Monday, June 28, 2010

Let's Clarify What SEWRPC Has And Has Not Recommended Regarding Lake Michigan Water

The power politics playing out over Waukesha's application for a Lake Michigan diversion - - referenced frequently on this blog whether it's the emergence of a big business diversion support group, or the intense in-fighting within Waukesha city government after pro-diversion, former Mayor Larry Nelson was upset in the April election - - roll on.

I want to comment on the release today by that business support group of a statement about the application that, I think, overstates things as they stand right now.

This reminds me of last week's statement from the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce that also, as I saw it, didn't get the whole story out there for its members.

Start with the bold-faced title and lede (that's a newspaper term for opening, or lead sentence, but spelled "lede" to differentiate from being lead, or the metal, etc.) sentence in the business group's release- - and I will reprint its full text below so you can make your own judgements:

"SEWRPC Reaffirms Recommendation of Great Lakes Water as Future Waukesha Water Supply

June 28, 2010—(Delafield, WI ) Per an inquiry by the Sustainable Water Supply Coalition (SH2OSC), The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has reaffirmed its late 2009 recommendation that Great Lakes water is the recommended option for the City of Waukesha’s future water supply needs."

Two questions, and this is more than splitting hairs:

You know what's missing in that title and first sentence?

A word like "draft" or "committee" or "preliminary."

And whose recommendation is being cited?


Well, not exactly.

For the record (SEWRPC's response letter is at the end of this file) SEWRPC - - the agency, through its 21-member board - - has recommended nothing.

A SEWRPC advisory committee has made such a recommendation, but as SEWRPC itself makes clear, the committee's work is advisory, and thus preliminary, and the full study is not done yet.

If a Common Council citizen advisory committee recommends a policy, do we say "the city has recommended?"

We do not.

Because it hasn't.

And let me say that this is not the first time there has been this confusion over substance and procedures in written materials about SEWRPC's ongoing water study.

An early draft of the Waukesha application had also inaccurately said that SEWRPC's water supply study had recommended the Lake Michigan alternative for Waukesha, but after it was pointed out at a public hearing in Waukesha's city hall, the drafters of the application acknowledged that the reference was not accurate and clarified it in subsequent application drafts.

Let me continue:

It is crucial to understand that the ongoing and unfolding SEWRPC water study involves the SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force, and the EJTF, another SEWRPC-created Citizen advisory body, has yet to finish its work on a related study.

And it is not clear if or how the EJTF report can be integrated into the rest of the draft water study - - a project that has been on hold since 2009.

This is a link to the EJTF and its work that is taken off the SEWRPC's water supply webpage.

And the SEWRPC home page - - - - says this about its water supply study:

"Regional Water Supply Study

The final stages of preparing a regional water supply plan are underway. This planning effort will lead to the preparation and adoption of a regional water supply plan. more "

How many ways do I have to say it: the water study is not finished.

That is why, despite the business group's hype, the SEWRPC's response letter states that the water study is a "preliminary recommended plan," and that the Waukesha application is in line with that preliminary recommendation and the ongoing study "as it stands now" - - with final consideration coming later this year.


(The EJFT piece was to be done two-to-three months ago, so these matters do not move quickly, and it is not clear yet whether a final report with the EJTF component will undergo major redrafting. Or will need additional public meetings or hearings.)

You see - - this is not as simple as "SEWRPC Reaffirms Recommendation of Great Lakes Water as Future Waukesha Water Supply."

And the business group repeats in this online petition its overstatement of what SEWRPC has done.

My point is that it is one thing to say an advisory committee has reached a conclusion - - and yes, the business group's release gets it right after the headline and lede sentence - - where that emphasis could and should have been..

Here is the full text of the business group's release (with one typo note as [sic], as SEWRPC is SEWRPC, not "SEWRPAC'):

For Immediate Release: Contact: Brian J. Nemoir, Executive Director June 28, 2010 262.646.2342

SEWRPC Reaffirms Recommendation of Great Lakes Water as Future Waukesha Water Supply

June 28, 2010—(Delafield, WI ) Per an inquiry by the Sustainable Water Supply Coalition (SH2OSC), The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has reaffirmed its late 2009 recommendation that Great Lakes water is the recommended option for the City of Waukesha’s future water supply needs.

Per a letter dated June 18th (see attached) the SH2OSC Board of Directors asked SEWRPAC [sic] to confirm, “That an application by the City of Waukesha for a sustainable water source from Lake Michigan is consistent with the recommended water supply alternative unanimously endorsed by the Regional Water Supply Planning Advisory Committee.”

In response (see attached), SEWRPC outlined the four year review process conducted by the advisory committee comprised over 30 members. Membership included: knowledgeable planners, engineers, scientists, water utility managers and representatives of concerned Federal and State agencies as well as representatives of the academic, agricultural, industrial and environmental communities within the region (list included). In considering regional water supply, and recommending Lake Michigan as a source of supply for the City of Waukesha, there were six primary reasons cited:

Reduction in chloride discharge to the environment due to the reduced water softening requirement;

Favorable environmental impacts on recovery of deep aquifer. This issue is important in addressing the objectives of 2003 Wisconsin Act 310 and the recommendations of the State Groundwater Advisory Committee created by that law;

Favorable environmental impacts on stream baseflows, lake levels, and wetlands; • Ability to preserve groundwater for other uses, such as agriculture;

• Opportunity to use excess water production capacity at the existing supplier utilities;


Cost advantages to both supplier and purchasing utilities.

The SEWRPC response also notes that during final consideration of the recommended plan, “there were no comments made objecting to the provision of Lake Michigan supply for the Waukesha Water Utility.”“As the City of Waukesha works to advance its application for Great Lakes water, notably approved by the Common Council 14‐1, it should do so knowing that extensive efforts were made reviewing the various options at both the local and regional level,” stated Ed Olson, Co‐ Chair of the SH2OSC and President of Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

“Waukesha’s challenge in securing a sustainable water source has a solution, Lake Michigan water, and the time has come for the City to advance a unified effort to address this critical need.”

The Sustainable Water Supply Coalition (SH2OSC) is a growing alliance of regional businesses and organizations focused on advancing our region as a global water hub through the review and support of sound sustainable water use initiatives. SH2OSC is a 501c4, for more information:


Jim Bouman said...

At 4:56 pm, The MJS published Don Behm's piece on the SEWRPC recommendation. The Headline repeats the same canard, that the Regional Planning Agency is re-affirming its recommendation --such as it is.

This is going to be all up-hill.

I've stopped getting that increasingly worthless rag on the front porch, can barely stand to scan the web version.

James Rowen said...

As I say in my posting: if a common council advisory committee comprised of citizens made a policy recommendation to the council, we would not say "the city" has recommended the change.

That would come later should the full body debate and approve it.

Such has not happened with the SEWRPC water supply study recommendations - - including Lake Michigan water for Waukesha - - because the study is not complete.

And because the advisory committee made its preliminary recommendation before SEWRPC added another component to the study - - and that component has a) not been completed, b) has not been debated by the Environmental Justice Task Force, which is handling it, c) has not been forwarded for its consideration to the full water supply advisory study committee, d) not been subject to public hearings, e) not been debated by SEWRPC's senior, standing committees, f) not been reviewed by the full, 21-member SEWRPC commission.

Boxer said...

Furthermore, the SEWRPC-defined water service area, defined at the the request of the Waukesha Water Utility so that it could put the service area into its Great Lakes diversion application, saw no public review, allowed for no public input, and "claimed" lands for inclusion in the service area that include land currently in at least 3 townships. (To date, there has been no official conversations--much less agreements) with those townships who were as surprised by the map as was the public. SEWRPC's letter to the Utility with the service area map attached made no explanation of what criteria were used to determine what spaces were included . . . It's as if someone at SEWRPC took a giant crayon and drew a shakey line . . . or maybe someone at SEWRPC asked the Water Utility: "What do you want it to look like?"

James Rowen said...

To Boxer: Couldn't agree more. For more opinion - - see this: