Water utility GM sees no ‘red flags’ on Waukesha water application

But says city still has questions to answer

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:20 pm

The head of the Waukesha Water Utility says he didn’t see any red flags or roadblocks to the city’s Great Lakes diversion request develop during a series of public meetings last week, but added there are still questions the city must address.

Officials from the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Great Lakes regional body and compact council prepare for an informational meeting on Feb. 17.
Officials from the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Great Lakes regional body and compact council prepare for an informational meeting on Feb. 17.

“They were all fair questions that were asked,” said Dan Duchniak, the Waukesha Water Utility general manager. “I didn’t get the sense that any state was trying to go political on this.”

Still, he said there is a lot of misinformation out there and it was good for those who will be deciding on the city’s request to divert Great Lakes water to see the community where it will be going.

“I think a lot of our opponents like to portray us as the homes on North Lake,” Duchniak said, adding that the city doesn’t match the characteristics of some of Waukesha County’s more affluent areas.

Representatives from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River regional body and compact council held joint meetings in Waukesha last week as part of their review of the city’s diversion request. They toured infrastructure and landmarks related to the city’s request and held a briefing to ask questions of the city and Department of Natural Resources. There was also a public information meeting and public hearing.

Waukesha is under a court order to find a new source for drinking water because of increased levels of radium in its current source. The Great Lakes compact allows communities outside the Great Lakes basin to request a diversion if they are in a county included in the basin.

Waukesha fits that definition and is requesting to divert up to 10.1 million gallons per day through Oak Creek and return the same amount via the Root River.

Jon Allen, director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes, said his state has received a range of comments as it conducts its own public input process on the application. The state has submitted two rounds of technical questions to the city and also has meetings planed with Michigan’s federally-recognized tribes to gather their input.

He said the application is a complicated proposal and he has been “pleasantly reminded” of the diligent work done by the states and provinces during the review process.

Duchniak said many of the questions that came up were around the requested service area, the city’s conservation and demand projections and what alternatives were considered. The application includes a service area that goes beyond just the city of Waukesha to include parts of a number of other communities. Duchniak said Wisconsin’s approach to water service areas is different from other states and that creates a challenge for the city to explain.

He said the size of the request compared to current use creates another challenge, but noted the city is trying to plan for as long as 100 years.

“That’s very different from what you need to supply today,” he said.

While some opponents have argued approving the Waukesha diversion would set a dangerous precedent. Duchniak said approval would establish the lengths a community would have to go through to receive Great Lakes water.

“It will set the compact in stone as law and we will be able to protect the Great Lakes for the long term,” he said.

The public comment period for Waukesha’s application runs through March 14. A meeting is set for April 21 in Chicago to determine findings of fact related to the application. Another meeting for a final vote is tentatively set for May 23, although Duchniak said that could be postponed depending on the April meeting. Waukesha needs the governors of all eight Great Lakes states to sign off on its request.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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