Thursday, July 1, 2010

In Waukesha's Bid For Lake Michigan Water, The Weakest Link

As I see it, the weakest link is not a fuller comparison of water supply alternatives, or the lack of side-by-side cost estimates for potential water purchases from Milwaukee, Oak Creek and Racine.

Or problems with the wastewater flow through Wauwatosa's Underwood Creek - - and, again, a lack of comparison of return flow options that might better comply with the environmental directives of the Great Lakes Compact.

The state Department of Natural Resources has told Waukesha to add these elements to the application.

The weakest link in the application - - and what will raise questions all the way from the Town of Waukesha to the City of Milwaukee, and with reviewers and regulators in all the eight Great Lakes states, is Waukesha's plan to send Lake Michigan water into parts of Pewaukee, Genesee and the Town of Waukesha.

Expanding the current service territory land mass by 80%.

That expansion - - mapped out and green-lighted by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission for the Waukesha application administatively, without public review - - plays some role in Waukesha's request for up to 18.5 million gallons of Lake Michigan water daily.

Yes, the figure is a maximum, worst-case, drought-or-fire situation to be sure - - but clearly Waukesha and its water utility, like revenue-producing utilities are wont to do, intends to grow its customer and water rate base outside the city limits and water service territory.

Can annexations be far behind?

Fact: Current Waukesha daily water use, on average: 6.9 million gallons.

Anticipated daily use, on average, post-diversion, according to Waukesha figures: 10.9 million gallons.

Some of that usage is for projected future population and business growth inside the city limits, and some will go beyond - - thus you have the application resting on the shakiest of premises, because:

Water for growth is not the goal of the Compact. Take it from a Compact expert's superb analysis, here.

Water to serve growth 20 some miles from the City of Milwaukee - - with its employment, housing, transit and development challenges - - cannot sanely be Milwaukee's goal.

And being absorbed into the City of Waukesha's water service is not the goal of neighboring Town of Waukesha people from whom I hear.

Waukesha's water-for-expansion goes beyond meeting its own needs. It's an assault on regionalism, and resource sustainability and the core preservationist principle of the Compact.

It's where the diversion application lacks the most justification and creates the most waves.

And is absolutely not where SEWRPC should have thrown its support - - about which I have more to say Friday.


Bill McClenahan said...

In fact, Waukesha’s application is all about sustainability – switching to a water supply that can be recycled back to the source, instead of causing drawdowns in the groundwater and associated environmental impacts.

As for growth, you might read the Wisconsin’s Compact law that you claimed to support. It is that law that tells SEWRPC to designate the service area and it is that law that says the application for water must accommodate growth. Under the law, the plan shall include “ forecasts of the expected population of the area during the period covered by the plan based on growth projections for the area and municipally planned population densities” and “shall specify a withdrawal amount for the public water supply system equal to . . . [t]he amount needed for the public water supply system to provide a public water supply in the water supply service area in the plan during the period covered by the plan, as determined using the population and related service projections in the plan.”

If you disagree with that, take it up with the Legislature. Don’t criticize Waukesha for following the law you supported.

The growth in the service area designated by SEWRPC under the law is modest and generally coincides with the existing sewer service area. Most of the land is already developed or will not be developed. But you know that.

James Rowen said...

Bill - - I was not happy that the legislature gave SEWRPC this role in the diversion application process, so it was not a perfect law.

SEWRPc, in my opinion, has not represented Milwaukee or urban interests well.

And with SEWRPC population projections comes more questions that are both local and regional in nature: What's the impact on environmental corridor property in that expanded service territory? Some is protected by law and some is not.

What is the impact on the air and surface waters, and on housing or transportation spending and other public service availability in projected residential or commercial or industrial building in or close to the expanded water service territory?

Some of these issues are still under study by SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force, and I am waiting for those findings - - as should others before they get on the bandwagon and say SEWPRC is four-square behind the application.

As to which water access or disposal paths lead to more sustainability, or whether the growth projected for the land west and south is "modest," etc. is all subjective.

I have my own view.

You represent the Waukesha Water Utility and I am happy to post yours whenever you send it.

Dennis Grzezinski said...

Bill's comment fails to recognize that the Wisconsin legislature's definition of what are "reasonable alternatives" can sound like "least cost," and that it is a stretch of monumental proportions to assume that any or all of the other Compact members will agree.

Dennis Grzezinski said...

Bill's comment fails to acknowledge that the legislature's dfinition of what are "reasonable alternatives" sounds a lot like "least cost," and that it is a stretch of momumental proportions to assume that all of the other Compact members will agree.

Thor said...

Bill's argument about sustainability is laughable. First, consider the source (of the argument, not the water).
Would Bill and Co be so concerned about anything environmental if they weren't being paid $12,000 + PER MONTH to be "concerned"?
Second, real sustainability would be learning to live and work with the means at hand, not depleting and polluting your own supply and then trying to strong-arm your way into another community's watershed.
Third, if Waukesha recycled its treated wastewater back into the current resources--the Fox River, and shallow and deep water aquifers, that would be equally sustainable--and a whole lot cheaper.