Monday, July 19, 2010

The Next News About Waukesha Water Will Be Made By the DNR

An aldermanic op-ed supporting Waukesha's stalled application for Great Lakes water balances out last week's divergent op-ed from Waukesha's Mayor Jeff Scrima.

This print media version of equal time can be found also in a two-part series in the Freeman.

So the dueling parties have had their say in traditional media.

And in a Saturday posting summarizing what had been a busy week of commentary on the issue, I offered my analysis on how the parties could find a way out of their paralysis:

"Time, money, politics and simple pragmatism may force Waukesha to make major changes in its approach to its future water supply.

The easiest route to complying with the 2018 [supply] legal deadline and in bringing together these disparate players and options would go something like this:

First: Cut out the sprawl zone defined by the regional planning commission that incorporates much of the unwilling Town of Waukesha, and other acreage outside the current City limits urged in the application to the west and south.

Scrima in the [Freeman[ interview puts it this way:

"The reason Waukesha is requesting Great Lakes water, Scrima said, is based off its future water service area map presented in the application.

“The whole push or argument for getting us on Great Lakes water is that the city is going to expand based on this projected water service (area),” Scrima said. “We are basically asking for Great Lakes water because the city is going to grow to the southwest. We are essentially going to swallow up the town. I believe this is presumptuous and unrealistic. These people that live in the town, they moved out there for a reason.”

The city’s future water service area is defined by Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and the map provided in the application was a requirement of the application."

Though Scrima's opponents disagree in the interview with his analysis, eliminating the expanded area would leave the Town to its shallow wells (perhaps with a small and sustainable supply portion in a fair trade-off to the City) and its desired, more rural lifestyle, thereby also reducing the City's future water budget that is swelled both by population estimates by planners and the City's extra-territorial dreams.

Second: Create an affordable, legal and attractive water supply for the City using a combination of blended sources, some of which is being done right now: cleaned deep well water, shallow well water, recycled water for industrial customers, and induced water from the Fox Riverbank now being studied by the UWM WATER Institute.

That eliminates the problematic, unpredictable and politically-potent precedent-setting Lake Michigan diversion, either for another day, or to another community that can make a better, less-contorted case under the Great Lakes Compact."

Letters from and back to state regulators on the subject - - find those files here - - over the last few weeks suggest that real news on the matter will next come from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Scrima asked the agency on July 2nd to clarify its June 9th objections to the application's content and to what extent his suggestion that more alternatives to the Lake Michigan option be studied is a factor in the DNR's reluctance to begin processing the application.

You can read both those letters and the Journal Sentinel's take on the exchange, here.

In a sense, the DNR, as the applicant's home-state reviewer, is already managing the application by suspending its progress and asking Waukesha to add more elements.

Remember that if the agency were to eventually send it to the other seven Great Lakes states for their mandatory reviews, the application travels with the DNR's imprimatur, so the DNR has a stake in making sure the application can withstand peer review across the Great Lakes.

Remember, also, that some of the other states slammed New Berlin's diversion paperwork forwarded as complete and comprehensive by the DNR in 2008, and I am betting that the DNR does not want to go through that kind of criticism again.

One big hurdle: Will the other states allow diverted water to Waukesha to then be piped to neigbhoring communities because the entire County is projected for growth?

The next letter from the agency answering Scrima's questions could indicate just when, or if, the application is moved by the DNR off a siding and onto a main track - - or back to the repair shop for an overhaul.

So stay tuned.

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