Sunday, August 30, 2015

Groups raise justice objections to Waukesha water diversion

[Updated from 8/28-29] Take a look at the substantive comments about the City of Waukesha's application for an out-of-basin diversion of Lake Michigan water that were forwarded last week to the Wisconsin DNR about racial and economic justice by Wisconsin justice groups.

The link above includes a connection to the full comments, with charts, data and related items in a very complete legal analysis of the application.

Also remember that as the DNR moves deeper in a review of the application, the Wisconsin Legislature never produced rules to define an application's design and content, and the public's role in the DNR's review as called for in the 2008 state law that implemented the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin - - a failure I began documenting in 2009:
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has twice this year declined to answer requests from Milwaukee officials who wanted the agency to carry out rule-making prior to accepting and reviewing Lake Michigan diversion applications - - shirking stewardship responsibility over water resources held in trust for the public.
And has sat on the sidelines in the year since the Great Lakes Compact and enabling legislation for Wisconsin were approved without beginning to draft and approve crucial administrative rules needed to make sure diversion applications, hearings and related matters create a process that is open, fair, complete and appealing legally and environmentally to the other seven Great Lakes states that will have to approve out-of-basin applications for the good of the shared resource - - the Great Lakes watershed, too.
I'd also asked and noted on this blog in July, 2009:
Many months have elapsed since Wisconsin approved the Great Lakes Compact, yet the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows no inclination to begin the rule-making process spelling out how a Wisconsin municipality would go about writing an application for a Great Lakes diversion under the Compact. 
This is a rather big question, as Waukesha has announced its intention to apply before the end of the year for a diversion. 
Without the rules in place, it is not clear what should be in the application. 
No doubt there will be information in the application, along with water conservation plans and goals, but it is up to the DNR to decide whether the application is complete - - yet without rules in place, it's a gamble that those plans, goals and pledges meet best practices. 
And Wisconsin law. 
And tradition. 
Why the hesitancy?
There was talk at the time that producing those rules would have taken 2,000 hours of DNR staff time, basically one year - - though just how that estimate was reached is not clear - - but we're now seven years out from the implementing legislation's adoption, and if two or three DNR staffers, and/or lawyers borrowed from the Department of Justice part-time had been used to write the rules from the get-go, we're talking about an easily-doable task if the administrative will were there to do it.

Hardly back-breaking, and, given the importance of the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact, the need for Waukesha's precedent-setting application to hit the highest legal and scientific marks, and the obligation of the state to follow the law - - mandatory. 

But here is the heart of the justice argument:
“Thus far, the environmental impact study has utterly failed to address, much less resolve, the needs and concerns of communities of color,” said Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin. 
“Allowing a Lake Michigan water diversion to enable continued unrestrained sprawl and job migration will have the inevitable effect of perpetuating racial and economic segregation in the region, to the clear disadvantage of persons of color, especially African-Americans,” added Fred Royal, president of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP."
Many, many items on this blog since its 2007 inception about these issues.

Here's one:


Milwaukee's Economic Segregation Keeps The City Poor, Suburbs Rich

Another posting with links to data, studies and op-eds, here.

Also, this posting tracks similar concerns - - as water, development, housing, jobs and transportation spending are inexorably linked in Southeastern Wisconsin - - which have been raised repeatedly about our region's public spending priorities and taxpayer-paid planning spending that sets certain plans and outcomes into motion.

A Federal court settlement last year required WisDOT - - which was implementing a highway-focused $6 billion regional transportation plan written by the area's public planning agency to add some bus services to a piece of the plan already underway.

Background here - - as more than $1 billion of highway spending on just one large interchange was unfairly benefiting motorists to the exclusion of low-income and minority area residents:
US District Court Judge Lynn Adelman has ruled that plaintiffs raising economic justice and procedural objections to the way the state conducts highway planning and public spending at the expense of transit riders and low-income residents can continue to sue over the Zoo Interchange project. 
The plaintiffs explain, here
This is a step towards genuine transportation program balance in a state where highway planning is getting billions for expansion and transit systems are being starved - - with severe consequences to low-income residents in their search for jobs and housing, as the ACLU of Wisconsin and others have repeatedly noted. 


Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact is relative to these opinions. If anything, they detract from the issue.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read. Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the Midwest. Anything that potentially causes more segregation should be rejected.

James Rowen said...

I believe the Milwaukee-Waukesha SMSA is the most-segregated census pair in the country. Mot sure if it is the most segregated city in the Midwest. The city has been landlocked by a special state law since the 1950's, banning annexations, fyi.

James Rowen said...

Typo patrol. "Not sure..."

James Rowen said...

To Anony. 1:24 p.m. Anytime a government in our region takes a major development step, these issues are relevant. Also note that Waukesha is searching for about $50 million in federal funding to defray some of the local costs, at which point these matters become profoundly important, so better to get them straightened out at the beginning and not the end of a process.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the ACLU would make these comments unless they were willing to sue and had a pretty good case.

Anonymous said...

In regards to Anony. 1:24 p.m. comment about being relative - while it is and should be an issue, I'm guessing the DNR and the Waukesha Water Utility will claim that's not their problem and not relevant to the Great Lakes Compact.

Anonymous said...

They can claim whatever they like. It looks like the ACLU and NAACP are going to challenge this. A contested case hearing based on economic justice is likely not what DNR, Waukesha and the Walker Administration want as they go forward with trying to convince the other states to go along with it.

James Rowen said...

I have no idea what the long-range goals are, but I am glad to see people making connections to issues overlooked.

Others - -

Betsey said...

Now folks need to make the connection between $900/ year water bills and the most expensive, environmentally drastic "solution" there is . . . and the poor residents of Waukesha who will pay for it.

Anonymous said...

Well Betsy, I called the Milwaukee office of the NAACP and asked them to have the Social Justice League do a reciprocal study on economic justice and how a Lake Michigan Diversion from Milwaukee would impact the poor, elderly, handicapped, and people of color in Waukesha. No response.

Incidentally, the Social Justice League had a seat at the table of the SEWRPC planning process.

See prior comments here:

Anonymous said...

The investors and residents of the property that was thrown into the Waukesha Water Utility service area should brace themselves for the construction and maintenance costs of a Lake Michigan Diversion to be equally distributed based on city parcel size whether receiving service, or not.

That is economic and social justice and the case to be decided by the public service commission.

Of course that is if this project is ever approved.

betsey said...

Anonymous, Aug 29, 6:53 am:

I'm not sure I'm getting your point. Do you mean to say the SJL doesn't care about the impact of water rates on the poor, elderly, handicapped and people of color? or that they're somehow complicit in the water diversion? or . . . other?

BTW: SEWRPC loads those committees/task forces/working groups/ advisory groups with just enough enviros, social justice advocates, etc that they can SAY they've given everyone opportunity for input while also completely ignoring any of that same input. So that SEWRPC can do what it had already planned to do in the first place.

James Rowen said...

Refresh my memory: I do not remember a group called the Social Justice League represented at those meetings.