September 26, 2008

Waukesha Should Get Lake Water, Report Says


A new report says Lake Michigan water should flow to the City of Waukesha and eventually supply communities in Ozaukee and Washington counties.

The preliminary report from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission bolsters Waukesha's claim that Lake Michigan water is the best and most affordable method of replacing drinking water currently drawn from radium-laced underground sources.

Backed by the new report and the likely federal approval of a new Great Lakes water agreement, Waukesha Water Utility Manager Dan Duchniak said Thursday that an application to purchase water from Milwaukee Water Works likely will be rolled out early next year.

The Great Lakes Compact, an eight-state agreement to prevent the draining of large quantities of fresh water from the lakes, received final House approval Tuesday and awaits President Bush's signature. The agreement protects the Great Lakes from large-scale diversions to other regions of the country while giving adjacent areas, such as Waukesha County, a method to negotiate a supply of Great Lakes water.

"I think this confirms what Waukesha has been saying all along, that Lake Michigan is the best source of water," Duchniak said. "Hopefully, we have come up with a reasonable solution, so we don't have to go elsewhere."

If political opposition from Milwaukee officials to sell water to Waukesha becomes too strong to overcome, Waukesha could turn to Oak Creek or Racine utilities.

The Milwaukee Common Council may soon launch a study of how much its Water Works should charge for water sales.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's chief of staff, Pat Curley, said his office was examining the regional planning commission's report and would present it to the Milwaukee Common Council.

The commission's preliminary plan says that any Lake Michigan diversion should result in treated wastewater flowing back into the lake basin and not into tributaries that flow away from the Great Lakes. Waukesha currently sends wastewater into the Fox River, which is part of the Mississippi River drainage basin.

How to get Waukesha's return flow back to Lake Michigan has yet to be resolved. Options involve building a pipe that would dump treated water into a tributary that flows into Lake Michigan, such as in Wauwatosa, or send it all the way back to the lake.

The recommendation is in the Regional Water Supply Plan for Southeastern Wisconsin, created over the past three years by a 32- member committee of water professionals.

Bob Biebel, an engineer with the regional planning commission, said the preliminary plan will be brought to the public in October and November for comment, and a regional water supply conference will be held in early December.

The plan could change based on information obtained during the comment period, he said.

Waukesha's water problem stems from the interaction of water in deep aquifers with the sandstone walls of the underground basins, creating naturally occurring radium. Waukesha is under a federal mandate to bring radium levels in the city's drinking water into compliance.

Other counties included

The regional plan also recommends that other communities in Waukesha County, as well in Ozaukee and Washington counties, draw water from Lake Michigan.

Those communities include Elm Grove and the eastern portion of Brookfield in Waukesha County; Cedarburg, Grafton, Fredonia and Saukville in Ozaukee County; and Germantown in Washington County. Those communities are within the Great Lakes basin but draw water from underground sources.

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