The City of Waukesha is about to send its answers to a lengthy list of questions received from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on December 2nd so the agency could fully review the City's application for a diversion of Lake Michigan water.
Waukesha's Common Council approved the application last April, so it has taken Waukesha a year to finish curing the application's initial deficiencies. A DNR-produced environmental impact statement, various hearings, and questions about the diversion's return flow route must be addressed fully if the application moves outside of Wisconsin for additional reviews with the DNR's imprimatur.
The diversion application is the first for a community that is entirely outside the Great Lakes basin made under a new, eight-state regional Compact, so the process in Wisconsin - - how the DNR constructs the review as well as its outcome - - is being watched carefully by state regulators and conservationists from Minnesota to New York state.
Winning a diversion is no easy matter, as the Compact manages a complex, collaborative framework designed to preserve the world's largest supply of fresh surface water.
Diversions are to be exceptions that meet high hurdles.
To be implemented, a diversion application needs the advice of two Canadian provinces, input from First Nation tribes and finally the unanimous approval of all eight Great Lakes states' Governors. A separate negotiation for the actual sale and delivery of water by pipeline through a lakefront supplier, like the City of Milwaukee, would be the final piece of the puzzle.
I posted the DNR's list of questions on more than one occasion - - sample here - - and noted recently that sources were reporting that the pro-business, anti-regulatory Scott Walker-led DNR was now fast-tracking the review.
The City's Water Utility Commission chairman reported at a public meeting in December that he'd just talked to incoming Governor Scott Walker, and Walker seemed to understand Waukesha's needs.
I also noted the recent refusal of the the smaller, more rural Town of Waukesha to agree to be included in the application's water service delivery map - - a document drawn up by the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission and placed by the City in the diversion application without the input of the Town.
The Town and City have been slugging it out in court over water policy, and the Town has made it clear it's not rolling over just because the Big City has come at the 11th hour and suggested the Town agree to stay in the map.
With that as the backdrop, it seems there is more evidence that the DNR is fast-tracking the application, essentially saying that the City can proceed without the smaller community's participation.
The source of this information?
The City of Waukesha's Water Utility general manager, Dan Duchniak.
He told the online publication WaukeshaPatch that the City and the DNR are not going to wait for the Town to decide whether it wants to be included in the map.
You could argue that the application remains incomplete and thus vulnerable to rejection by one or more of the other states without it, but Patch reports:
“The DNR and I had decided that we would continue with the application as is,” Duchniak said. “In the event that they do not want to be included in this, we would just remove it.”My take: I doubt that the Town will appreciate being dissed like this.
And I doubt the other states will welcome an application with such an obvious omission, or the intent to plug it later, as well as a review process approved by the DNR with such a cavalier approach to the Compact's procedures.
The disputed water service map increases the City's water service territory by 80%, making the City look like it wants to use the Compact as a means to expand beyond its current borders and accelerate growth.
Remember, it's primarily a water stewardship plan and structure, not a way to fuel sprawl and give one jurisdiction in the Great Lakes a water-induced economic advantage.
Some commentary here.
So is this smart politics? Clever strategy? Over-reaching?
The DNR has a website devoted to the application process.