Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Waukesha water hearing focuses on diversion's reach

Not a picnic getting through the Zoo Interchange's no-light-rail-construction zone in rush hour traffic to a 5:30 p.m. presentation and public hearing on Great Lakes water in Waukesha Monday evening....
and, yeah, I just had to say that, since land use, transit deficits, road-building excesses and precedent-setting but questionable water demand - - the topic of the day - - are all part of the planning FUBAR around here...but anyway...there was a pretty big crowd at the hearing in a Carroll College building...

...and lots of good questions, and comments - - pro - - 'we're so close to Lake Michigan, we need  diverted water,' and con - - 'there are cheaper local alternatives and fresh data and ideas that the DNR should consider' - - and historical - - 'Waukesha kept annexing and growing despite known radium-contamination problems that did not lead to better water management, so quality problems are now quantity problems, too' - - all principally aimed at the DNR staffers who continue their crucial consideration of Waukesha's long-and-drawn-out application for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

So let me point to just this thread that is at the heart of both the application for the diversion and some of the opposition to it:

Some pretty well-informed people said the diversion application's credibility is undermined  - - even negated - - by its inclusion of extra municipalities, land and population in an expanded water delivery area outside of Waukesha's city limits.

Acreage and people who are to receive Great Lakes water which the governing Great Lakes Compact says should be diverted to an applicant municipality outside of the Great Lakes basin like Waukesha only to meet that applicant's request for water essentially on a 'last-resort' basis that would be granted as an exception to the Compact's ban on out-of-basin diversions.

The map of the application's so-called expanded service territory - - including the Town of Waukesha and portions of Genesee, Delafield and Pewaukee - - was provided for the Waukesha application by the unelected Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC) - - and was based on the planning agency's interpretation of Wisconsin law.

The map was drawn up some years ago by a former SEWRPC water official who was then working as a SEWRPC water study consultant and sent over to the Waukesha Water Utility for the application it was drafting after discussion among water and planning bureaucrats - - but without a public hearing.

Though Bob Biebel, the map's drafter, has downplayed the importance of the expanded water service territory map and called concerns over it "much ado about nothing."

A few years ago, and using Open Records, I traced how quietly the map was developed, and, if you read the history, was discussed and transmitted for the application without any awareness that it could come back to bite the applicant by raising questions about how much diverted Great Lakes water - - if any - - was really needed, and for what, and whom?

You may remember that former DNR Secretary George Meyer, a citizen speaker Monday night representing the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation in opposition to this request for Great Lakes water had pointed in an op-ed a few days ago to the problems raised by the expanded service territory.

A number of other speakers Monday night said the expanded service territory was among the factors they believed prevented the application from "passing muster," as a speaker from Michigan put it.

Simon Belisle, a representative of the Chicago-based Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative - - a US-Canadian coalition representing 117 regional municipalities - - said his members believed the application's expanded service territory was "contrary to the terms of the Great Lakes Compact."

The cities'  coalition doesn't have a vote on the application, but it represents a lot of people in Great Lakes states where Governors will eventually cast ballots. 

Take a look for yourself - - outside of Wisconsin you've got Chicago, Toledo, OH, Erie, PA, Flint, MI, Rochester, NY, Duluth, MN, Hammond, IN, and more.

If I were Waukesha, or the DNR which will have to defend the diversion application to the entire Great Lakes region and win the Compact's required, unanimous "aye" vote of the region's eight US governors for implementation, the continuing presence of the expanded service territory would really make me worry.

Yes, Wisconsin law gave SEWRPC the ability to map out the service addition to the application - - expanding its reach by 80% - - but that does not mean Wisconsin trumps the demands of the Compact or directs the other seven Great Lakes states to say "aye."

Final note: One state can veto the application, Waukesha and Wisconsin could sue, and the entire Great Lakes Compact and its powerful protection of the planet's largest supply of surface fresh water that is shared with Canada could go down the drain, or get piped to the US West, or shipped in tankers to Asia.

Don't laugh - - an actual ocean-going tanker-to-Asia Great Lakes removal scheme some years back kicked off years of negotiations that led to the Compact's approval, and status as US law in 2008.

So stay tuned, and participate.

There are more DNR-sponsored hearings on the application tomorrow in Milwaukee and Racine, and written comments can be made through August 28th.

Here are those details:

Written comments should be directed to Ashley Hoekstra, DNR Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, or by email to: 
The first hearing Tuesday is in Milwaukee at 1 p.m., Zilber School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1240 N. 10th St., and, later in the day, a hearing in Racine at 5:30 p.m., Racine Masonic Center, 1012 Main St.


La Mer said...

Meyer writes: The data is in and the conclusions are clear: Waukesha can sustainably meet its current and future water needs for its water service supply area by treating existing deep groundwater wells for radium and other contaminants, without depleting its groundwater supply. And it can do this at one-half the cost to their ratepayers.

The Global Water Center in Milwaukee's Fifth Ward was mentioned a year ago in the inaugural address of Marquette University's President Michael R. Lovell. Entrepreneurs can take advantage of Marquette's new Water Law and Policy Initiative in important SEWRPC-type matters that involve water and policy, hopefully for the protection of our Great Lakes water resource (as explained by the law school's Associate Dean Matt Parlow):


...to accomplish what Meyer suggests!! If we quit dilly-dallying around then perhaps Wisconsinites will actually clean up ground water contaminations in superfund sites like Menomonee Falls, that landfill in Franksville, the problem in Madison.

I'm beginning to think there's something in the water that's s - l - o - w - i - n - g down our responses to some serious, critically important issues in WI.

Sandy Hamm said...

Sandy Hamm writes...

I was at the Monday meeting. I have watched this issue for decades. What is clear to me and what I spoke about at the meeting is that the City of Waukesha is in the business of expansion, growth and development - Period.

The City is not interested in conservation (of anything), or the cost to taxpayers (I think it was Water Commission member Paul Ybarra that rhetorically asked "why would we do this if it hurt our voters" - My Answer -> because you don't care about little voters. Because you care about land developers or a Meijers kitty-corner from a Pick and Save, etc. etc.

The City and its expanded Water Service Area is completely about serving the needs of land developers and the city expanding its tax base. They have expanded their borders and their water and sewer responsibilities year after year to the tune of 100s of acres every year, and 100s of those acres and 1000s of those apartments with people in them were added while under the court order to comply with the EPA standards. Completely irresponsible. They have no guarantee of getting water from the Great Lakes or anywhere else for that matter.

IMHO, the City of Waukesha is misguided.

And as for the land developers (many of them friends of mine), I say too bad if you invested in land that now can't sustain city-sized lots. If you buy a stock and it goes up, great, you made money. I don't care.

But I don't care either way. If you buy stock and it goes down or the business goes bankrupt you lose money.

Same for those that chose to invest years ago in land - land they paid nearly no taxes on for decades, as it was zoned agricultural in the Town of Waukesha. The plan... hold on to it and later annex to the City and put in postage stamp sized lots or apartments. And that's great if the City can service your needs and has the resourced to do it.

But if the City doesn't have the resources, so you just went bust. Your land investments have now turned out to be a poor ones, no different than a stock that tanks.

But No. They want to be like banks that are "too big to fail" and they want to now insist they are entitled to the water and want the City to go get it from the Great Lakes.

The citizenry all knows that the City can work with the wells they have and deliver water to the population they now have. The citizenry all knows this is about growth and development. Duh.