Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly will make “a joint historic announcement” today at Discovery World, located on the downtown Milwaukee lakefront, potentially establishing Milwaukee as the supplier of Lake Michigan water to Waukesha.
[caption id="attachment_143855" align="alignright" width="376"] Waukesha’s Great Lakes diversion calls for the city to clean the water and return it via the Root River.[/caption]
A media advisory for the event provided few details about the announcement and officials from both cities either did not return calls for comment or declined to provide additional details. The announcement listed Dan Duchniak and Jennifer Gonda, the heads of the Waukesha and Milwaukee water utilities, as media contacts.
Waukesha planned on purchasing Lake Michigan water from Oak Creek for years as its diversion application made its way through the approval process. The two municipalities signed a letter of intent in 2012 that called for exclusive negotiations through November 2016. That deal was extended through May 31 of this year.
If Waukesha goes with Milwaukee as its supplier, it would be a sharp reversal from the at times contentious discussions between the two cities when Waukesha was determining its supplier. As recently as 2016, Barrett spoke against the diversion at public hearings, taking particular issue with the area Waukesha intended to supply water to.
But the diversion approval that Waukesha received was limited to the city’s current water service area, eliminating one of Barrett’s major objections and clearing the way for Milwaukee’s renewed interest in providing water to Waukesha.
Milwaukee officials expressed interest in being the supplier when Waukesha’s diversion request was approved last year, but talks between the two sides didn’t get started until after the exclusivity clause expired in May.
In July, Waukesha’s Duchniak said the city was considering proposals from Milwaukee and Oak Creek.
Based on the rates Milwaukee charges to other municipalities, a deal with that city could save Waukesha $1 million to $2 million per year in volume charges compared to a water supply deal with Oak Creek, but there are other service fees and construction costs that could eliminate some of those savings.
While Milwaukee offered a potential lower cost and a redundant water supply, Oak Creek offered the opportunity for Waukesha to have more control since it would be a substantial customer for the water utility.
Mike Sullivan, Oak Creek Water & Sewer Utility general manager, said Monday he hadn’t been told if Waukesha was going with Milwaukee and was waiting for the announcement to find out.
Duchniak said last week the delay in picking a water supplier hasn’t slowed planning work on the eventual construction. Work has instead focused on the return flow, which will go through the Root River regardless of the supplier.
Check back this afternoon for updates on the announcement.