Wednesday, November 19, 2014

At least your consultants have done well, Waukesha

[Updated 8:20 p.m. from 5:24 p.m.] Least surprising headline about Waukesha since 'Traffic congestion snarls I-94,' or 'Republicans win local offices.'
Waukesha concedes it can't meet deadline for radium-free water
Which is why, seeing it coming, I wrote last month:
Let us be the first to note that it has been exactly  4.5 years - - or fifty-four months - - since the Waukesha Common Council approved an application for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan.
And in those fifty-four months have come and gone two Waukesha mayors, at least a million dollars in consulting and legal fees, and Lord knows how many meetings, application rewrites, deadlines, fits and no starts - - but not a drop of water has been diverted, nor a shovel of earth turned nor a single regulatory approval won to get the show on the road.
And the potential price for all those pumps, pipes and plethora of project costs has shot past the $200 million mark.
Kinda suggests that there's been a lot of official grandiosity, monument building and development dreaming pumped out of Waukesha since April 8, 2010, but little demonstration of real need.
And while Waukesha officials have been lobbying Washington for Big Government subsidies - - for years - -  as if the city was about to break ground any day, I've been posting on this blog, ad infinitum, for years, commentary and data like this:
*  The application has had fundamental flaws from the beginning, among them Waukesha's intention, even as its daily average usage is falling, to seek more water than it is using and send some of the diverted water to undeveloped areas at the city's edges and to some neighboring towns that do not have water shortages or crises and have not applied for a water diversion on their own. 
*  The application - - approved by the Waukesha Common Council in April, 2010 and transmitted shortly thereafter to the DNR - - has had documented, multiple deficiencies that have generated and continue to generate significant questions by the DNR.
It's been hurry up and wait for Waukesha and its water ratepayers - - beginning with failed efforts by Waukesha Mayors since 2003 unsuccessfully to get former Governor Jim Doyle to just turn on the Lake Michigan spigot - - beginning in earnest in April, 2010, when Waukesha approved the application its staff and consultants wrote for state DNR review, and the questions haven't stopped since. 

Nearly five years ago, I wrote:

Waukesha has to get its application right or else it will be turned back as incomplete or unacceptable by one of more of the states, and that would make Waukesha vulnerable to fines under a 2018 deadline it has accepted to permanently clean up its drinking water supply. 
Lake Michigan is not Waukesha's only compliant water supply option: it could continue to treat its well water, or change to different, cleaner wells in Waukesha County, or perhaps take and return water from the Fox River. 
But it has focused its consultants and lawyers and PR people on the Lake Michigan alternative, which means winning eight states' OK's by complying with the new Great Lakes Compact and all its rules and standards.
These consultants and lawyers and consultants have been paid handsomely, for years, with fees of $10,000 monthly and more not uncommon, and still the application sits at the DNR, tied up in drafting gaps, without hearings or reviews having begun or ended in Wisconsin - - to say nothing of the tough process in store by seven other Great Lakes states.

How tough?

Almost six years, I attended and reported on a meeting in the Waukesha Common Council chambers, where city officials, its water utility leadership and the general public heard invited guest and water expert Peter Annin warn everyone that regardless of how much work went into writing an application for a Great Lakes diversion, Waukesha should expect an initial rejection from at least one other state (unanimous consent for approval is required) in a "brutal" review process.

More than seven years ago, I wrote about what was being said by other states' reviewers when assessing a much simpler and less controversial water diversion plan proposed by the City of New Berlin:
...raising objections were the state of Illinois, and, in an advisory capacity, the Canadian province of Ontario, plus a long list of environmental and conservation organizations that raised significant questions of New Berlin and the DNR about the application's adequacy, accuracy, and completeness.
"New York officials said the application was without key studies, complete data, adequate water supply descriptions, enough system and geological maps and "descriptions of the situation and feasible options." 
"New York," I wrote, "opined that there was "no evidence that the applicant is aware of or familiar with the full range of applicable state and national regulations, laws, agreements or treaties," and cited other deficiencies or possible inaccuracies. 
"Additionally, New York observed that "the statement of no cumulative impacts is unsupported by any data in the document and does not address potential cumulative impacts to Lake Michigan water levels, shoreline, other users, water-dependent natural resources, etc.' 
Pretty tough stuff for a document the DNR labeled at the time complete and comprehensive.
And ten years ago next month, I laid out what is still at the heart of the problem that Waukesha' faces if and when it ever gets an application into shape that the Wisconsin DNR - - regardless of the corporatization which Scott Walker has laid over it - - believes it can credibly sell to the other states without getting its career water experts laughed out of the room:
Waukesha and other communities to its west keep converting farmland into subdivisions and roads and driveways and parking lots and factory sites -- an alarming trend because much of that development is covering up the very raw land through which rain and snow must seep and replenish the underground supply...
There are good models centered on the wise use of water that make these [conservation] connections. Look no farther than the public-private partnership in Milwaukee's Menomonee River Valley, where jobs AND restored land AND clean water AND recreation AND a raised quality of life are replacing blight and pollution and unemployment.  
The solution doesn't have to be water slides and subdivisions on farm fields. 


Anonymous said...

There are still many a politician in Waukesha willing to keep the dollars flowing absolutely convinced this application is going to be approved by the 7 other governors, favored by 2 Canadian Premiers and the Native American tribes.

Waukesha's new mayor ran on a platform that this was the single most important concern facing the city, getting Lake Michigan water.

As a former municipal attorney, he's going to lose his biggest case ever - as mayor.

Likely to be a one termer.

Boxer said...

His wouldn't be the first career--or reputation--to be dashed on the rocks of this utterly senseless endeavor.

So many metaphors, so little time . . .

Speaking of [the] Endeavor, that's another hopeful expedition that ended so well . . or did it?

The Forlorn Hope: that's the name of the small subgroup of the Donner party who made one last attempt to cross the snow-filled mountain pass, now called Donner Pass, I believe. Only a couple made it to the other side, and many more perished due to a lack of snowshoes or the knowledge that there was such a thing. In the meantime, rescue efforts had commenced from the San Fransisco side of the mountains. They knew about snowshoes there.

Moral of the story: Bold Attempts often result in Big Failure. There is a point in every Bold Attempt when you could have--and should have--cut your losses.

Not these guys. They're going to double-down.

Anonymous said...

Any week now, the utility will be asking to approve an extension for the PR and legal representation contract.

Next, will be another rate request from the PSC.