A Great Lakes Diversion Is Not Necessary for Waukesha

MADISON & WAUKESHA — If reviewed carefully, the Non-Diversion Solution for Waukesha’s future water supply put forward by the Compact Implementation Coalition (CIC) in July addresses each of the specific concerns the Waukesha Water Utility expressed in their recent press release. As an environmental coalition who has been watch dogging this process since the beginning, we are focused on protecting the Great Lakes, and we believe that we have found a better option for Waukesha to consider, one that they have not yet considered.

Waukesha’s response to the Compact Implementation Coalition’s Non-diversion Solution is disappointing. We spent a great deal of time and effort, and our own dollars, to support the Waukesha Water Utility in choosing a better option to a diversion – an option that won’t harm the environment and won’t hurt its ratepayers.  Unfortunately, this response follows a long history of the City ignoring any reasonable alternative to its diversion application. Peter McAvoy, of Counsel to the Coalition, said “It’s unfortunate that Waukesha won’t consider any alternative other than their preferred, expensive diversion option. This proposal to unnecessarily take Lake Michigan water doesn’t meet key legal requirements of the Great Lakes Compact.”

In response to the Water Utility’s groundwater comments, Jodi Habush-Sinykin from Midwest Environmental Advocates, a member of the CIC, explained that “Waukesha’s analysis and the information they provided to the Wisconsin DNR in their application relies on old data. They don’t need to rely on outdated information and the DNR should not allow it.  By not using the best available science, Waukesha is undercutting the public’s right to comment on this diversion application in a meaningful way and risks a poor precedent for our Great Lakes.” Habush-Sinykin stressed the importance of separating fact from fiction. “Data proves that the deep sandstone aquifer has been rebounding for years. The Water Utility should go back to the drawing board, update the data and the models, and revisit some of the key premises of Waukesha’s proposal, which the facts now show to be faulty assumptions.”

The Coalition’s Non-Diversion Solution is a well-studied and workable solution to Waukesha’s water problem and was designed to ensure Waukesha complies with public health standards for radium in the community’s drinking water. Treatment of radium and other contaminants is a better solution than an expensive diversion. “Radium treatment provides clean, healthy and affordable drinking water in dozens of communities around Wisconsin, and many more across the nation. It is a known best practice, and there are many highly successful examples to draw from,” said the Coalition’s Ezra Meyer, Water Resources Specialist withClean Wisconsin. “These communities – places like the cities of Brookfield and Pewaukee – live the reality, that improving and investing in current infrastructure is the smart, conservative approach to water sustainability, and far more affordable than building a pipeline up and over a sub-continental divide and across two counties. Waukesha should follow through on its promise of a healthy, sustainable, and cost-effective water supply solution for the future by facing facts and using its existing deep and shallow aquifer well infrastructure to the fullest while appropriately treating for radium. It really is that simple.”

In response to Waukesha’s statements about need, Helen Sarakinos, Policy Director at River Alliance of Wisconsin explained that “In fact, the City’s current use, coupled with the water conservation savings that it estimates to be at least another million gallons per day, means the existing water distribution infrastructure is sufficient to meet, not only current, but full build out projections of 2050 for the current service area. Under the scenario embodied in the Coalition’s Non-Diversion Solution, the City will only need to improve existing infrastructure and add treatment, thus the projections of adverse impacts to the environment go away. We think if the City were to adopt more meaningful land use development practices, and restoration activities, they could even go further and make enhancements to the environment and local natural resources and become a real leader and role model.”

Waukesha’s recent press release raised concerns about the cost of the Non-Diversion Solution which are a little hard to understand since the diversion is going to cost Waukesha over $300 million. The Non-Diversion Solution costs about $150 million.” said Jennifer Bolger Breceda. The Non-Diversion Solution used nearly all of the same underlying assumptions that Waukesha used in its application, so it is an apples-to-apples comparison. “And its cost estimates do not even include the significant cost burden that would fall on current residents and businesses of its proposed expanded service area, who would have to pay out of their own pockets to hook up to both water and sewer before long under Waukesha’s proposal. Those property owners would then pay the dramatically higher water rates embedded in the proposal – close to $900 dollars a year for water, an increase of over 250% of their current bills. Under the Non-diversion Solution, citizens will have clean, healthy water at a fraction of that cost.”

Ezra Meyer said, “The bottom line is that Waukesha’s application doesn’t pass legal muster. The Great Lakes Compact does not allow diversions for future water use and Waukesha’s application violates the terms of the Compact. Waukesha admits that it doesn’t need the water now and is applying for future unknown, unsubstantiated water needs.  As such, the application must be rejected.”

Waukesha’s request to divert water outside of the Great Lakes basin is the first time the Great Lakes Compact is being put to the test. The question is: how well will the Compact protect our world-class Great Lakes resource, the basis for a thriving regional economy and so much more, both now and in the future? The Compact Implementation Coalition believes it is vital that Wisconsin make the right decision by denying Waukesha’s current proposal. In that way, Wisconsin can continue to assert itself as a leader in protecting our shared Great Lakes.