Sunday, April 24, 2011

Waukesha, DNR, Roll The Dice On Great Lakes Water

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?

We'll see.

The DNR has a website devoted to the application process. 


rich said...

Just which governor of which state is going to veto the diversion? Kasich? Strickland? Pawlenty?

Still not convinced someone's got our back.

Anonymous said...

In Michigan, we're watching the process of developing an application by Waukesha. Circumvention to fast track the defined process suggests insincerity to the true need for a new water supply. Noted for the record.

Boxer said...

Pawlenty is no longer gov of MN--Mark Dayton is the new guy.

Looking for a veto? Think Patrick Quinn of IL, Dayton of MN, Snyder of MI, Cuomo of NY, or all four. Kasich and Strickland seem more interested in clinging to the pockets of Big Biz --that's an obvious conclusion from their short track records and stances on collective bargaining.

Glad to see you're seeing through the Waukesha-Madision BS in Michigan, Anonymous. You're gonna have to work overtime to keep up.

Reliance on other states to veto Waukesha's application exemplifies how far Wisconsin's once-proud tradition of protecting our natural resources has fallen.
Where other states used to look to us for leadership, we're now hoping they'll take pity and get us out of our jam. Sad, sad, sad.

rich said...

Pawlenty is no longer gov of MN--Mark Dayton is the new guy.

True -- thanks for catching that -- totally sleep-deprived when I posted: and it's Snyder in Michigan, who will NOT veto the diversion.

Dayton is the best shot, but who's to say he won't be under unprecedented pressure from major players not to veto? Let's get a public commitment.

Quinn is a possible, but most of Chicago is outside the basin and always has had a diversion question; further, the metro region faces major supply problems going forward. Can't rely on Illinois.

I'd never rely on Cuomo or NYS in general; that'd be a bad gamble at best. There's never any guarantee they'll see our interests as mutual or intertwined, even on or especially on Great Lakes issues.

So it's Mark Dayton or nobody -- and I strongly suggest we get a message through to Gov. Dayton to get him on the record, secure a commitment and pull him firmly into our corner on this. Because you KNOW there're bound to be other interests pulling on him to do X for the sake of Y. So for us to assume Dayton or somebody's just gonna step forward and veto any diversion without us even communicating with him, when we have nothing really to base that on, is just foolhardy.

Remember, there are major players such as the Brookings Institute offering remarkably unintelligent advice to Michigan and the Great Lakes region about how to rebuild the economy in the industrial heartland: build on water.

Anonymous said...

You're making an assumption that the citizens of the City of Waukesha want to go into debt to pay for the cost of constructing a supply and return line to obtain Lake Michigan water that it would double or triple a residential water bill as reported in the Waukesha Patch article. Add to that the cost for the water, sewerage treatment, maintenance of the system, fees for water rights, and unrelated costs associated with Milwaukee Resolution 080457. Plain and simple, Waukesha will be a dying city if the cost of living continues to grow. For the record, I received my reassessment in the mail this weekend. My property (my investment in this community) dropped 8%. I assure you, the poor in Waukesha cannot afford this boondoggle to benefit Waukesha County builders.

Anonymous said...

After reading the WaukeshaPatch article, the Town of Waukesha would be nuts to get on board with this pipe dream. If the City connects to a Lake Michigan source, the shallow wells are projected to increase in capacity to the benefit of the town residents. What's the incentive that Mr. Duchniack is so seemingly smug about. Is the city planning to annex the town anyway?

James Rowen said...

I think it's a mistake to look at this as a partisan matter. Eash state has a culture to satisfy.

In Michigan, for example, the opposition to diversions is traditional, and bi-partisan. A Republican, Hohn Engler, vetoed a diversion to Lowell, IN some years ago when Lowell made a case very similar to Waukesha's.

Google Engler Lowell water, or read this section of Peter Annin's book water wars:

Boxer said...

I agree with James, Rich, that Gov Snyder would be a veto. But why do you think otherwise? Maybe you have info we don't have? Cuomo doesn't seem interested right now in anything but the state budget issues, however, once his attention is obtained, he could very well be like our friend, Anonymous, able to cut through the BS and veto this dog.

Anonymous 8:02 pm: I DON'T think Waukesha residents will want to accept the millions of dollars in future commitments, however, they've been fed a lot of misinformation by the spinners at the Water Utility and the Common Council and most of the relatively informed think a diversion is a good thing and a necessary thing.
They've been told that federal dollars will help hold down costs, and secretly the Utility plans to add the towns of Brookfield, Waukesha, and Genesse, the Village of Wales, and City of Delafield in the future, to spread out the costs of infrastructure.
With 2/3 of the Common Council enthusiastically in favor of diversion, residents will not be able to stop it. This train has not only left the station, it's free of city confines and is picking up speed.
Elections matter: even aldermanic ones.

Anonymous said...


Will they also add the City of Pewaukee since the NW corner of the SEWRPC boundries for the service area include a Pewaukee subdivision south of I-94. I know this subdivision currently has Waukesha sewer service.

It seems logical that the Water Utility needs these community property values to make this thing fly. Most likely it will be funded based on "Sewer Wars" formulation by MMSD where the Falls lost. The City Administrator, Lori Luther, has said nothing about how she expects the community to structure repayment of the muni bonds.

I can't wait to see how the utility is going to circumvent statutes requiring public hearings to be held for each community included in the SEWRPC boundries without being asked AND without representation on the Waukesha Water Utility Board.

I would expect lawsuits to start flying very soon. If laws are not followed prior to filing the application again.aulce