Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lessons Surfacing In Waukesha Water Plan Delay

The Freeman reports -- a paid subscription required -- that there is more delay in Waukesha's application to the DNR for a Lake Michigan water diversion.

This is not a surprise, as the city was told repeatedly that it had chosen the most complex legal path possible for a new water supply, that delays would be expected and necessary in part because many hearings were required - - and that includes reviews and hearings in seven other states, and two Canadian provinces, too.

And that's assuming there will be no litigation - - an impossibility.

So we are now also seeing the inauthenticity inherent in the city's bally-hooed 18-month planning "buffer" by which time it had wanted questions resolved in Wisconsin and the DNR review completed. It began finishing up the application, in earnest, in 2010.

I am told the DNR needs at least until 2013 - - barring more substantial questions bound to arise in a project of this scale, a precedent-setter internationally that can be vetoed by a single Great Lakes state relying its own history, process and interpretation of the Great Lakes Compact.

That buffer now looks, at best, like a tactical flub by the city and Water Utility. Also clear: the consequences of the Counci's politicized-drama in rushing the application to the DNR which led directly to 49 substantial questions posed by the DNR even before agency environmental impact parameters could begin to unfold.

(Still to be heard from: the neighboring, less-developed Town of Waukesha, much of which the City of Waukesha absorbs by fiat and a map drawn by the unelected Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission into the City's proposed Lake Michigan water delivery area - - without the Town's approval to date.  Might the Town, if it accepts the City's application, have to comply with all the Great Lake Compact's mandates, like a water conservation plan acceptable to the DNR and all the other states? What do town residents think of the escalating city water rate structure? Might the Town actually need its own application, hearing and review procedures, since it would be getting Lake Michigan water, though it is outside the Great Lakes basin?)

No wonder the buffer time frame is gone.

If anything, the City needed to take more drafting time, or better yet, time to examine alternatives and discuss with the neighbors roping them into the plan. Instead, Waukesha is in self-hoisted petard time now.

Waukesha cannot jam the Great Lakes process, or the potential supplier-cities, or the DNR, where de-regulation is now in style, though surely the Walkerites now in charge wish they could favor Waukesha with the no-hearings/360-day permit process envisioned in the Assembly's mining and wetlands giveaway bills.

Waukesha must meet a fixed, no-do-over 2018 compliance deadline for the daily provision of radium-free water.

But a few shallow wells and good equipment on the existing deep wells, plus conservation in a city where there is declining consumption can get Waukesha to full, affordable compliance without years of regulatory and legal barriers and possible defeat pursuing Great Lakes water.

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