Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Water Diversion Advocates Forgetting Their Physics

And I don't mean with regard to hydrology, or the movement of water pushed by big pumps across the Great Lakes boundary from Milwaukee to Waukesha.

I mean politically.

Because in politics, the same Newtonian law applies: for every action there will be a counter reaction.

For example, when Waukesha sent its much-anticipated application for a Lake Michigan diversion to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the DNR returned it as insufficient and incomplete.

Newton verified.

But the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce criticized the DNR's action without mentioning the technical, procedural and financial gaps that the DNR said it found in the application.

The inference? That the DNR was bowing to the wishes of Jeff Scrima, Waukesha's new Mayor, who had raised questions about the application in his successful campaign to unseat Larry Nelson, an application supporter

Did the Chamber suppose its spin went unnoticed in the DNR's hallways?

Now you have the Chamber joining in a separate business coalition's politicking for the application in a news release and an online petition - - but mischaracterizing the preliminary conclusions for a new regional water supply system being drafted - - but not yet adopted - - by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Since the regulatory approval for the application in Wisconsin must come from the DNR, and not SEWRPC, why would the advocates for the application keep putting the DNR in a box?

And while we're posing political questions, here's another one:

Why on earth would SEWRPC play along with the business coalition's political stagecraft when the SEWRPC Environmental Justice Task Force - - a body with which SEWRPC has already had a rocky relationship over the EJTF's demand for an independent analysis of the draft water study - - has yet to finish that very analysis and review it?

Does SEWRPC care about how playing footsie with the business coalition - - see these letters - - is received when the EJTF meets next Thursday - - with its work on the water study on the agenda?

Is SEWRPC looking to get hit with yet another civil rights complaint over its treatment of the region's minority communities - - a problem area that the EJTF was supposed to address when federal planning regulators and the ACLU of Wisconsin more or less forced SEWRPC to create the EJTF in the first place?

I know that much of this pressure for the application is aimed at Mayor Scrima.

I hear that at least one senior Waukesha County politician has told Scrima in no uncertain terms to get on board - - which, of course, leaves the county's valuable shallow wells available to developers and municipalities outside the City of Waukesha - - but, again: is there any consideration for the opposite effect this pressure will create in the Scrima camp?

The camp that won the election?

If push comes to shove, isn't there a shove back?

Not to mention the impact in the other Great Lakes states - - all of which must approve Waukesha's application - - as they see powerful business and political interests pushing the application as a way to help local and regional businesses in Wisconsin?

The business coalition includes the language below in its arguments, but does the rest of the Great Lakes region care enough to approve the precedent-setting diversion request under the terms of the new Compact's water management and conservation goals:

"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 focusing on water technology, water conservation and water industry development through the review and support of sound sustainable water use initiatives.

Our first order of business is to help secure a sustainable source of water for the City of Waukesha. We believe our own “backyard” challenges, such as the City of Waukesha’s need to attain court-ordered radium compliance, must be solved with broad community support for this region to become a true “water hub.” As you are aware, the City of Waukesha recently released its application under the Great Lakes Compact for the right to receive and return Lake Michigan water."

Dave Dempsey, a recognized Great Lakes expert who served as environmental adviser to the Governor of Michigan - - the state most likely to ask the toughest questions of any diversion application - - has already strongly critiqued both the application and its support in the business community as out of sync with the Compact.

Makes you wonder if anybody out Waukesha way is listening?

The power play for the application and against Scrima is pitched to a local audience, but it seems to ignore the roles of Wisconsin and out-state regulators and reviewers who ultimately control the application's future.

They make up an audience for the application whose importance cannot be over-stated.

The late, great Massachusetts Congressman Tip O'Neil famously said that all politics is local.

But maybe there is an exception when eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces are in control.

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