Wednesday, July 7, 2010

DNR Criticisms Of Waukesha Water Application Are Not New, Record Shows

It is fascinating that some participants in and observers of Waukesha's political struggles over its application for Lake Michigan water forget, ignore or simply deny that environmental groups in Waukesha and the region, for months, were saying the application was insufficient.

And if you read the DNR's June 8th letter to Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima about the application - - addressed to the same Scrima being vilified since for objecting and somehow blocking the application's review - - you would see that the DNR is agreeing with the environmental groups that major portions of the application - - potential alternative sources, comparative costs and comparative return flow alternatives - - are not up to the needs and expectations of the Great Lakes Compact.

So let's look at a few facts; perhaps this can tone down the rhetoric and slow down the spin?

Here, in a nutshell, are the DNR's objections:

· The application failed to confirm that there is no reasonable water supply alternative available to the City of Waukesha other than Great Lakes water;

· The application failed to provide the return flow locations corresponding to the three withdrawal source options identified in the application;

· The application’s cost estimates lacked sufficient detail, as required by the Compact, for each of the withdrawal and return flow options for the diversion;

· The application lacked confirmation that it had received all appropriate local city approvals necessary for submittal under the Compact.

In its own words, the DNR letter says:

"One of the key requirements of the Compact for approving an application for a diversion is demonstrating that there is no reasonable water supply alternative. Through Discussions with representatives with the city we were told that Great Lakes water was the only viable option for a sustainable water supply.

Due to the fact that it has been publicly discussed that the City is examining alternatives to Great Lakes water and is actively considering other sources the Department cannot move forward on reviewing the application and the City must confirm that Great Lakes water is in fact the only long term sustainable water option.

The Great Lakes Compact requires the return flow to be as close as possible to the withdrawal source.

The submitted proposal identifies three possible withdrawal source options to obtain Great Lakes water. However, without providing a corresponding return flow option for each withdrawal source it is not possible to determine whether the proposal will comply with this requirement. The City must provide to the Department both the point of withdrawal and with the proposed return flow location.

In addition, the application lacks sufficient detail, as required by the Compact, regarding the costs for the diversion.

We would expect the cost analysis for each of the requested options to be based upon information received from the potential withdrawal sources indicating what they would be charging for providing Great Lakes water. The City must provide to the Department detailed cost estimates for each of the withdrawal and corresponding return flow options."

The DNR closes by saying that these questions, and some other matters, must be resolved "at a minimum" before the process will continue.

We assume the DNR is not tossing around words like frisbees: there must be some logic to their reasoning.

So let's be clear:

That's not the Mayor talking: those are the words, in writing, of the first set regulators to look at the application per the procedures of the Great Lakes Compact. Seven more groups will follow in all the Great Lakes states.

Which is pretty much what the environmental groups have been saying all along - - but which Waukesha officials and other advocates for the application are not taking to heart. They prefer the political fight, but isolating Scrima does not repair the application or lead it to a friendlier reception in the seven other states.

Take a look at this portion of the seven pages of comments (the full text is posted at the Waukesha Environmental Action League homepage) sent to the Waukesha officials March 26th, and note that the comments cite the position of a larger coalition of groups who were raising the alarm in writing in September, 2009::

"In a follow-up letter to the City of Waukesha and Utility dated September 19, 2009, Attorney Jodi Habush-Sinykin of the [Coalition] outlined several issues considered to be outstanding, including, but not limited to:

  • the need for a more comprehensive evaluation of Waukesha’s water supply options and potential service area mindful of the Compact’s “no reasonable alternative” provision;

  • the need for a thorough, side-by-side analysis of potential return flow options to accompany the respective water supply options identified by Waukesha to date;

  • the value of Waukesha proactively committing to an Environmental Analysis protocol as a tried and true means of addressing both potential opposition and uncertain regulatory guidance given that any application for a diversion of this nature will comprise a major action under WEPA;

  • the importance of providing a meaningful opportunity for the public and other stakeholders to be heard in the public participation process.

The first two bullet points remain unaddressed in the diversion application of January 2010.

At the (Great Lakes) regional review level, in order to establish the credibility needed for seven gubernatorial approvals, a successful diversion application will need to build a good case, cite or include base studies, and make reasoned arguments that are supported within the document. Other Great Lakes states, even those following Wisconsin issues, haven't been living and breathing a Waukesha diversion.

The City of Waukesha and the WWU must begin at the beginning with this application, including a brief narrative of the EPA ruling on non-compliant radium levels and subsequent lawsuits. Without this, other states will wonder what led up to the WI DNR’s consent decree of 2008, or perhaps assume erroneously that the compliance order was the originating event for the application. We understand that this may be unpleasant, but without context, the application will fail to establish the need for a new water source, if the case can be made.

In many respects, our concerns and comments have changed little since WEAL first formulated a series of questions for the City of Waukesha Common Council in February of 2006. We observe the following:

The City’s draft application does not meet the Great Lakes Compact’s diversion exception standard to exhaust all “reasonable water supply alternatives within [its own] basin . . . including conservation of existing water supplies” as a condition of making application for an exemption to the Compact’s ban on diversions:

Many of the earlier (14) alternatives were dismissed as “too expensive,” “too political,” or “not implementable.” The City will have to do better to describe just how costs were estimated and compared, what details were analyzed, and how that conclusion was drawn. It could be said, without too much of a stretch, that a Lake Michigan diversion option represents all of those things and more. Furthermore, in eliminating 12 of these alternatives, the City relies on a 2002 Water Supply Plan that is nearly a decade old. Has anything else changed in a decade? Costs certainly have increased. What assumptions are going into the numbers that lead the City to assert that a Lake Michigan diversion is the least costly option? No party can make that determination until the City releases cost breakdowns to the public.

WEAL remains skeptical about any alternative that was dismissed due to its being “too expensive” without being updated and reanalyzed. WEAL continues to call on the City to show its work in making projections and cost estimates (broken down, not in a single sum) in a side-by-side comparison of all options and combinations thereof."

That's WEAL and other groups talking: Not...Mayor...Scrima - - who has spoken. Here, for example.

Sorry for that, but don't you see?

Scrima has indeed balked at endorsing the application, but the DNR has raised significant objections to its content, and detailed critiques have been in the hands of Waukesha since September, forwarded by - - gasp!! - - local environmentalists.


Anonymous said...

Thank You!

I actually understand what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

Jim, your summary is neither liberal policy nor, business driven, like the pro-diversion crowd. It is what it is, the cold hard facts.

I also thank you.