Monday, December 6, 2010

Waukesha's Water Plan Problems Are Self-Inflicted

Call them Waukesha's missed opportunities - - all the public submissions of concerns from environmental organizations (they do work with water law and policy experts, you know) that could have improved the city's Lake Michigan diversion application and avoided some of the Department of Natural Resource's continuing and devastatingly-detailed concerns.

[I will publish the text of a lengthy letter from the DNR to the City about the application's deficiencies, Monday, right below this posting.]

(You can follow the DNR's procedural approach, initial evaluation and communications with Waukesha about the application at the agency's dedicated and very nicely-organized diversion website.)

As to those missed opportunities offered by environmental organizations - - dismissively called a "special interest" by Waukesha Common Council President Paul Ybarra - - I've catalogued a few of them for your perusal here.

Also: before the Waukesha Common Council approved the application in April, I offered this observation in a March posting:

"Several citizens and representatives from three environmental organizations - - Midwest Environmental Advocates - - a public interest law firm - - Milwaukee Riverkeeper, and the Waukesha County Environmental Action League raised detailed and substantive concerns and questions about the pending draft application, but Waukesha officials, while welcoming the comments, did not appear particularly moved by the observations and the commenters' criticisms.

Including suggestions that the application was fundamentally flawed under terms of the all-important Great Lakes Compact...

While Waukesha says it is still taking comments and doing studies and planning more meetings and expects multiple reviews before there are irrevocable decisions, it feels like the city is already...locking in a precedent-setting quest for Great Lakes water though any one of seven other states' Governors could nix the whole thing.

Will Waukesha slow itself down, and get its application right, or fully compare and explore every alternative on the table?

It sure doesn't feel that way."
And in a July 7th posting, I quoted from a June 8th DNR letter to Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima that indicated where the DNR wanted the city's application improved - -  and which we now can see was a precursor to what the DNR told Waukesha last week in 49 lengthy and often multi-layered questions that it wants the city to answer, and add to the application.

Said the DNR five months ago:
"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."
So I ask again:

Will Waukesha slow itself down, and get its application right, and fully compare and explore every alternative on the table - - and perhaps listen to its critics who have been saying much the same thing since 2009?

It sure doesn't feel that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At this juncture, Mayor Scrima needs to ask the Waukesha Water Utility to seek an advisory referendum on whether to continue with the application process. In this economy it makes no sense for the utility to continue to bill it's consumers for more gambling debt.

Community relations for utility could be badly damaged if they ask for more rates increases to pay for costly studies, more hearings, consultants, PR firms, lawyers, etc. etc. etc.

Waukesha's citizens should be paying for water and sewer. At minimum, these unrelated expenditures should be itemized on the consumers bills. Look at the detail on your cell phone bill. Why is this different?