Wisconsin city with contaminated water wants to tap into Lake Michigan supply

Wisconsin city with contaminated water wants to tap into Lake Michigan supply - The Columbus Dispatch, December 17, 2015
Author: Laura Arenschield

A city in Wisconsin wants to solve its water woes by drawing from nearby Lake Michigan.

Whether Waukesha is successful, though, will depend on the unanimous decision of eight states that border the Great Lakes.

A rejection by even one governor, including Ohio’s John Kasich, would kill Waukesha’s request.

“The problem really is not what’s the impact on the ecosystem from this one withdrawal, it’s what kind of precedent are you going to set for other withdrawals,” said Kate Bartter, one of Ohio’s two negotiators of a compact among Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces to manage the lakes.

“The Great Lakes are 20 percent of the world’s freshwater right here on our border — it’s a huge economic and environmental advantage for this region.”

Waukesha is making the petition because its groundwater supply is contaminated with high levels of radium, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

And the question is not whether Waukesha’s withdrawal would harm Lake Michigan or any of the other lakes, experts say: The city plans to pull an annual average of 10.1 million gallons per day out of the lake and intends to treat and return the same amount.

That’s nothing compared with the lake’s total volume.

But approving the town’s request could clear the way for other cities and towns to tap the Great Lakes, which could create problems with water management down the road.

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