Saturday, July 17, 2010

Waukesha Mayor Elaborates On Water Concerns

Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima in far-ranging discussions tells the Freeman - - here is part one, and here is part two - - why he believes his city has pushed so hard for Lake Michigan water, and why he thinks that is bad for city water users, the Town of Waukesha and other interests.

The Mayor is at odds with the Waukesha Common Council, Water Utility and City Attorney over the application for Lake Michigan water and the planning leading up to the application that took place prior to his upset April election over then-incumbent Mayor Larry Nelson, a Lake Michigan proponent.

This is by far the most comprehensive look at the players in and the political conflict surrounding Waukesha's water planning published in traditional media; readers will see that the strong disagreements among the parties about facts, interpretations, intentions, and goals aired out in greater detail than in most earlier accounts.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has suspended its review of the city's application in part because Scrima has said there should be scientific and fiscal exploration of other alternatives, and in part because the application was missing information about the comparative cost of some water supply options.

Other information needed to be supplied about possible routes for the discharge of diverted water, the DNR said.

Scrima subsequently asked the DNR to clarify its objections, and until the agency responds (remember, the DNR would be the sponsor of the application to the other states, so its credibility is on the line, too), the review process for this first-of-its-kind application remains in neutral.

Receiving less attention, though I posted an item about it a few weeks ago:

The DNR has also suspended the crafting of the scope of the pivotal Environmental Impact Statement it will draft as part of the application review - - with, as I understand it, a public hearing on both the scope as well as the EIS required when it is completed - - so even if the DNR were to restart its review tomorrow, there is no way the Wisconsin phase of an application from Waukesha could be completed before the end of 2010.

All eight Great Lakes states have to give their approval to an application from Waukesha passed along by the DNR, and each state has a review different process governed by its statutes.

Scrima says in one noteworthy passage that Waukesha County leaders support the application because it leaves local underground water supplies available for development outside the City of Waukesha:

"If Waukesha leaves its deep wells for Lake Michigan water, Scrima said, then there will be more water left for other communities because Waukesha is not the only “culprit.”

“I have spoken to people at the county level,” Scrima said. “They are OK with the city of Waukesha connecting to Milwaukee water because then there will be more water in this part of the aquifer for the rest of the cities in the county to grow. I just say, ‘Oh, thanks a lot.’

“Then maybe the rest of the county and the Chamber of Commerce should help pay the city of Waukesha because we are doing everyone a favor. In other words, if we connect to Milwaukee there is more water left for everyone else. Help us out guys. I said that to (Waukesha County Executive) Dan Vrakas and (Waukesha County Director of Parks and Land Use) Dale Shaver and they laughed.”

Vrakas in a prepared statement after being shown Scrima’s comments said he is concerned about the public health, water supply and business well-being in every Waukesha County municipality.

“Any suggestion to the contrary is not true,” Vrakas said. “The county’s support of the city of Waukesha’s water application is based on science, not politics.”

And I would think that another portion will be noticed in the other states, as it suggests that one reason for Waukesha to press forward with its precedent-setting application is the possibility that the other states will slam the diversion door tighter.

"Scrima said he asked Don Gallo, an attorney working with the Waukesha Water Utility, why the city is pushing to receive Lake Michigan water now instead of waiting 30 to 40 years.

“What he said to me blew me away,” Scrima said. “He said, ‘The Great Lakes are not sustainable.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, we are only able to return 92 percent of the water because there is 8 percent of consumptive use.’”

Scrima said Gallo told him that the Great Lakes governors are going to realize that people will use water to drink, water their lawns and for industry, and as a result will cease approving water diversions under the terms of the Great Lake Compact.

The compact requires communities that are beyond the subcontinental divide to treat and return the water to the Great Lakes.

However, Gallo said the Great Lakes are sustainable and the water supply is the most reasonable option available to the city. The mayor may have been confused by their discussion, he added.

As I said earlier, there are disagreements galore in the articles about who did what, and why, or who said what to whom, and all I can do is reprint what the Freeman has published, complete with the opposing explanation.

I simply suggest that the articles get read.

Regardless: don't look for much that is definitive about this application's future for a solid year or more - - if indeed the DNR begins to moves it forward - - because if one state rejects it, and Waukesha chooses to make substantial changes in the application based on those objections, the other states could choose to begin their reviews all over again.

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 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 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 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, politically-potent and 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.

No comments: