Monday, May 31, 2010

Waukesha Feared New Wells Would Rile The Neighbors

I would suggest people read this chapter of the City of Waukesha's diversion proposal (full application here) because it helps answer one oft-posed question: why would Waukesha go through a protracted application for Great Lakes water that will require the agreement of eight states, and then plunge into a problematic negotiation for the water supply from the City of Milwaukee?

The answer is in the chapter: alternatives that include drilling new wells near Waukesha but definitely outside its borders risk legal challenges from the neighboring Waukesha County communities, along with possible environmental damage to nearby wetlands.

And perhaps also bringing about added costs, and with permissions from state water regulators.

What a can or worms. (I will add at the bottom of this post a page of text from the chapter, pps. 33-34, for a flavor of the case Waukesha makes against new wells, but I urge you to read the chapter in its entirety.)

It's an interesting twist on regionalism: better to keep the peace with the closer neighbors and landowners who are either preservationists or developers, thus opting instead to take your chances with, and transfer the angst and any resulting problems to the City of Milwaukee, and the Great Lakes governors under the 2008 eight-state Great Lakes Compact.

I'd guess that explains some of the reaction of the Milwaukee County Board, which twice recently affirmed strong opposition to the Waukesha diversion plan as submitted to the Departmenr Natural Resources because it calls for about 11 million gallons of diverted, treated effluent returned to Lake Michigan from Waukesha everyday - - using Underwood Creek and the Menomonee River as the conduit.

A return flow regime shot down by Racine State Rep. Cory Mason, (D), when it appeared as if the Root River was to become, as he put it, "Waukesha's toilet."

Waukesha's assessment must be that the City and County of Milwaukee will be easier to roll than municipalities and landowners to the west and south of Waukesha.

From the chapter:

Implementability. The City’s ability to implement Alternative 1, which requires the installation of 14 new shallow wells, would be difficult for several reasons.

First, Waukesha is part of a groundwater management area, and as a result, more requirements and restrictions could be placed on groundwater development. Additionally, groundwater protection legislation has been recently introduced (on March 12, 2010). The legislation would require environmental review of proposed high capacity wells located in a groundwater management area before WDNR approves or develops a groundwater management plan for the area.

Second, the shallow aquifer wellfield would be installed outside the City’s boundaries. Significant land purchase/lease and controls outside the city limits would be required. Residents near the shallow aquifer wellfield have opposed high-capacity wells because of concerns about adequate water supply and impacts to wetlands, private wells, and other environmental resources.

Installation of wells in the unconfined aquifer may create legal challenges and expose the City to numerous damage claims from lake area homeowners and municipalities and would be a source of continuing controversy in the region. The City, for example, could be liable if its withdrawal of water causes unreasonable harm through lowering the water table for residential and municipal wells in the area. The City could also be liable if its withdrawal of groundwater had a direct and substantial effect upon the water of a watercourse or lake (i.e., effects to base flow or lake levels).

If new wells need to be installed in the future because of declining water levels in existing wells or the need to locate wells farther from surface water resources, wells may need to be located a greater distance from Waukesha. Locating wells further from Waukesha would increase costs, energy usage, and legal/public concerns. The environmental and legal impacts described above would become more severe.


Robert Latta said...

Who could fault the Town of Waukesha for being upset by the City's actions?

What sort of leadership undertakes to treat their neighbors in such a fashion?

Surely common ground on issues could be found whereby the neighbors could have contributed to solutions whereby all the parties prosper through cooperation.

INstead, a high handed approach was pursued that brought lawsuits rather than fruitful cooperation.

James Rowen said...

The DNR haas indicated in its comment and questions letter to the City that areas like the Town, if incorporated into the water service area by the application, have to be brought into the process, fyi.