Cooperation can solve water and transit issues

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:43 pm

After serving almost one year as mayor of Waukesha and attending two Milwaukee 7 meetings, it is clear to me that there are unique and historic opportunities for regional cooperation for southeastern Wisconsin. The two issues that cry out for a 21st century new vision are water and transportation. I believe they are key for both economic development and real regional cooperation.

Most people know that the City of Waukesha is seriously investigating whether Great Lakes water is our best long-term water source. Few know the fact that in the last 19 years, while our city has grown 17 percent, our water use has actually gone down 25 percent.

In 2005, the Waukesha Common Council passed a water conservation plan that I’ve been told is the most comprehensive in the Midwest. Last year, with our daytime sprinkling ban in effect, our water use went down 7.5 percent.

Right now, we are the first community in Wisconsin to ask the Public Service Commission to change the way we charge our heaviest residential water users. Currently they pay less for more water use, and we believe they should pay more.

Waukesha is also studying whether return flow to a Great Lakes tributary like the Root or Menomonee River can be done in an environmentally positive way for the river, the Great Lakes and southeastern Wisconsin. If we eventually do decide to apply for a Great Lakes diversion, our goal would be to submit a role model application that would prevent 98 percent of the world from access to Great Lakes water. It would set a high standard of conservation and return flow that other communities in eligible counties would have to follow.

In this scenario, if we were able to negotiate with the City of Milwaukee for the purchase of water after a successful Great Lakes application, we could accomplish an historic win-win solution for both our cities and the region. It would be a stark contrast to the water and annexation fights that former Mayor Frank Ziedler outlined in his book on local government and the antiquated conflicts that have historically been the norm.

Once we can envision regional cooperation on water, the next logical issue would be addressing the long needed action on transportation.

The proposed KRM commuter train line between Milwaukee and Kenosha (which has commuter rail service to Chicago) is the obvious first part of connecting what the United Nation calls one of 25 mega cities of the future (the Milwaukee-Chicago area). The visionary next step, supported by the mayors of Milwaukee and Madison, would be a high-speed train between our state’s two biggest cities. My bias, as mayor of Wisconsin’s seventh-largest city, would be a quick stop in the Waukesha area.

Reading Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” makes it clear we all need to change the way we think about the world. As someone who grew up in Milwaukee, received an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and later a master’s degree at UWM, and lived in Waukesha for the last 31 years, the historic hostilities between these communities have never made sense.

The key to regional success in the 21st century is to put past prejudices aside, embrace visionary groups like the Milwaukee 7 and find ways to resolve issues like water and transportation so we, the region of southeastern Wisconsin, can become the leading region that our potential says can be a reality. I challenge other area leaders, both public and private, to join me in this 21st century vision.


Larry Nelson is the mayor of Waukesha.

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