Friday, January 31, 2014

Strong Op-Ed From Waukesha Freeman Friday

Is the Lake Michigan Application Politically Driven?

Organizations analyzing Waukesha’s Great Lakes application have a common theme; Waukesha’s application is not based on the city’s need for water. It’s about growth in communities outside the city borders. 

I agree with that analysis. In addition, City of Waukesha residents, the highest taxed in the county, are expected to solely pay the $200 million+ for a construction project to assure everyone outside the city borders have plenty of deep aquifer water for their own development needs. 

Beyond construction costs, city residents would buy water from another community and pay twice to operate and maintain another utility in addition to our own infrastructure and business operations. The cost of Lake Michigan water will cause financial hardships on city residents, including the poor, elderly, and handicapped and also drop everyone’s property value. 

Why consider living in Waukesha when you can have greater financial value elsewhere?

Those who would argue that it would cost more to develop local sources of water, you need to step back and ask; Exactly when is this additional water going to be needed for the city residents or exactly when will the deep aquifers be unsustainable? 

That answer may be that a significant amount of Waukesha’s water originates in Jefferson County to the deep confined aquifer under Waukesha.

That shines a light on why developed, and undeveloped, communities of our region want city residents to get off the unconfined deep aquifer. Unfortunately, everyone else and our own elected officials expect the city residents to roll over and pick-up the tab or continue the fight when the application is rejected.

The 2018 court ordered deadline to be radium compliant prompted the pursuit of Lake Michigan water as one way of meeting the court order. The “drop dead date” to begin construction of pipelines to Lake Michigan is long gone and the utility is now facing court sanctions at ratepayers expense. To pursue litigation is a fool’s approach. 

According to public records obtained by blogger James Rowen in his opinion piece at Wisopinion:

shows that our utility through it’s lawyers in March and May of 2006 asked Governor Doyle to negotiate a 24 million gallon per day diversion to Waukesha without a return flow because of the claimed harm to the Fox River system. The lawyers wanted to keep the records from the public. The request was rationalized by utility manager Dan Duchniak stating, “The last thing we want is litigation”. Governor Doyle did not respond and no negotiations took place. Waukesha’s approach has certainly caused distrust outside our city borders.

The utility can install radium filters on all deep aquifer wells, not just some, to meet the court order at a fraction of the cost of developing a completely new source of water for the city. Filtering out radium however, would end any timetable to pursue Lake Michigan water but safe drinking water would not be an issue. 

Waukesha’s application would then stand alone on the current and immediate need of another source for the city. Without that pressing need, the utility can develop strategies for strategic planning over decades, not all at once, to meet our city requirements and include areas outside the city by regional management of water resources. But, that will mean limiting growth based on available water resources. That’s exactly what SEWRPC should have done from the beginning. 

Creating an expanded service area of the utility in recent years is troublesome to the compliance of the Great lakes Compact. The Town of Waukesha chairman says inclusion in the service area doesn’t mean Town residents have to connect to the city service, but inclusion is “an insurance policy”. No immediate need for Lake Michigan water there. The other communities would would need to demonstrate a need too such as a contaminated supply or a water shortage, but that hasn’t happened even four years later than when the application for Lake Michigan water was filed.

Our city image is badly damaged. The Water Utility and Lake Michigan water supporters pushed so hard to tell the region about how contaminated our water supply is with a carcinogen (radium) that it’s impacting decisions on whether or not to purchase real estate in the city. This concern was recently express to me by a co-worker from another community.

We’ve already spent over $3 million feeding oats to a dead horse. We’re not going to get Lake Michigan water and we (the city of Waukesha) don’t have an immediate need to develop a completely new source of water. It’s time to install the radium filters on the deep aquifer wells and get on with regional planning as “Plan B”, not jumping all in to needlessly develop a completely new source locally. After all, we have the biggest straw in the milkshake; therefore, we control the issue of water use in the region. That control can be used to the benefit, rather than the demise, of the City of Waukesha. 

It’s election season. I want to hear from all city candidates as to why they believe city residents should carry the financial burden for a Lake Michigan diversion exception at the benefit of everyone outside our city borders.

Steve Edlund
Waukesha, WI 


Anonymous said...

It's been 4 (FOUR) years since the utility submitted the "Model Application" to the Wisconsin DNR?

Nice highlight on Waukesha's original intention by James in 2006. Trustworthy bunch they're not.

You would think Waukesha's alderman would start putting relentless pressure on the water utility to clarify a construction timetable and be transparent about it. The entire city populace is looking incompetent in this international process.

The judge just might jail every water commissioner, the utility manager, and even a new mayor for contempt of court.

Boxer said...

Excellent Op Ed, Steve. The Waukesha aldermen are unbelievably irresponsible for having approved this unapprovable application in April 2010, shoved at them by outgoing Mayor (and diversion-lover) Larry Nelson a few days before new Mayor (and diversion frowny-face) Jeff Scrima was sworn into office. Because of the short timing, aldermen would have had about 2 weeks to read through the application, a weekend to read through public comments (public comment period ended at midnight on a Friday, the vote was held on the Tuesday following. Do you think a city clerk or Water Utility clerk stayed overnight to copy comments and get the printed stacks out to alderman over the weekend? - ha!) There was little-no time to read or review the then 2000+ page application, much less debate it, yet the Common Council voted nearly unanimously to approve the $164 million dollar water project in April 2010. Since then, many of the original aldermen diversion enthusiasts have disappeared, one-by-one from the Council, the 2013 application includes major changes in water supply source, water return source, pipe routes and additional "studies" required by DNR. In addition, though more independent information is now available, conducted by real scientists at USGS, UW-M and retired Michigan USGS scientist, Jim Nicholas, the lack of discussion, critical thinking and accurate public information continues.

And, oh yeah, I nearly forgot to mention the MINOR $43 MILLION INCREASE on the price tag. From $164 mill to $207 mill with the excuse given: inflation.

Not a single alderman--or water utility commissioner--raised a whisper of concern, nor was the ridiculously higher cost explained to the public, on whose backs the burden will fall, or the lame inflation excuse ever questioned. This Common Council is derelict in its duty to represent the citizens of Waukesha and should be sued, or shamed or both for foisting this enormous financial weight on the taxpayers and ratepayers of Waukesha.