Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Some updates about Waukesha's water diversion plan

[Updated, 8:14 p.m.] Here is a summary of some recent issues regarding the City of Waukesha's application for a diversion of Lake Michigan water. Please check for updates, marked Update.

Lake Michigan - Empire Beach

The Wisconsin DNR has sent the City of Waukesha's precedent-setting diversion application to the other seven Great Lakes states for their reviews.

Opponents have long raised environmental and legal objections, summarized here, and cost issues, too.

The agency's move was not a surprise, and has provided a website about the application and the review process, here.

The diversion review process was established in a US/Canadian Great Lakes water protection agreement that bars diversions of water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin, but provides a diversion application exception for a community like Waukesha which is within a county that touches the basin boundary.

In other words - - the City of Waukesha is close enough to the basin to apply for a diversion, but would be able to draw the water only after the unanimous approval of all eight Great Lakes states' Governors. 

One "no" vote blocks the diversion. 

The agreement - - essentially a blueprint for water conservation - - sets a very high bar for diversions, and the other states will have to decide if Waukesha is making what is essentially a qualifying 'last-resort' case with an application that also will send some of the diverted water both to undeveloped land and to neighboring communities which did not make their own requests for diverted water.

The review process includes an advisory role - but no veto power - - for the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec because they border the Great Lakes, a two-nation shared resource which constitutes about 20% of the planet's fresh surface water.

The other states' reviews will include technical analyses and public hearings over several months; the Wisconsin DNR ran its own analysis over the last few years, held hearings and concluded that Waukesha's application met the diversion application criteria.

* Note the broader implications of the diversion proposal that were included in a recent report by Michigan Public Radio:

“The Alliance for the Great Lakes, an environmental organization in Chicago, did a report in 2013 projecting how many potential future water applicants there could be,” [the National Wildlife Federation's Marc Smith] says. “And they came up with eight stretching roughly from Milwaukee, Wisconsin down to Fort Wayne, Indiana that could be potential water applicants in the future - - Fort Wayne being the largest community.”
* Note, also, that Waukesha's diversion intentions have raised concern and opposition in media and by policy-makers across the Great Lakes region. 

*  Already an expensive proposition, the diversion study and application process continues to generate costs as the project's ultimate cost estimate increases, too:

Waukesha will have to pay an diversion application fee, now projected at about $261,000, to a Great Lakes regional body which plays an official coordinating role in such matters. A fee was anticipated.

Separately, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission notified Waukesha on December 11th that it had exceeded diversion study costs approved by the agency for a new water supply by about $1.7 million - - or roughly by 50% beyond the PSC-approved $3.3 million - - and thus risked being unable to recover the excess expenditures dollars
 the current approved water rate structure for Waukesha.

*  Update - - The Waukesha Water Utility estimated In a December 1, 2014 planning grant application to the US Army Corps of Engineers that the diversion project's $206 million estimated "level of investment" would "require a typical annual residential water bill of approximately $1,000/yr. along with significant increases to all water users."

The average residential bill in 2011 was $261, the Journal Sentinel had reported.
recent Journal Sentinel op-ed laid out some of the long-range expenses that a diversion would present to Waukesha.

* Though it's the center of a deeply conservative county which routinely sends fiscally-'conservative/small government advocates to the Legislature, the City of Waukesha has long pursued federal funding to cover some of the diversion plan's infrastructure costs.

That estimate has more than doubled over the last few years of planning to $206 million, and will require a series of rate increases, as the Milwaukee Business Journal reported a year ago.

*  Waukesha has recently  submitted to the WI DNR some last-minute information from a consultant that projects decline in the underground water supply which the city hopes to replace with the diversion. That information is now in the hands of the DNR but was not submitted to the public during the hearings nor was it available when the public was submitting it's comments.

*  Data about the depth of the underground supply that had been included in the diversion application when the DNR held its hearings on the application this year had show an encouraging increase in the underground supply after a steady decline.

The positive data about the integrity of the underground supply was a scenario which allowed diversion critics to claim that, with conservation and a variety of existing sources and technologies, the diversion alternative was less attractive.

More on all this later, too.


Anonymous said...

Can somebody tell me how much taxpayer money the State of Wisconsin has spent on the 5 years this application has been in the hands of the DNR???

Anonymous said...

If the application's deep aquifer science was amended after public comment was closed, are we not going to restart the process outlined by the DNR back to Step 2 for the greatest public input, transparency, and objectivity?

Wouldn't that be called evidence tampering if we didn't?