A declaration of findings supporting the approval of Waukesha’s request for Lake Michigan water is heading to the Great Lakes Compact Council for a final review, the last step in the lengthy process.
The Great Lakes Regional Body voted to advance the request Wednesday after trimming back the volume of water Waukesha can use and where the diverted water can be sent during a series of meetings over the last month.
The declaration of findings allows for Waukesha to withdraw up to 8.2 million gallons of water per day to serve its current service area and several town of Waukesha islands within the city. The city’s initial application sought 10.1 million gallons per day for an area that included large portions of the towns of Waukesha, Delafield and Genesee along with a portion of the city of Pewaukee.
Wednesday’s meeting was largely uneventful as designees to the Regional Body, which includes the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces, worked through several technical amendments before a final vote.
Minnesota was the only state to not sign on to the declaration of findings, opting instead to abstain. Gov. Mark Dayton’s designee, Julie Ekman, had sought time to review the findings with the governor after a meeting last week and said during Wednesday’s meeting the state was still consulting with stakeholders.
“This should not be a negative reflection of the declaration of findings,” Ekman said.
Waukesha’s application now goes to the Compact Council, which is made up of just the eight Great Lakes states. There, it needs the approval of every member to pass. A date for the first meeting has not been set, but must take place at least 30 days after Wednesday’s vote.
Eric Ebersberger, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources section chief for water use, thanked the members of the Regional Body for their work on the declaration of findings.
“This all started with the city's proposal to address a public health problem and I believe that our job as the jurisdictions bound by the agreement and the compact is to focus on the merits of the application and to avoid being distracted by the considerable hyperbole this application has generated,” he said.
Ebersberger said it is clear from the comments received by the DNR and the Regional Body that the straddling-county exception, which allows Waukesha to request Lake Michigan water, is not popular.
“It’s not popular, but it is the law,” he said, adding that the designees worked to consider the application on its merit.
In a statement, Waukesha mayor Shawn Reilly was optimistic, but acknowledged the city hasn’t been granted approval yet.
“A final decision has not yet been made, but we are hopeful that all the Great Lakes states will agree with the Regional Body’s findings,” Reilly said. “The citizens of Waukesha need the healthy and sustainable water supply that only borrowing and returning Lake Michigan water can reasonably provide.”
The Compact Implementation Coalition, a network of groups that has opposed the city’s diversion request, said it is pleased the Regional Body recommended conditions, but disappointed the application was not rejected.
“We need to carefully examine the conditions that the Regional Body has recommended to determine if they uphold the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact. When complete, we will forward our assessment to the jurisdictions and the Regional Compact Council,” the coalition’s statement said.