Monday, May 24, 2010

As Milwaukee Restores Its Rivers, Must It Take Waukesha Effluent?

I strongly recommend Tom Tolan's report in the Journal Sentinel this Sunday about all the coordinated efforts underway in Milwaukee to clean the city's three rivers - - the KK, Milwaukee and Menomonee - - and to better integrate them into surrounding neighborhoods.

I know from having worked in Mayor John Norquist's office from 1996-2004 on land use and environmental issues that this work was central to his vision of a dynamic city, but was also an extension of efforts begun years earlier by organizations and everyday people who respected the very core of Milwaukee's character and source of its wealth - - the water.

Now consider all this in the context of the City of Waukesha's plan to pipe in an average of 10.9 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan every day and discharge it back as treated wastewater into the Menomonee watershed at Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa.

From which it will flow into the Menomonee River for its final return to Lake Michigan, as required of Waukesha by the 2008 Great Lakes Compact.

Underwood Creek, like the Menomonee, has a history of flooding.

There are existing pollution problems in both waterways - - flooding, and pollution from multiple sources, are among the major problems being confronted by resdients, groups and units of government determined to make these waterways suitable for fishing and swimming.

Thus becoming truly sustaining and sustainable.

So here comes Waukesha - - outside of the Great Lakes basin, outside of the Lake Michigan/Menomonee River watershed - - looking to solve its water supply problem (a real problem, for sure, given the 2018 legal deadline to provide drinking water continuously that meets long-standing federal radium standards) by transferring that problem and its resolution to someone else's backyard.

Waukesha is coming to this entire process very late, with a gratuitous agenda - - and is pitching the effluent it wants to pour into Underwood Creek as an asset.

If so, why hasn't Waukesha re-engineered its wastewater treatment system and moved the discharge point that is now below the city on the Fox River to a point above the city so the asset could flow right through downtown Waukesha?

That effluent has to be treated to standards set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; whether there is a feasible and affordable discharge standard for Waukesha while not degrading and/or flooding Underwood Creek and the Menomomee River, is in the hands of the DNR (like the pollution issue, Waukesha says flooding will not be a resulting problem; again that's for the DNR to study) - - but step back and ask yourself this question:

If you were active over the years in the monumental effort to restore Milwaukee watersheds, and clean the rivers while keeping them in their banks, and felt you were on the cusp of achieving some success - - as the Tom Tolan story suggests - - how would you feel about a plan whipped up by another community some miles away to add 10.9 million gallons of effluent daily to some of the very waters you are helping to better clean and manage?

One Waukesha water official, and a utility consultant, have separately taken umbrage at my writing about the Underwood Creek discharge plan that includes a statement by State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Caledonia) objecting to the Root River in his community perhaps becoming "Waukesha's toilet."

You can read the original news story from Racine's The Journal with Mason's remark - - "Keeping Waukesha's Sewage out of the Root " - - here.

At the time of Mason's remark, the Root River was under consideration - - and, for now, set aside - - by Waukesha as a potential return flow discharge point for treated Lake Michigan wastewater.

You can read these responses by Waukesha Water Utility general manager Daniel Duchniak here and by water utility public relations consultant and lobbyist Bill McClenahan, in a blog comment section, here.

You can also read how a number of Waukesha water environmental and planning issues have been raised for a long time without satisfactory answers, say environmental and conservation groups, as Waukesha stayed on its 'Lake-Michigan-or-bust' diversion and discharge planning.

My point is that people living near or working on Underwood Creek and the Menonomee River restoration are being asked to absorb a burden that would not be coming their way if Waukesha would look more closely at alternative and more local, less problematic water sources and supply solutions.

You are not, as UWM hydrologist Doug Cherkauer has said often, solving one watershed's issues by transferring them to another - - thus to other neighborhoods and municipalities - - which is why a very large majority of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors has said it does not want Waukesha's wastewater flowing through Milwaukee County to Lake Michigan.

Thanks to Milwaukee County Board Supervisor and Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commissioner John Weishan Jr., for his leadership in the political environment on this issue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1.Waukesha must return water to the source of diversion, not another body of water.

2.Waukesha has a plan "B" for local water. Waukesha water utility has made it's case that local sources of water are not sustainable. Not sustainable why? Former mayor, Larry Nelson, continually voted to approve more apartment complexes in Waukesha, i.e. increased consumption, sprawl, waste etc. INCONSISTENT policy.

3.Effects on the Fox river downstream once effluent dischaged of 10.5m gals per day ceases hadn't received proper discussion. The entire process of no public discussion about the application seems suspicious. What is the city water utility, administrator, and common council attempting to rush through?

As a Waukesha resident, I hope every environmental group in the great lakes basin takes a solid look at the process implemented by Waukesha. Perhaps compliance with the compact isn't a slam dunk and environmentalists might slow the process down; as they should.