Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Waukesha's water bid already in rough seas

[Updated] Enthusiasm for Waukesha's Great Lakes water bid is draining away in Ohio. 

And while Ohio and the six Great Lakes states other than Wisconsin do not yet have Waukesha's application in hand - - the WI DNR may wrap up the plan's review by the end of the year and then perhaps send it to the other Great Lakes for review - -  the early criticism from Ohio media is significant because all eight US Great Lakes states must approve a diversion application like Waukesha's, and a single "no" vote by a Great Lakes state Governor sinks the bid.

Add to an earlier negative editorial in the Toledo,(OH), Blade another editorial caution from the Akron, (OH), Beacon Journal

What John Kasich and his fellow governors must weigh is the precedent that could be set, the potential for opening doors to others, the compact put at risk. The governors must take care in their analyses and decision-making.
One key measure of a diversion request involves whether the amount of water is reasonable in view of the applicant’s needs. Waukesha wants to divert between 10.1 million gallons per day and 16.7 million gallons per day. A recent independent assessment noted that water demand in the city has been declining the past three decades, with average daily use between 6.7 million gallons and 11.1 million gallons. A fair question has been raised by environmental groups: Why such a gap between the current use and the proposed diversion?
The Blade's editorial, "Put away the straw," was tougher:
The diversion plan would violate the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, the 2008 agreement among the eight states that border the lakes to protect their water. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder have every reason to exercise their authority under the compact to veto the plan.
Lake Michigan - Empire Beach
These concerns and comments from outside Wisconsin are not a surprise.

While much attention quite logically has been paid to the diversion application in and near Waukesha, there has always been a larger audience watching with statutory veto power across the US Great Lakes region - - and into Canada where two provinces participate as advisers only - -  as I noted on this blog again after a recent diversion hearing in Waukesha:

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.
It appears as if Waukesha, and the Wisconsin DNR if it sends the application on to the other states for their formal review have got quite a sales job on their hands.

For the record, I refer you to this 2012 blog posting:
TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2012

Waukesha Water Issue Has Broader Audience Than Us Locals

[Updated, September 1, 2015) Media in southeastern Wisconsin are replete with coverage of the Waukesha water diversion issue. Laurel Walker of the Journal Sentinel weighs in, for example, here.

And certainly the issue is local, and what we think of as regional:

Can Waukesha find a willing partner to sell it water diverted from Lake Michigan - - Milwaukee, Oak Creek or Racine - - so there is delivery if Waukesha's formal diversion application is approved?

Will the DNR browbeat the Town of Waukesha in to the City's diversion application?

How expensive will the plan become if Milwaukee is not the supplier, and can a negotiation between Milwaukee and Waukesha get started despite conditions Waukesha and the DNR have rejected, at least for now?

But remember that there are other audiences and decision-makers farther away, and they are extremely important in the final analysis - - in fact, can make or break the application.

For Waukesha to receive the diversion, all eight Great Lakes governors must give their approval, and Canadian provincial leaders along with First Nation officials there are permitted input, though not a vote, as the Great Lakes are a shared resource held in trust, with no owner.

This much larger regional review - - beyond the border at 124th St. or the authority of the DNR - - is where critical issues like Waukesha's plan to return the water as treated, wastewater, or Waukesha's interest in sending water beyond its current borders to four smaller municipalities gets sticky.

And where the DNR's support for the wider distribution - - hung on the very thin reed of mapping decisions by SEWRPC, an advisory regional planning body run by unelected officials - - could easily raise eyebrows, and worse, in the other states.

The Waukesha application is the precedent-setter under a 2008 statutory Compact, and all the reviewers in the others states, and in Canada, are likely to follow every word and comma in the submission.

And in the DNR's processes and findings, too, because when the application goes out for the wider review, it goes with the DNR seal of approval, too.

A few years ago, the DNR sent out a smaller diversion request on behalf of New Berlin to the other Great Lakes states and Canadian regulators for an informal, courtesy review - - a different set of standards applied - - and some tough comments delayed final approval.

[Updated, 9/1/15] You can read some of that reaction to the New Berlin diversion application here/below, and factor that history into what lies ahead as Waukesha and the DNR make decisions that will be vetted by regulatory reviewers from Minnesota to New York to Canada - - with the states having the power to say "yes" or "no."

New York: On Aug. 15, 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 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.”

Illinois: On July 14, Illinois officials suggested the application could be strengthened with data of “forecasts of future water use, both inside and outside the Great Lakes basin.” Illinois also suggested that New Berlin extend its sprinkling ban, evaluate the effectiveness of its conservation planning, and expand its search for well-water alternatives to its proposed Lake Michigan diversion that could eliminate the need for a diversion.

Michigan: On Sept. 25, the state of Michigan said it would not begin a formal review until a full-scale diversion application was received. On Oct. 31, its attorney general said that without a formal application meeting federal standards provided by the U.S. Water Resources Development Act, New Berlin could not proceed.
And all must say "yes" for Waukesha to move forward. 


Boxer said...

Yes, there's lot of lipstick needed for that pig, and no guarantees any amount will cover it. The city and water utility won't be able to bully the other states the way they've bullied the DNR, Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Franklin and Racine.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Waukesha! They're on to you!

Sue said...

I heard that Scott Walker said on some talk show that if Waukesha doesn't get its way, once he's elected king the first thing he'll do - well, the first thing he'll do after he starts a couple of wars before heading off to the inaugural ball - is build a great big wall around Lake Michigan, with a little spigot near Oak Creek. AND a wall around Lake Superior too, while he's at it, but Bayfield better behave itself and stop protesting little hog farms if it wants to be part of that sweet deal.