the Waukesha Common Council approved on April 8th the filing of an application with the Wisconsin Department of Wisconsin for a Lake Michigan diversion, the document won't be sent to the DNR until "early next week," said Daniel Duchniak, Waukesha's water utility general manager, in an email Wednesday evening.

I see something to a pattern: On the one hand, Waukesha has said repeatedly that time is of the essence in getting the application process underway because of the 2018 legal deadline for meeting federal clean water standards.

On the other hand, the application's completion was delayed more than once in 2009 and early 2010.

You'd have thought that once the Waukesha Council approved it on April 8th, the application would have been shot out of a cannon to the DNR's offices in Madison, or at least forwarded with a keystroke so the requisite, multiple reviews could begin.

Apparently not.

Hearing Reveals Weaknesses In UWM's County Grounds Plan (Sic)

Activists and other Wauwatosa residents showed up at a hearing, and with solid arguments that showed the deficiencies in UWM's plan to develop some of the County Grounds.

UWM's plans look weak and unjustifiable.

Details here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Milwaukee/Waukesha Scrima Scrimmage

I wrote on this blog Tuesday that new Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima starts out with a clean slate, and that one of the things he needed to work on was his relationship with Milwaukee - - a city about which he had some unflattering things to say during his campaign.

I hear there is a letter with at least eight - - a majority - - signatures from Milwaukee aldermen circulating for delivery to Scrima, asking him to clarify his campaign statements.

In my posting yesterday, there is a link to an op-ed Scrima wrote to the Waukesha Freeman with some of his Milwaukee-related comments. The context is the possible sale of Lake Michigan water to Waukesha by Milwaukee, and the larger of the two cities has a policy calling for certain practices on socio-economic issues to be met by the buying community.

There may be an intermediary role to be played by former Ald, Michael D'Amato in this opening round of contacts between Scrima and Milwaukee City Hall.

D'Amato is a lobbyist for the firm of Martin Schreiber & Associates, a contractor to the Waukesha Water Utility Commission on water supply issues.

Mike was hired to help broker the eventual water contract between the two cities should Waukesha receive permission for the Lake Michigan diversion: if the new Waukesha Mayor needs a scorecard to identify the Milwaukee players, who better than a former senior Milwaukee Alderman?

Scrima is entitled to a seat on the Commission, as are some appointees. The contract with Schreiber, et al runs for some additional months, so presumably the firm is available.

This dance with Milwaukee is but one of many facing the new Waukesha Mayor, whose support for the diversion was lukewarm, at best, and late in his campaign.

Somehow he has to get on the same page as his Water Utility when the application gets to the Wisconsin DNR and the other Great Lakes states for their review, or the dissonance will encourage the scheme's detractors.

And you out there say you want to an elected Chief Executive?

If The Legislature Lets The Regional Transit Authority Die......

Milwaukee Transit goes down, too.

This is totally unacceptable, and Democrats, apparently too weak to allow a locally-approved sales tax to proceed in Milwaukee County, will be responsible for the possible death of the largest transit system in the state.

Maybe they think the mess will sit at the doorstep of the courthouse, and County Executive Scott Walker, a GOP candidate for governor, but good public policy, local control and transit provision has to trump politics.

This is not the legislature's finest hour.

Not Leading On Energy/Jobs Bill Gives Plale Opponent An Opening

There are indications from the Capitol that the Clean Energy Jobs Act is on life-support because Democratic Senators Russ Decker and Jeff Plale are doing a tag-team ballet to keep the bill from the floor.

Plale has an opponent - - Bradley McManus - - whom I gather has a Facebook page (I'm having some technical issues with my Facebook account and can't use it right now) - - but maybe it's time to look into an alternative to Plale who might be more progressive.

Instead Of Offices And Classrooms - - An Upscale Restaurant has a nice piece about the new restaurant taking shape on the former Pieces of Eight lakefront site.

Which, in the end, is a fair outcome following the uproar over efforts by UWM, the business community and philanthropist Michael Cudahy to shoehorn part of the proposed new School of Freshwater Science on this small strip of land.

Once a restaurant site, always a restaurant site, it seems.

I had thought that there were legal problems under the state's Public Trust Doctrine 9all state waterways must have unfettered access) with the private nature of the site, but I'm told that a walkway around the site takes care of any legal issue.

I think it's a good idea to minimize development on the lakefront, thus keeping lake access in the public domain - - something still lacking when Summerfest is running and some direct access is closed.

UWM still has to resolve where to locate the school.

Is It Earth Day Tomorrow - - Or Earth Exploitation Day?

Hard to know around here.

Milwaukee's Transit System is in a death spiral, but highway building is booming, so little wonder we have dirty air in the region.

So chalk one up for the road-builders.

Then we have th eunseemly spectacle of UWM poised to rip up 80-some acres of the County Grounds to add an engineering school and business innovation center - - but without decent transit connections.

And Waukesha wants to pipe in Lake Michigan water, send some to an expanded service territory beyond its city limits and flush it back through Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa.

Was this why the Great Lakes Compact was approved - - to enable Waukesha's expansion, and use a Milwaukee County tributary in the Lke Michigan watershed as an open-air waste water conduit?

Not much of an environmental scorecard for the region this year - - the 40th since Earth Day was founded by former Governor and US Senator Gaylord Nelson, (D-WI).

Missing Gaylord, And Papa Hambone, Too

Who doesn't feel the loss of Gaylord Nelson, especially on Earth Day?

We don't have anybody on the Wisconsin political scene that comes close to his stature, or influence.

Some years ago, then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist brought Nelson in for a speech to the Mayor's Club.

There were a couple of hundred top civic and corporate people assembled to hear Nelson speak at the breakfast-hour meeting.

I think they thought they were going to hear a folksy retrospective, but Nelson read them the riot act about their failure to lead with a social conscience.

I'm telling you, it was a moment.

Later I asked Gaylord if he had a copy of his remarks and he said,
"Oh, no. I never write these things out."

A pity...

We could also use a story-teller like George Vukelich, a Madison journalist and environmental activist and who, for years, had a late-night radio show on WIBA-AM as "Papa Hambone."

Let's just say it was a different era with a different kind of talk radio.

George created a cast of fishing buddy pals characters like Steady Eddy and others who talked about the North Woods and the Great Lakes and the rest of the natural world with homespun clarity and reverence.

Gentle teaching, it was. Wry and insightful, like the man himself.

George wrote "North Country Notebook" columns for Isthmus, and briefly, before the Great Newspaper Strike, also for the Capital Times. I can't remember if he wrote them for strike paper Connections: probably.

George's early death left a gap in Wisconsin media that still needs filling - - just as there is a hole in our state's politics where a giant like Nelson once stood.

Every day was Earth Day for George and Gaylord, I am sure.

Concrete Example: Axis Of Waste Is At It Again

You would would hope...that the expenditure of $1.9 billion would sate the appetite of road expansionists south of Milwaukee, where a rebuilt I-94 to the Illinois state line with 35 miles of new lanes in each direction is taking shape.

But no: there is a new demand: extend the Lake Parkway another four miles past the airport to Highway 100 so that motorists who do not like the very expensive I-94 can come into Milwaukee over the Hoan Bridge - -an overbuilt white elephant that needs a fix of more than 100 million dollars itself.

And an extended Lake Parkway? Why, it just about guarantees the Hoan's reconstruction - - tall enough to accommodate a battleship.

Neat package.

Wonder what taxes will be raised to pay for it? And will the local governments along the route pony up their shares?

I doubt it: Big government costs make for good righty rhetoric, but the road lobbyists and their local government allies look the other way, or to the feds and the state, when major highway projects are at hand.

Of course, SEWRPC will green-light this new Lake parkway road-building opportunity: show me a road project for which the agency doesn't provide cover.

And what about the long-stalled Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line?

Somehow it can't find the funding.

Same old story: big government is OK when it comes to road expansion.

Other things can wait.

And wait.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Falling Great Lakes Levels, Again

Dry winter.

Here we go again.

In The National Interest: Cleaner Energy Makes A Stronger Economy carries commentary by Maggie Fox, the CEO of Repower America, about the benefits to the economy and environment in legislation about to hit the US Senate.

Cleaner energy, conservation and alternative fuels are something of a perfect trifecta: we get better air and water quality, more employment and national security advantages.

That's definitely change worth fighting for.

Waukesha/Waukesha Water War Widens

As I have written before, there are two Waukesha's - - the larger city and the smaller town, and now the town is interested in attaching conditions to the city's efforts to locate new wells in the town.

This is a fight over water supplies, and about power, as the town knows the city can annex or otherwise extend its influence in the town.

This is also the kind of local skirmish that the city wants to minimize by looking to Lake Michigan for its long-term water supply solution.

Major Hearing Tonight In Wauwatosa On County Grounds Usage

The fate of a big piece of the Milwaukee County Grounds will be aired at a crucial hearing tonight in Wauwatosa.

Some details below:

Where: Wauwatosa Public Hearing

When: Tuesday April 20th, 7:30 p.m.

Driving directions: Wauwatosa City Hall (76th & North Ave.)

Activists trying to preserve the County Grounds and Monarch Butterfly habitat there are working with the key points below - - and isn't it ironic that this is happening during Earth Day's week?

And that a major University could be so intimately involved with a project that will add to air pollution, sprawl, traffic and a bigger carbon footprint in a region where these are already big issues?

Can you imagine what Gaylord Nelson would have said about such a cock-eyed plan - - tearing up public lands to build a sprawl campus and research center miles from UWM - - and also distant from Marquette University's near-downtown new engineering school? And the long-standing Milwaukee School of Engineering?

Say the activists:

The future of the County Grounds may hinge on the Wauwatosa Common Council's approval of the UWM/Real Estate Foundation Proposal which has been stated in some quarters as "hypothetical."

This building plan is based on $0 dollars and the wildlife protection component (also hypothetical); ecosystem assurances and the integrity of the County Grounds as a whole are on a last-chance road to preservation.

The proponents of this plan will be there in force and regard the future of engineering and related research as most important.

Let's remember that the future of the environment is an integral part of scientific successes,, too, and that urban sprawl defeats their scientific discoveries.

Research can be accomplished on a fraction of the parcel they want to purchase.

Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima: Clean Slate

Waukesha swears in new Mayor Jeff Scrima Tuesday.

A business owner and developer, Scrima upset incumbent Mayor Larry Nelson - - beating Nelson soundly both in the primary and general election.

So a tip of the hat to Nelson, who was gracious in defeat, and also to Scrima, a political newcomer who takes over the reins as one of Wisconsin's youngest chief executives.

I have exchanged only a few words with Scrima, and sat next to him during one public meeting on the water supply issue in Waukesha's Common Council chambers without knowing that he was already a candidate for Mayor.

Scrima was among politicians and public officials in Waukesha whom I had criticized on this blog for what I saw as Milwaukee-bashing when a water contract between the two cities - - particularly the meaning of conditions Milwaukee city policy would require of a purchaser like Waukesha - - became a campaign issue.

Now that Scrima is Mayor, however, he may find himself soon in discussions with Milwaukee about such a contract - - discussions that may turn into genuine negotiations should Waukesha win permission from the Great Lakes states for a diversion of water to the city from Lake Michigan.

We'll see how Scrima handles this entire matter now that his candidacy is behind him, and he has a pivotal role in what could define the two cities' complex relationship for years to come.

To Milwaukee officials, Waukesha's new Mayor is an unknown - - which is both a problem and an opportunity.

For Waukesha, Scrima, Milwaukee, and the entire region, let's hope Waukesha's Scrima era is productive and mutually-respectful.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Madison Is Center of Earth Day 2010 Celebration

Schedule, here.

What About The Road Contractors?

State rules are being tightened to reduce excess fees paid to some contractors, but I remember that highway projects were found to be routinely more expensive when managed by contractors, not state DOT employees?

This story is what I'm talking about.

Shorewood Considering Going Green To Save Green

Shorewood should go ahead and add more "natural" ground cover areas to common space, saving money and chemical runoff, too.

Earth Day Preview

Gaylord Nelson's biographer Bill Christofferson talks to NPR about Earth Day and its founder.

Clean Energy Jobs Act Needs Legislators' Support

Gov. Jim Doyle's Clean Energy Jobs Act, which could reduce customer bills, conserve fossil fuels and create jobs is up for Assembly action at the committee level Tuesday.

Calls to legislators are needed: You can find their contact information at:

I know this is not a perfect bill - - which is? - - but the session is closing quickly, and if this effort fails, I doubt a better one will come along

The Public Service Commission says the bill would save $1.4 billion on electric bills even if greenhouse gases are not regulated, and up to $6.4 billion if they are.

See the PSC analysis at:

As Great Lakes Compact Partner, Weak Year For Wisconsin DNR

A year ago I suggested that the Wisconsin DNR could celebrate Earth Day by writing the administrative rules that would govern a Great Lakes water diversion application;s content and review procedures.

Waukesha has now completed its application and sent it to the DNR for review - - but in the last year, the agency did not find the time to write the rules. In Wisconsin, administrative rules have the force of law, and would have set an initial, tougher standard for Waukesha to meet in its application.

Yes, it will review the application, and create a process for the public to comment. But to an extent it is sailing in uncharted waters as it handles the precedent-setting application under the new, eight-state Great Lakes Compact.

I do not think this approach will go unnoticed in the other states, whose unanimous approval for the application is life or death for Waukesha's diversion goal.

Nor will the rather shocking disclosure last week that the DNR has allowed New Berlin to withhold information for a year about its Lake Michigan diversion that the city was required to file as a condition of the diversion permission.

Details here.

Not an encouraging regulatory or leadership performance with so much at stake

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Democrats Need To Push For Tough Wall Street Controls

Let Republicans carry investment banking special interest water and obstruct- - oh, please, go the filibuster route - - and block real Wall Street and financial institution regulatory reform bills. Hang Goldman Sachs around their necks.

Whether/Weather And Climate Change

Dave Dempsey facilitates a good discussion at The Great Lakes Town Hall, an online site for environmental news of the region.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Meteorites And Wrongs

So the search is on for chunks of the meteorite that lit up the sky and may have left fragments somewhere in Wisconsin.

I'm hoping that the first pieces that are 'found' aren't the equivalent of the trophy bass that win prizes but later are found to have come from somewhere else, via a cooler.

Legal Superstar For US Supreme Court? Nah...

Dean of the Harvard Law School? The Party of "No" must destroy her.

Justice Diminished

I suspect Justice Gableman will receive a reprimand in his ethics case, earning him an asterisk in Supreme Court annals and a diminished role.

Doing nothing can't be the Court's final decision, as that would send the wrong message to future candidates, but I don't see the Court suspending, let alone removing Gableman from office.

And former Justice Louis Butler will have a more distinguished career as a Federal jurist, so in the end he wins more than did Gableman, and we all get a lesson in civics, politics and what Steven Colbert calls "truthiness."

The Party Of "No" Speaks Loudly When Minorities Are Involved

Remember when Rush Limbaugh, the true leader of the Republican Party, jumped all over then-judge Sotomayor when she was nominated by Pres. Obama for the seat she eventually won on the Supreme Court?

Well, Republicans are at it again, this time attacking an Asian-American nominee to the US Court of Appeals.

The GOP base is increasingly white/Tea Partyish, so attacking minority leaders fits into a regional/southern strategy for the GOP - - a losing plan nationally in an increasingly diverse country.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Milwaukee River Cleanup Saturday AM

Locations, here.

Is Anyone In Charge Of Milwaukee County Government?

We have 20-pound pieces of masonry falling off the building.

Now it's been established that the County hired a person with a criminal record and put in charge of building security.

Isn't there someone on the County payroll with the title of Executive running the show there?

Tea Partying Questions

NBC reported Thursday evening that 18% of the public in a poll identified with the Tea Party.

And let's be honest: their rallies are not drawing huge crowds.

So why are media paying so much attention to every rally?

Angry tea partiers say they want their country back: Why didn't we hear these complaints when Pres. George Bush ran up the deficit with two wars paid for on credit, or when the Medicare drug program - - a new and costly government entitlement - - was instituted, or when the bank bailout (TARP) was created, or when the housing crisis blew up?

Why the anger now?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

That Flash In The Sky...The Debris Falling To Earth

Was that Tommy's campaign crashing and burning?

Feingold Too Strong For Thompson, Neumann

Somewhere there are internal GOP poll numbers to back that up.

Possible Solution To Unneeded Whale Killing

A US-led effort might be the way to finally end the hypocritical ("research") and imperious whaling still underway.

Tommy Exits, Stage Right

The Great Wisconsin Political Psycho Drama of 2010 ends with a weak Tea whimper; Tommy won't run for the US Senate.

Next acts: Will Dick Leinenkugel run? Will Terrance Wall break 2% in any poll?

Half A Million Hits; Thank You, Readers

Passed the 500,000 mark sometime in the last few days. I'm happy with that, and thanks to readers for the blog usage.

OK: Tommy Has Our Attention, But...

Is showing up at a Tea Party rally, where he might get booed, the right place to speak, let alone make a 'surprise' announcement?

The so-called signals about his running or not running for Russ Feingold's US Senate seat leaked by friends and associates has moved from clever manipulation to farce.

More Proof: Climate-Gate Is What's Fake

Scientists did not set out to mislead.

Unlike their critics.

Tax Day Cometh, And With It, Welcome Facts

Yes, today's the day - - April 15th - - and while no one likes to pay them, and there is a need for reform to make the system simpler and more equitable, at least we have some fine reporting by the Journal Sentinel's Dave Umhoefer to put Wisconsin's situation into perspective.

Which means, turn off talk radio when you hear that predictable "tax hell" stuff from our AM squawkers.

I pay a heckuva lot of taxes, but I am aware they are the price of a civil society.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gagging On Sovereign Tea

I remember when State Sen. Mary Lazich harangued her fellow legislators over Wisconsin's possible loss of sovereignty when the Great Lakes Compact was being debated.

It was a confused and wacky argument, and, predictably, was dismissed by her colleagues, but every time you turn around these days, you hear these antiquated terms.

We heard it in Waukesha's Mayoral campaign when some candidates feared a water deal with Milwaukee would cost Waukesha its sovereignty.

It's echoed by tea partiers who claim that states' rights trumps the federal government's inherent and practical interest in national health care reform and ultimately fixing an economy clobbered by distorted health system costs.

And there is the disgraceful spectacle of Republican governors of Mississippi and Virginia declaring Confederate History Months - - and claiming that the celebration is to focus attention on states' rights, not to place to a racialized base.

Yeah, right.

I have an old friend who has said for decades that much of the country's domestic politics is just fighting the Civil War all over again.

These days, he's on to something.

Villard Ave. Project An Urban Showcase

This is precisely how cities - - from the grassroots up - - reinvent and advance themselves.

If Tommy Does Not Run...

And I will not say too loudly "I told you so," then we must collectively ask: What the heck was that all about?

I am old enough to remember when Willie Mays had a great arm, but at the end, he had to toss the ball from the deep outfield to another outfielder who could heave the ball all the way into the infield.

Athletes, and politicians, have trouble knowing when it's time to leave the field.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bad Start For Great Lakes Compact; New Berlin Fails Reporting Tasks

What a way to begin approving diversions of Great Lakes water under the 2008 Compact signed by eight US states and two Canadian provinces: New Berlin, recipient of the first Compact-enabled diversion of water, failed to make basic water-usage and other mandatory reports, according to a coalition of Wisconsin environmental organizations.

Their statement is here.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has granted New Berlin a 30-day extension, but the damage is done: New Berlin and the DNR have failed in their obligations to the Compact - - a water management and conservation agreement - - and have set an awful precedent.

For Waukesha, the second city applying for a diversion, the timing couldn't be worse, as the Waukesha application will be subjected to a more rigorous review by all eight Great Lakes states.

Unlike New Berlin, Waukesha is entirely outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin, so the risks of water losses to the Great Lakes watershed are greater, so the regulatory hurdles and expectations for Waukesha are all that much higher.

I am also aware that New Berlin has failed to meet an independent, regional obligation that accompanied its diversion: the holding of an annual meeting with Milwaukee, the seller of the water, to discuss mutual socio-economic issues.

Give New Berlin an "F" for Compact-related compliance.

Give the DNR an incomplete.

And let's have communities seeking Great Lakes water give their obligations full attention, lest water-sellers and other states holding potential vetoes over those diversions give the applicants a thumbs-down.

County Supervisors Do Not Like Waukesha Waste Water Dump Scheme

A Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Committee goes on record against that portion of Waukesha's Lake Michigan diversion proposal that has the Waukesha'waste water stream headed to Wauwatosa's Underwood Creek.

Early in Waukesha's thinking, State Rep. Corey Mason, (D-Racine), emphatically said no way to a Root River alternative that would have turned his community, he said, into Waukesha's toilet.

Little wonder. As I noted a few weeks ago, would the City of Waukesha appreciate Wauwatosa proposing to channel its waste water into the Fox River and the heart of Waukesha?

Maybe the full Milwaukee County Board will set the resolution aside, maybe not.

But it indicates a few things:

Waukesha, in addition to the diversion permission needed from all eight Great Lakes states, will need a substantial number of easements and other arrangements across Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties to build various pipelines and other pieces of infrastructure.

It also needs to negotiate a waste water discharge arrangement with Wauwatosa if Underwood Creek remains the route for the waste water back to Lake Michigan.

And it will have to negotiate a water sale, and perhaps regional cooperation contract with a selling community.

As had been said many times, the Lake Michigan option is no slam dunk, but Waukesha believes the water supply options to the west and south, involving shallow wells, is less attractive.

New wells near the Fox River, under study by the UWM WATER Institute, could end up solving a portion of Waukesha's problem.

Hey, Pardner: Midwest Renamed Frontier Is OK With Me

Maybe we'll get flapjacks instead of chocolate cookies, too.

One Great Lakes Diversion Review Shows Weakness In Another

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has posted on a website the list of topics it intends to include in its environmental impact statement review of Waukesha's application for a Great Lakes diversion.

The list is here, and I'll copy it into the text at the bottom, too.

What I find interesting is that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission could spend nearly five years and more than a million dollars in consulting fees and staff time looking at a regional water scheme that includes the Waukesha diversion and omit so many of the EIS topics that the DNR intends to peruse.

SEWRPC's attitude was: we'll recommend the diversion and let other agencies sort out the impacts.

Some planning mentality.

Here is the DNR's list of EIS topics:

Waukesha Water Diversion Project EIS List of Topics
February 1, 2010
• Need for the project
• Project location
• Project description
• Surface water source alternatives (including Lake Michigan)
• Groundwater source alternatives
• Water conservation measures
• Wastewater treatment alternatives
• Wastewater discharge alternatives
• Supply pipeline route alternatives
• Wastewater return pipeline route alternatives
• Effects on:
o Surface water resources (including Lake Michigan)
o Wetland resources
o Groundwater resources
o Geomorphology and soils
o Flora (terrestrial and aquatic)
o Fauna (terrestrial and aquatic)
o Air quality
o Population (including age, ethnicity, and health)
o Economy (including industries, employment, and tax base)
o Landuse, zoning and transportation
o Energy use
o Archaeological and historical resources
o Public water supplies and uses
o Geographically scarce resources
• Long term versus short term effects
• Reversibility of effects
• Cumulative effects
• Risk (including unknowns and problems due to installation and operation)
• Precedence
• Public controversy

Polish Air Disaster: No Rush To Judgement

When an airliner crashes, everyone wants to know why.

And if a large segment of a country's civic, military and cultural elite were wiped out in a single aviation tragedy, the demand would get urgent.

But it seems that the Russians are too anxious to suggest they already know the catastrophic loss of Polish jet that carried nearly 100 people to their deaths was due to pilot error - - attempting to land in fog against the advice of Russian air controllers.

I investigated several commercial aviation accidents when I was a reporter at The Milwaukee Journal.

And I learned was that often the first assumption about a cause is either wrong, or needed to be read in a broader context - - so patience was important as investigators did their technical and scientific work.

An example:

In 1985, Midwest Express, then a new carrier and later renamed Midwest Airlines, suffered its only fatal accident when one of its DC-9's crashed in Oak Creek just after takeoff.

Yes, the final ruling was pilot, or human error.

But there were interesting contributing or ancillary factors:

The pilots had to react quickly to a blown right engine. The pilot-in-command stamped down on the right rudder pedal, thus further tilting the plane in that direction with full power coming from the still-functioning left engine.

And so the plane rolled over further to the right and nosed in, upside down.

But the subsequent, meticulous investigation showed that the engine that blew had a rotating part with a track record of in-flight failure, but neither the airline or the Federal Aviation Administration had moved fast enough to get the part replaced.

And when the engine blew, there was virtually no conversation between the pilot and co-pilot - - no so-called cockpit management - - that might have produced some better decision-making and problem-solving.

And it was the FAA that had approved that crew procedure that required Midwest pilots to maintain what was known as a "sterile cockpit" on take-off when generally that concept was meant to stop extraneous conversations, but not vital back-and-forth.

Everything cascaded down on the Midwest cockpit crew in a crisis, split-second circumstance, and 31 people died.

So these things are not as simple as one party screwed up, and everyone else had clean hands, especially because it's all too easy to blame a cockpit crew that died at the scene.

We might, for example, learn that the captain or pilot-in-charge as the Polish airliner made its approach was under pressure from his superiors - - military and civic leaders on the plane - - to attempt the landing.

Or that the Russian air controllers' alleged instructions or admonitions were unclear, either due to phraseology or poor electronics.

Or that there is a history of difficult communications between Russian controllers and Polish pilots that went into the Polich captain's decision-making.

Or that there was a mechanical problem or problems compounding a tough landing.

These are suppositions. I could conjure up others, or put them into a combination or combinations that could doom an airliner making a landing on a clear day.

We'll find out - - though I have to say it is not a confidence-builder that Vladimir Putin has taken personal charge of the investigation.

When there is an aviation disaster in the US, an independent agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, not only takes charge but guarantees to all parties that no one's participation in the inquiry can be used against them.

The goal is to find out what happened and make sure it is isn't repeated, thus making ths skies safer.

I wonder if that's the goal case in this tragedy?

Monday, April 12, 2010

UWM Post Notes Campus Expansion Problems

The student paper at UWM reports on the inability of the Chancellor to sell his plan to build a new Engineering campus, with a so-called Innovation Park at the County Grounds.

In addition to a lack of consensus, and claims that the campus master planning process has been disregarded, there is a lack of funding for the expansion, too.

Then there is the troubled new School of Freshwater Science, which may be split in half, with the research functions located at an expanded WATER Institute campus at E. Greenfield Ave. and the harbor, while the business community's piece of the deal gets a glitzy bauble near the Harley-Davidson Museum on the Reed Street Yards property.

In both cases, there's too much of the private sector tail wagging the educational dog.

There Are Two Waukeshas, And Water Policy Is About To Swamp The Smaller

The City of Waukesha's short-range plan to drill new wells in the less-populous, neighboring Town of Waukesha is leading to the recall of two of three Town board members.

If people in the Town of Waukesha don't like the expansionist plans from the City, just wait until the City wins approval of its Lake Michigan diversion application - - assuming it does.

The City intends to ship Lake Michigan water into a much bigger water service territory that includes some of the Town - - and that could lead to annexations to the City by Town property owners or developers planning new subdivisions.

That would diminish the Town and complicate its boundaries.

I've been told that one reason that the City has sought the Lake Michigan solution to its water supply issues is that solving them with more new wells in the Town and other areas to the west and south would ramp up the local border and property development wars.

Better, the City thinks, to go for Lake water, regardless of the complexities of an eight-state approval and a water sale agreement with preferred provider - - the City of Milwaukee.

Europeans Excel At Alternative Fuels

Some will snicker at the Europeans' mastery of high-speed rail, or China's acceleration of green technologies, but again, other nations are ahead of the US in another important category - - recycling waste into fuels.

In this country, energy policy has been hatched behind closed doors in former Veep Dick Cheney's office, where oil companies and his corporate pals put conservation on hold in favor of old-fashioned, wasteful and polluting fossil fuel industries.

Every dollar we can invest in alternative energy research, innovation and production is money denied to hostile regimes or corporate contributors to polluted air and water.

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Environmental, Conservation Groups Raise Multiple Issues With Waukesha Diversion Request

This is where the DNR needs to take the Waukesha application for a Lake Michigan diversion.

Secretary Matt Frank                     
April 12, 2010
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
101 S. Webster Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7921

Eric Ebersberger   
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
101 S. Webster Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7921

James Pardee                                                                          
Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act Coordinator
PO Box 7921
Madison, WI  53707-7921

Dear Secretary Frank, Mr. Ebersberger and Mr. Pardee,

We are writing both to follow-up on our March 1, 2010 meeting with Secretary Matt Frank, Eric Ebersberger, Dave Seibert, Dino Tsoris and Christy Rogers with the Department of Natural Resources, and to respond to the Department’s February 5, 2010 request for public comments concerning the environmental analysis public scoping process relating to the City of Waukesha’s proposed Water Diversion Application under the Great Lakes Compact.

We understand from the Department’s February 5, 2010 notification and our subsequent March 1, 2010 discussion, that an important, preliminary part of the Department’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the proposed City of Waukesha Water Diversion application will involve a “scoping” of the analysis, that is, a determination of the significant issues to be analyzed in depth as part of the prospective environmental analysis. 

We agree with, and remain encouraged by, the statement made by Secretary Frank in recognition of the Department’s pivotal, independent decision-making role that Wisconsin’s DNR is taking on:  “If done right, we’ll have a robust EIS, with high standards, that will set the precedent for the Region.”

Secretary Frank further stated that what is being sought by the Department is “a transparent process that errs on the side of being as open as possible.”

Given the importance of this commitment to the EIS process overall, it will be important at this early juncture for the Department to formulate a clear, staged public notification and hearing process to ensure that the public’s access to reasonably complete information is recognized and that DNR resources are best utilized.  We believe that official public hearings—as opposed to “open house sessions”—should be held in the communities that will be affected by the sale of water, by the route of pipelines, and by the discharge of waste water into their area waterways,  At a minimum, these would include Waukesha, Wauwatosa and Milwaukee.  

As communicated to you on numerous prior occasions including, most recently, the March 1st meeting, we strongly recommend that the Department hold public comment periods and hearings on both (i) the completeness of the application and (ii) whether the application meets the standards of the Compact.

Without this phased, two-part process, both the public and the Department will lack any assurance that the application being reviewed will not be substantially changed, for example, into another version that substitutes one water supplier for another (e.g. City of Oak Creek or Racine for City of Milwaukee).  With this process in place, the application’s evaluation can proceed with the requisite degree of certainty called for under the Compact pertaining to a “complete” record for review at the regional level.

Accordingly, at the same time that the Department is proceeding with scoping work for its prospective EIS, we ask that the Department proactively incorporate the following procedural steps into the public participation process it will be responsible for once Waukesha’s application is submitted:

Upon receipt of the application, the Department should open a 30 day public comment period focused on the completeness of the application, including consideration of such questions as: 
Must the route of the water supply, return flow and discharge points be clearly defined within the application for a diversion prior to the application’s submission?

Must a firm Agreement with all appropriate conditions be in place between the community seeking a diversion and all communities who may be recipients of return flow waters as part of the applicant community’s application for a diversion?

Must a firm Agreement be in place between the water supplier and applicant community seeking the diversion as part of the application?

Must the application identify and include all necessary permits as one comprehensive package?

Must all water conservation measures required to meet the Compact provisions be identified, adopted and/or enforceable prior to the application’s submission?

(b) After consideration of the application and public comments, the Department would determine if the application is complete; if so, the Department would issue a letter of completeness. 

(c) The Department should proceed thereafter with opening a 30-day public comment period, focused on the merits of the application itself.

In addition, as further acknowledged by the Department in our meeting, the underlying purpose of an EIS is to facilitate a side-by-side environmental and economic analysis of each reasonable water supply alternative and return flow alternative under consideration.  For the general public, it will be important to have the alternatives developed in a format that facilitates easy comparison.  It will not be sufficient or conducive to an open public review process merely to assert that other alternatives have been considered and dismissed, without explanation and justification, or to provide links to previous and older studies, without accurate summaries and analyses. 

We offer the following “Scoping Comments” responsive to the Department’s “initial list of topics to be addressed in the EIS” released to the public on February 5, 2010—which we categorized by Compact requirements for ease of consideration and in keeping with NR 150.22 parameters regarding probable environmental impacts [see Appendix excerpt]:

 No Reasonable Water Supply Alternative: 

Under the Compact, the City of Waukesha must demonstrate that “there is no reasonable water supply alternative in the basin in which [Waukesha] is located, including conservation of existing supplies” and that “the need for the proposed diversion cannot be reasonably avoided through efficient use and conservation of existing water supplies.”  These provisions require that the following questions be evaluated within the EIS Analysis:

What other groundwater and surface water alternatives, or combination thereof, are available to the City of Waukesha, including but not limited to:

the unconfined deep aquifer to the west;
river groundwater inducement;
additional shallow aquifer wellfields;
enhanced conservation;
expanded utilization of radium treatment technology/systems.

What are the important factors used to determine whether or not Waukesha has a reasonable alternative water supply?

What time duration will be operative?  Specifically, for how many years must an alternative water supply be deemed sustainable in the evaluation of “no reasonable alternative water supply”? At the point of current discussions, it appears that several different timelines are being considered.

For example, Waukesha at times refers to a SEWRPC draft Water Service Area plan that uses a timeline of 2028 for projected water and land use.  Yet, Waukesha also relies on SEWRPC’s Water Supply Study, which uses SEWRPC’s current Land Use Plan of 2035 for projected land use and populations. Waukesha, at the same time, indicates that the amount of water that it will request for a diversion is based on a fully built-out land use scenario of 2050 or later.

Reasonableness of Requested Diversion Amount: 

Under the Compact’s Exception Standard, “the amount of water diverted will be limited to quantities that are considered reasonable for the purposes for which it is proposed.”  These provisions require that the following questions be evaluated within the EIS Analysis:

Does the requested diversion amount reflect Waukesha’s current public health needs or, rather, encompass substantial additional lands beyond the City’s current water supply area based on growth projections? 

What basis is there for a nearly 100% increase in daily demand in view of the known decline in the City of Waukesha’s industrial usage over the past two decades coupled with the City’s publicized water conservation savings?

Can and should Waukesha seek a smaller diversion amount at this point in time?

 Return Flow Alternatives: 

Under the Compact and Act 227’s Exception Standard, “an amount of water equal to the amount diverted, less an allowance for consumptive use, will be returned to the watershed from which it was withdrawn.”  Further, under Wisconsin Act 227, if the water is returned through a stream tributary to Lake Michigan or Lake Superior, “the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the stream must be protected and sustained… considering the state of the receiving water before the proposal is implemented, and both high and low flow conditions and potential adverse impacts due to changes in temperature and nutrient loadings caused by this return flow.”

Notwithstanding Waukesha’s primary focus to date on Underwood Creek as its preferred alternative, the Department’s prospective EIS must include a thorough analysis of the available return flow alternatives and their respective environmental and economic impacts.  Equally important, the EIS must ensure that any return flow alternative will be protective of the “physical, chemical and biological integrity of the receiving waters” in conformance with Act 227 statutory direction and all existing laws and regulations.  To meet these requirements, the Department’s EIS Analysis must address the following:

What impact would Waukesha’s wastewater discharge into Underwood Creek have in terms of fecal coliform or bacteria levels in Underwood Creek and the Menomonee River?  For example, it is our understanding that Waukesha’s discharge of fecal coliform throughout most of the year is at a level 9 times higher than MMSD maximum discharge limits set for contractors (900 cfu/100 ml versus 100 cfu/100 ml) and 20-30 times higher than the actual monthly effluent concentrations achieved by MMSD and its contractors historically.

How will increased discharge of bacteria affect Underwood Creek’s already elevated bacteria levels (i.e. the creek’s proposed listing as an impaired water for bacteria  on the section 303d list)?  Can the Department require year-round UV treatment to reduce bacterial loading to this stream?

How will Waukesha’s wastewater flow impact algal growth in Underwood Creek and the Menomonee River?

How would Waukesha’s wastewater flow meet expected new phosphorus limits for rivers and streams in Wisconsin? 

What wastewater treatment and disinfection measures have been committed to by Waukesha?  Specifically, with respect to fecal coliform levels?  Phosphorus?

What impacts might increased flows of Waukesha wastewater in Underwood Creek have on creek restoration efforts underway now by MMSD, the city of Wauwatosa, and others?

What data and assumptions will be used to evaluate Underwood Creek’s capacity to absorb Waukesha’s return flow?  How will “extreme runoff events” of the kind seen in the past two years be taken into account? 

What effluent limits would Waukesha need to meet to discharge to a restored Underwood Creek that fully meets the “fishable and “swimmable” goals of the federal Clean Water Act?

What effluent limits does Waukesha currently meet by comparison?  And how is the Department going to alter these effluent limits given the change in receiving water and Underwood Creek’s proposed listing as impaired for bacteria?

How and what entity will be responsible for monitoring the effects of Waukesha’s return flow effluent on downstream waterways? What provisions will be made to allow for adaptive management?

Will Waukesha be required to meet state standards for mercury and chloride if it discharges to Underwood Creek versus the variances for these two pollutants that Waukesha is currently granted?

MMSD has spent approximately $150,000,000 on flood management on the Milwaukee County Grounds and downstream areas of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee to prevent flooding along the Menomonee River. Although MMSD already has acquired and demolished dozens of flood prone homes along the Menomonee River, there are still flood-prone structures downstream that future MMSD projects may address or that the Cities of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee will have to address. How will the increased return flow to Underwood Creek protect or affect those past and future investments?

What are the environmental and economic benefits and costs of Waukesha returning its wastewater through alternatives other than Underwood Creek, such as the MMSD system, Lake Michigan directly, or the Root River? 

Are there options for distributing return flow to a receiving water in a more natural and controlled fashion, using wetlands or mitigating local impacts by discharging to several different locations?

What are the total projected costs of Waukesha’s diversion proposal?  How can these costs be broken down in terms of construction, equipment, energy and remediation costs?

What is the cost comparison of available return flow alternatives?

Do cost calculations account for increased levels of wastewater treatment, as required to protect waterways proposed for return flow?

What is the cost comparison of the diversion versus no diversion alternatives?  Importantly, are these cost comparisons detailed enough to provide sufficient value to any cost effectiveness analysis given that each estimate contains a $25 million contingency, i.e. “swing” either way, for unknowns?

 Water Conservation:

Under the Compact and Act 227’s Exception Standard, the applicant must demonstrate that “the need for the diversion cannot be reasonably avoided through the efficient use and conservation of existing water supplies” and must commit to “environmentally sound and economically feasible water conservation measures.”  These provisions raise the following questions for evaluation within the Department’s EIS Analysis:

What water savings documented from the start of Waukesha’s water conservation program can be tied directly to the City’s conservation  measures as distinct from, for example, an increase in precipitation or declining industrial users?

How does I & I water factor into the City’s conservation program?

What monitoring or enforcement measures will be implemented to assure achievement of projected conservation goals?

If Waukesha proposes to implement water conservation measures to meet the requirements of Act 227 and, at the same time, also seeks to add additional lands to be served by a water diversion, how does the City propose to ensure that water conservation measures are enforced outside its current City boundaries?

What additional conservation measures have been rejected and on what basis?

 No Significant Adverse Individual or Cumulative Impacts: 

The Compact and Act 227 Exception Standard require that “the diversion will result in no significant individual or cumulative adverse impacts to the quantity or quality of the water of the Great Lakes basin or related natural resources.”  Given this requirement, the Department’s EIS Analysis must evaluate the individual and cumulative impacts of the Waukesha diversion in the context of other current or prospective environmental impacts including, for example, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s publicized plan to increase run-off to Honey Creek and Underwood Creek by 33% as part of the Zoo Interchange reconstruction proposal.  These projects, alone and together, will be certain to create individual and cumulative effects, such as increased risk of flooding of homes along Underwood Creek, that will need to be analyzed and addressed in keeping with the Compact and as part of the Department’s EIS.

 Compliance with Applicable Laws:

The Great Lakes Compact and Act 227’s Exception Standard provide that a “diversion will be in compliance with all applicable local, state, and federal laws and interstate and international agreements.”  As such, the Department’s EIS Analysis must examine Waukesha’s diversion and proposed return flow alternative under recent Clean Water Act decisions, given that Waukesha’s proposed return flow will be a new discharge to Underwood Creek—a waterway already on the state and federal impaired waters list for bacteria.   In consideration of NR 150.22(2)(d) and NEPA guidance, the Department’s EIS also should include an examination of socioeconomic impacts.  Moreover, to the extent that Waukesha will be pursuing or receiving federal monies for this Great Lakes diversion project, EPA policies and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act will require future examination of environmental justice requirements, of the type and scope identified in the socioeconomic impact analysis currently underway as part of SEWRPC’s ongoing Water Supply Study.

In closing, we appreciate your consideration of the afore-stated process recommendations and scoping comments relating to the Department’s initial list of topics to be addressed in its EIS analysis.  Further, given that Waukesha’s final application may be different from earlier drafts, is our understanding that the Department will continue to accept comments on scoping for a period of time after the final application is, in fact, submitted.  We value the Department’s commitment to a robust, open and transparent EIS process that will set high standards and serve as useful precedent for the Great Lakes Region.  We look forward to the Department’s ensuing EIS process as an integral step toward a successful Great Lakes Compact implementation.

Very truly yours,

 Jodi Habush Sinykin
Dennis Grzezinski
Midwest Environmental Advocates

Melissa Malott
Clean Wisconsin

Cheryl Nenn
Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Denny Caneff
River Alliance of Wisconsin

Peter McAvoy
Sixteenth Street Community Health Center

Steve Schmuki
Waukesha County Environmental Action League

George Meyer
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation

Marc Smith
National Wildlife Federation

Cyndi Roper
Clean Water Action-Michigan

James Clift
Michigan Environmental Council

Grenetta Thomassey
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council-Michigan

Keith Dimoff
Ohio Environmental Council

Dereth Glance
Citizens Campaign for the Environment-New York

cc:     Todd Ambs, Department of Natural Resources
    Governor Jim Doyle
    Mayor Larry Nelson, City of Waukesha
    Mayor-elect Jeff Scrima, City of Waukesha
Dan Duchniak, Waukesha Water Utility
    Mayor Tom Barrett, City of Milwaukee
    Alderman Willie Hines, City of Milwaukee Common Council President
    Alderman Robert Bauman, City of Milwaukee Common Council
    Alderman, Michael Murphy, City of Milwaukee Common Council
    Preston Cole, Department of Public Works, City of Milwaukee
    Robert Biebel, Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission