Thursday, October 4, 2012

Return-Flow Trouble May Be Root Of Waukesha Water Plan

Root of the problem?

Well, perhaps one of many.

Read on.

The City of Waukesha would be required by the Wisconsin state stature that inplements the governing multi-state Compact to return as treated wastewater a diversion of water from Lake Michigan - - with the return point as close as possible to the point of origin.

Waukesha's already-troubled decision this week to buy diverted Lake Michigan water from Oak Creek - - a small city south of Milwaukee - - again raises the possibility that Waukesha will propose discharging the wastewater into the Root River, through Racine and back into the lake.

State Rep. Cory Mason, (D-Racine), reminded Waukesha that he continues to oppose that idea.

"Racine's is not Waukesha's toilet," he said.

Waukesha's preferred return-flow route to Lake Michigan had been via Wauwatosa's Underwood Creek, then downstream to the Menomonee River and out into the lake in Milwaukee.

But that plan has been opposed by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, and could be moot altogether after Waukesha declined to negotiate a water deal with Milwaukee, and hence, also stick with the Milwaukee discharge return point.

Waukesha has balked at piping the wastewater to the region's sewage treatment facility - - too expensive, it has said - - so wants to find a tributary to carry the discharge back to the lake. It is unknown whether that return-flow plan will pass muster with the Wisconsin DNR and the other Great Lakes states which must unanimously approve all aspects of Waukesha's precedent-setting, out-of-basin diversion application.

I've been wondering since 2006 if the Root River is a good place for Waukesha to do its daily discharge of millions of gallons of treated wastewater:

Waukesha Studying Sending Wastewater Through a Major State Fish Hatchery and Other Communities' Backyards

By James Rowen

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by

The city of Waukesha has frequently balked at the costs of having to return Lake Michigan water to the Great Lakes basin as the price of getting a diversion of Lake Michigan water

But Waukesha has begun studying various ways it might meet the return flow requirement -- including one scenario that would have treated Waukesha wastewater sent into several rivers and streams, including the Root River, in Racine, where the state runs its major Lake Michigan fish restocking operation, records show.

Waukesha has also also objected to having to return diverted water to the Great Lakes basin by citing possible harm resulting to the Fox River/Vernon Marsh watershed, where the city currently dumps its treated wellwater waste for disposal.

The Fox River flows into the Mississippi River and not towards the Great Lakes basin.

Waukesha is west of the sub-continental divide -- the Great Lakes basin boundary most easily visible as the hill at Sunny Slope Rd. west of the Milwaukee County line on Interstate Highway 94.

But Waukesha knows that a U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Compact requires return flow to the basin of water diverted from Lake Michigan because return flow contributes to the sound management of the Great Lakes' priceless and finite waters.

Facing up to that reality, Waukesha has quietly asked the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources "for an initial reaction" to possible return flows into "the Menominee (sic) River, Honey Creek, Dousman Ditch or the Root river (sic)," according to records obtained from the Waukesha Water Utility under the Wisconsin Open Records law.

Those bodies of water run through many southeastern Wisconsin communities, including Brookfield, Greenfield, Hales Corners, Racine, Wauwatosa, and Milwaukee, just to name a few.

Consider the Root River, a popular fishing and canoeing tributary that empties into Lake Michigan in Racine.

Before it reaches Lake Michigan, the Root River serves another major function: feeding the hatchery and study complex in Racine's Lincoln Park that the DNR completed in 1993, records show.

The DNR says on one of its websites that the Root River Steelhead Facility helps the department "more effectively manage Lake Michigan's trout and salmon fishery."

The site, at
further calls the facility "Wisconsin's primary source of steelhead eggs and brood (parent) stock, and is the backup facility for the collection of eggs of other trout and salmon species. Each year, approximately 500,000 steelhead are stocked in Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan," says the site.

So it's worth asking: Is this a good disposal route for Waukesha's wastewater? Do the downstream communities, along with many southeastern Wisconsin anglers and boaters, know this idea is being floated in discussions with DNR, or that the DNR offered "marketing" suggestions to help the idea move forward?

And has anyone told the Wisconsin Department of Tourism about the Root River discussion?

The tourism department's official "Wisconsin: Life's So Good" website over at doesn't mention Waukesha wastewater as one of the Root River's premier values. Instead it says:

"Each spring, the Root, the Milwaukee and two dozen other Wisconsin tributaries from Marinette to Kenosha call anglers from throughout the Midwest to participate in world class fishing for the Great Lakes rainbow trout. In winter (provided the water remains open) in spring, and in fall, the rivers hold rainbows thanks to the Lake Michigan Steelhead Management Plan adopted Wisconsin two decades ago."

Information about Waukesha's return flow inquiry is contained in a July 16th, 2006 email from a DNR manager, Charles Ledin, to four other DNR officials, including its administrator, Todd Ambs.

Ledin, who is bureau director of the DNR's Office of the Great Lakes, said in the e-mail that he and another DNR official had received return flow inquiries the previous day in a meeting with Waukesha representatives.

Ledin outlined in the e-mail the scientific and marketing advice he gave in return to Waukesha:

"I said the science would be about the same -- water quality standards would establish limitations but from a marketing perspective they should think about things like ......... Adding treated effluent to supplement base flow would help solve the low flow problem in the Root and would help promote more fish coming into the egg collection facility which would help us to stock more fish to benefit the aquatic community in Lake Michigan etc. etc. Jeff Edstrom [a Waukesha consultant] will follow up with us with projected effluent flows and USGS [United States Geological Survey] flow gaging data in the proposed rivers."

Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Daniel Duchniak has said that Waukesha is considering a variety of possible new water supply sources, such as a Lake Michigan diversion, and additional shallow wells. He has also said Waukesha was studying discharge scenarios that include in-basin and out-of-basin disposal.

A March 2006 diversion proposal that Waukesha sent to Gov. Jim Doyle through Godfrey & Kahn Arthur Harrington (and previously posted through an Open Records disclosure on WisOpinion com) argued that Waukesha was entitled to a Lake Michigan surface water diversion without the application procedures of the U.S.-Canada Compact.

The proposal, which was not answered by either Doyle or the DNR, also argued that Waukesha was not required by the compact to return diverted water to the Great Lakes basin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can only imagine what would happen if Walkersha had to spew their blended water into the Root Or Menominee river because of an inability to treat their water efficiently. Will they too need a deep tunnel.